Colin Dunne is a leading figure in the world of traditional Irish dance, who has made the cross over into contemporary dance and theatre. Best known internationally for his performances and choreography in Riverdance and Dancing on Dangerous Ground, he has been forging a new creative path since his time as artist in residence at University of Limerick where he completed an MA in contemporary dance in 2002. In 2007 he was nominated for a UK Critics Circle National Dance Award (best male: modern dance) for performances at The Barbican in Fabulous Beast’s production of The Bull. His first solo show Out of Time premiered in January 2008.
Colin Dunne was born in 1968 in Birmingham, England to Irish parents. He took his first lesson in Irish step dance at the age of three with the locally based Comerford School. At the age of 9, he won his first World Championship title and was the first dancer to win the World, All England and All Ireland titles in the same year. From the age of 12 he was taught by Marion Turley in Coventry and when he retired from competition at the age of 22, he had won a total of nine World, eleven Great Britain, nine All Ireland and eight All England titles. He was influenced from an early age by tap dance – Gregory Hynes in particular - which contributed to his often complex approach to rhythm within the structures of traditional Irish music. His musical approach to dance was also aided by his ability to play piano by ear. For years he played as a dance accompanist at competitions in the ragtime style of Irish dance piano music.
At the age of 19, he was the youngest person ever to receive an Irish Post Award in recognition of his achievements in Irish dance. Fellow award winners that year included poet Tom Paulin and theatre director Declan Donnellan. Previous winners included Bob Geldoff, Daniel Day Lewis and Brenda Fricker.
Colin graduated from Warwick University in 1989 with a B.Sc in Economics before going on to work as a trainee accountant at the Birmingham offices of Arthur Andersen. At the same time he had gained his dance teachers exam (T.C.RG) and was teaching successfully with Marion Turley in Coventry and giving workshops in the USA, Australia and New Zealand. He resigned from Arthur Andersen on the day he became a qualified Chartered Accountant to go on a month long tour of Canada with The Chieftains. He has worked as a dancer ever since.
Between 1992 and 1995 he toured regularly with musical groups The Chieftains and DeDannan. The former saw him begin a dance partnership with Jean Butler. The latter lead to a memorable performance with Frankie Gavin and Stefan Grappelli at Belfast’s Ulster Hall, and then to a collaboration with American tap dancer Tariq Winston for the Irish Society St. Patrick’s Day Ball in New York in 1995. Six months later, Dunne would find himself working with both Butler and Winston in Riverdance.
Colin joined the cast and creative team of Riverdance in October 1995. He was initially invited to choreograph and perform the newly commissioned number Trading Taps with Tariq Winston. However with the departure of original male lead and choreographer Michael Flatley the day before the re-opening of the show at The Hammersmith Apollo in London, he found himself taking over the principal role at short notice. He toured with the production for three years, taking the show to its USA premieres in New York (Radio City Music Hall) and Los Angeles (Pantages Theatre), and also to Australia. His performances were recorded for the Riverdance – Live from New York DVD in 1996. Further choreography credits for the production followed; Firedance (with Maria Pages), Heartbeat of the World (with Maria Pages) and Heartland Duet (with Jean Butler). Special TV appearances during these years include The Royal Variety Show (The Dominion London), The Kennedy Honours (Kennedy Centre Washington D.C), and The Grammy Awards (including a duet with Savion Glover) at Madison Square Garden, New York.
In June 1998 Colin left Riverdance to begin work on a new project with Jean Butler. Dancing on Dangerous Ground was based on the myth of Diarmuid Agus Grainne, and was produced by Harvey Goldsmith and Radio City Music Hall. The show received its World Premiere at The Theatre Royal Drury Lane in London in December 1999 and went on to perform to full capacity at Radio City Music Hall in March 2000. Although the show received critical acclaim in New York, it had failed to capture the imagination of audiences and critics in London. It closed in June 2000.
After an eighteen month period living in New York, Colin returned to Ireland in 2001 to take a position as dancer-in-residence at the University of Limerick at the invitation of Micheal O’Suilleabhain. In that year, he took the Masters in Contemporary Dance Performance under the guidance of Mary Nunan, studying with contemporary practitioners such as Mark Baldwin, Wendy Houston, Yoshiko Chuma and Yvonne Rainer. He began focusing on the creation of short solo works, interrogating the space between his traditional dance roots and contemporary arts practice. Short solos were presented at The Vail International Dance Festival, Colorado, Jubilee Auditorium, Edmonton Canada, and The Queen Elisabeth Hall, London. As part of his final MA he choreographed “Headfoot” for the Daghdha Dance/Yoshiko Chuma production of 10,000 Steps which closed the first Dublin International Dance Festival.
Since finishing his Masters in 2002 he has sought collaborations with contemporary choreographers in parallel with his own solo creative work. In 2003 he worked again with Yoshiko Chuma in the Daghdha production of The Yellow Room (with dancers Mary Nunan and Olwen Grindly and actor Padraic Delaney). In 2005 he joined Michael Keegan Dolan’s Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre for their production, The Bull which controversially played for two weeks at The Dublin Theatre Festival, in a role which many saw as a self-parody. His performances in The Bull at The Barbican in 2007 earned him a nomination for a UK Critics Circle National Dance Awards (best male: modern dance). Other work during this period includes choreography for The Abbey Theatre (The Shaughraun 2004), and performances with The Irish Chamber Orchestra (Carna, written by Bill Whelan. Tour of Ireland 2004 and Carnegie Hall 2005). A recording of the chamber piece can be found on the album The Connemara Suite
Since 2002 Colin has been a regular guest tutor at the University of Limerick, on the MA in both Traditional and Contemporary Dance, and the BA in Traditional Dance and Music. He has also toured his Masterclass series to the USA, Europe and Russia. In 2004 he was invited to teach in Shanghai and Beijing during a two week residency as part of the China-Ireland festival. Later that year he returned to Birmingham to teach 6 National Express coach drivers for the Granada TV production, For One Night Only. In 2006 and 2007 he was a regular commentator and judge on the RTE show, Celebrity Jigs and Reels. He has also written and presented a four part radio series for Lyric FM called The Story of Tango (2003).
His first full-length solo show Out of Time premiered at Glór Irish Music Centre in January 2008. This multi-disciplinary work (dance, text, sound technology and archival film footage) sees Dunne return to the question of his traditional dance roots from the perspective of a contemporary practitioner. His ongoing work is supported by The Arts Council/An Comharaile Ealaion; since 2004 he has received 2 bursary awards, a commission award and a project: new work award.
He currently lives in County Clare, Ireland.