Friday 20 April 2018

Last night’s TV; Dance Off

Diarmuid Doyle

Breandan de Gallai was the lead dancer on Riverdance for seven years but now seems a bit bored with the whole thing.

On Dance Off (RTE1), he has embarked on what he calls a “revolutionary take on modern Irish dance”, bidding farewell to the poker-up-the- backside, bewigged, sexless version of Irish dancing we have become familiar with and replacing it with elements of dance imported from around the world.

He wants to blend all of this into a knock-‘em-dead stage show in which the dancers will act, speak and perform as well as doing what they do best.

Dance Off is an account of his attempt to find people who haven’t been damaged by years of rule-bound performances at feiseanna, who can dance outside the box, as it were.

It’s an interesting task – revolutionary in lots of ways - and probably deserves a more prominent slot than 7.30 on Mondays. But aside from de Gallai, and his sidekick Dearbhla Lennon, another Riverdance past-pupil, Dance Off has no celebrities. Stars Go Racing it most certainly isn’t.

De Gallai’stask is rendered difficult – some might say impossible – by the effect that traditional dance has had on its practitioners. In auditions in Dublin everybody, all of them lithe, long-legged beauties, can dance, but when it comes to reading a script or performing, they are scarily bad.

In the south of France, where de Gallai does an Irish dancng workshop every year, the problem is the opposite. Nobody is afraid to act, to make a fool of themselves emoting and performing in front of others, but few of them can dance with any great skill.

They come from all over. Forty-seven-year old Joelle from France wants to be a “Celtic Princess” but 10 seconds into her audition – her dancing having conjured up memories of Boyzone’s first appearance on The Late Late Show – it becomes clear that she is useless.

Gyula Glazer from Hungary swapped Tae Kwan Do for Irish dancing when he was 16 and “has never looked back”. If there are fight scenes in de Gallai’s new show, he may have a role to play but, like many others auditioned, he seems short of the necessary skills.

In fairness, it’s hard to see who might have such talents. In one scene in Dance Off, de Gallai tries to show viewers the kind of “revolutionary” take on dancing he is seeking. It looks like a weird cross between Riverdance, Michael Jackson’s Thriller and the New Zealand rugby players’ haka.

All you can do is wish him the best of luck teaching that to his dancers.

Dance Off was made possible by Northern Ireland’s Irish Language Broadcast Fund, also responsible for the wretched Mamo. Shows which qualify for funding are obliged to have 70 per cent of their speech content in Irish, whether or not it makes sense for Gaeilge to be the main language.

In Dance Off it makes no sense at all. Most of the dancers, especially the ones from outside Ireland, haven’t a word of Irish so the auditions are done mainly in English. To get to the 70 per cent threshold, therefore, the programme makers have had to include much irrelevant, subtitled chat from de Gallai and Lennon, when they might have been better employed showing us the auditions.

The unfortunate result is that what might turn out be an interesting dance extravaganza – if de Gallai can find performers with all the required skills - comes across at the moment like the mad obsession of one chatty man. Viewers will hope he achieves his dream, while worrying for his sanity.

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