Dancer finds a language of his own

Irish dancer Joel Hanna has enjoyed a long career—made successful, he says, through evolution.

“If you don’t evolve, you go obsolete,” he said in an interview Wednesday in Richmond.

“There’s an image (of Irish dance) that comes into your head, and there’s a box that it sits in, and there’s only a couple places where you can do that. This desire to expand just opened up a whole bunch of other opportunities.”

Hanna, 34, is assistant director and a performer in the Vancouver Spring Show, an upcoming music and dance show celebrating Chinese New Year. Performers from China, North America, Europe and India will all be on stage for the Feb. 9 show at Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Vancouver.

“I’ve been lucky enough to share a stage with some of the greatest people in the upper echelon of every art form, and the idea of being on stage with (Aimin Teng, a modern dancer from Beijing), makes me nervous,” said Hanna. “This guy really is a treasure.”

Hanna, who has an Irish-Filipino background, began training in Irish dance at age nine in Vancouver. He also trained in martial arts. His professional career took off after joining Riverdance: The Show in 1997, performing throughout Britain and North America. After two seasons, Hanna left the company to join the cast of Dancing on Dangerous Ground, mounted in London and New York.

Life then guided him to another European show, one so diverse it exposed him to a host of other dance styles: tap, flamenco, contemporary and modern. He said that gave him an unexpected arts education.

“Most people, especially in ethnic forms of music or dance, are taught to focus on this one (specialty), and everything else is either secondary or inferior,” he said. “Once all these different languages started coming into this language that I had turned up with, it just gave me a whole bunch of different words that allowed me the opportunity to say what i wanted to say…”

Continuing to break boundaries by fusing tap dance, musical percussion, Irish dance and martial arts, Hanna is a dancer in demand. Before next month’s Spring Show, Hanna will bring his performing and teaching skills to New York and Japan. Later, he’ll join Riverdance again as a choreographer and dancer, work with Cirque du Soleil for a new show in Vietnam and continue work in Japan and New York—where he has his own small dance company.

Dancers usually have a short shelf life, but Hanna is seemingly defying any best-before date.

“I didn’t do it on purpose, it just happened that way. It’s an interesting thing. I remain grateful for it because I don’t understand it.”

The Vancouver Spring Show is 7:30 p.m. Feb. 9 at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. Tickets, $38 to $138, at 1-800-715-1945 or springshow.ca.

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