Doyle steps up 'Celtic Sojourn'

Kevin Doyle of Barrington is back this year as lead dancer and choreographer

The Providence Journal - Providence, R.I.
Author: Rick Massimo
December 11, 2011 

"A Christmas Celtic Sojourn" isn't coming to Rhode Island this year, but the show still has a strong Rhode Island connection: Kevin Doyle of Barrington, a longtime step dancer who performs with Pendragon and other traditional groups in the area, is making his third appearance with the annual show and his first as lead dancer and choreographer.

"Kevin was an obvious choice," says producer Brian O'Donovan, host of "A Celtic Sojourn," the long-running NPR show on which the live performance is based, calling Doyle "the pride of Providence" and "one of the great dancers. He's got the sense of the stage, he's got the technical chops, he's got the creativity to pull together dances, inject a little humor -- and he's a great guy to work with" -- very important with the time pressure of putting together such a complex, multilayered show in four or five days.

Even though Doyle will miss a few Pendragon shows over the holidays, the group's Russell Gusetti says, "We're all thrilled for him, and it's a great honor."

Doyle, 60, says he began dancing at age 8, inspired by his mother. And while he comes from the world of "kitchen hooleys" -- musical parties where young and old would dance "party pieces" -- Doyle, along with the usual jigs, reels and hornpipes, is bringing a few new steps to "A Christmas Celtic Sojourn": For the first time, they'll be doing a waltz clog, an American ancestor of tap dance, an addition that O'Donovan finds "fascinating."

"There's this historical connection between the two," the host says. "And when we do [the show], we take great pride in not being totally precious within the boundaries of a particular genre. So we're part Celtic show, part Christmas show, and a large part vaudeville. And what Kevin brings to the mix is all of the above."

"I was pretty honored that he tapped me," says Doyle, although the honor means a lot more work. He spent weeks conferring over Skype with O'Donovan, musical director Seamus Egan of Solas, and artistic director Paula Plum, and working with the young performers of the Harney Academy of Irish Dance in Walpole, Mass. Reached last week, Doyle had just begun rehearsals in Boston with the young dancers, the musicians and the artistic staff, where they're all holed up for the two-week rehearsal period and run of the show.

O'Donovan says Doyle is "so ideally suited" to working with the kids, and Doyle calls the youngsters, who have won many dance championships, "a pleasure to work with." He adds that dancing in a public performance, rather than a competition, is a different experience for most of them. "The teacher told me, the hardest thing you'll have to do is get them to smile. ... Now they have to be conscious of the audience in front of them. It's show biz."

Putting the show together is a complicated process, says Doyle, who danced in it in 2005 and 2008. "You start off Monday morning in a rehearsal room, and everyone's just meeting each other. And then everyone will have a script of the show, and it's amazing how all the pieces, all the music, comes together. It takes work -- four days of rehearsing straight through. It amazes me, because when we sit down for the first time, it's 'Oh my God, we've got such a long way to go here.' But it happens." And in the end, it's fun. "Oh, yeah -- I enjoy it."