Posted by: mdmusingsie | October 8, 2011


Rian is an Irish word, and like many of them, has multiple meanings including imprint, trace, track or even path. I first became aware of the word when I discovered Liam Ó Maonlaí a few years back. Oddly, barely a blip on the radar when he opened for Swell Season in Portland, OR, his talents blared like a beacon in a dense fog when I saw him again a year later in Nova Scotia. Rian was the title of his first solo CD; a collection of traditional Irish music, both his own creations and that of other great bards, and represents one of the tracks his many and varied talents have taken him and the imprint it has made on all those who are touched by it.

It is now the name of a music and dance production I had the great pleasure to witness at the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin. A contrasting combination of traditional Irish music and modern, interpretive dance, it is the creation of Ó Maonlaí as musical director and Michael Keegan-Dolan as director/choreographer.

At the beginning of the production, Liam places his harp in the middle of the stage, the center of a circle, half comprised of the performers and the other the audience. It stood as a testament to Ireland and bards alike. Then he lit a single candle on the piano, another symbol. Eternal flame, lighting the way through darkness.

I knew the music would be amazing and when the first few tunes were performed using two of my most favorite instruments, the harpsichord and the harp, it quickly exceeded my expectations. He was joined by other talented musicians including Cormac Ó Beaglaoich on concertina, Eithne Ní Chatháin on fiddle and vocals, Maitiú Ó Casaide, a young piper, and Martin Brundsen on double bass. The synergies were palpable, reinforcing my belief that when creative people gather, sparks of inspiration and imagination flow through everyone around.

The dance, for me, would be the tricky part.  Could such modern movement capture the pure essence of ageless traditional music? In some ways, it succeeded in bridging the gap of time and space; though I had to look past the dance, itself, and seek the spirit below.  There was a centuries old reverence for music and musician – the bards who not only entertain but keep the memories alive throughout the ages. Elements of ancient and modern Ireland were visible, toiling the land, assorted battles for identity and independence, and the birth and struggle of the newest nation. Celebration and a sense of community, valuable essentials of any society, were present in several of the pieces. Spiritual elements were evident as well; again, transcending from the earliest inhabitants, the Sidhe and their oneness with the land through to more modern, organized religions.

One item I thought might have tied the knot of the two strands of ribbon more tightly together would have been the inclusion of some small elements of traditional Irish dance.  Nothing overt like a full blown Riverdance-style number, but subtle sean-nós or ceilí steps here or there to bind the old and new.  A small critique in an otherwise engaging production.

In a post performance discussion session, the creators and the cast reinforced some of my perceptions, with Liam even claiming the conception of the production really happened 30,000 years ago (his words) on a hill in Sligo around a fire. Though it was meant as somewhat of a jest, there is an ancientness to the music that I’ve felt from the very beginning. Martin called it a healing ritual, and the bridging of gaps along with the multi-national dance troupe easily speaks to the universal language and healing power of both music and dance. Based on the response from the audience, I think both modern and ancients approved.


  1. awesome review…motivated me to check out Liam O Maonlai and found a video of him with Swell Season on

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