Best known internationally for his performances and choreography in Riverdance and Dancing on Dangerous Ground, he transitioned to contemporary dance after earning an MA in that style as artist in residence at the University of Limerick 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 8 May 1968 in Birmingham, England to Irish parents. Colin Dunne took his first lesson in Irish step dance at the age of three with the Comerford School in his hometown. At the age of nine 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 theater director Declan Donnellan. Previous winners included Bob Geldof, Daniel Day-Lewis and Brenda Fricker.
Dunne graduated from Warwick University in 1989 with a BSc in Economics before going on to work as a trainee accountant at the Birmingham offices of Arthur Andersen. At the same time he passed his dance teachers exam (TCRG) and was teaching successfully with Marion Turley in Coventry and giving workshops in the United States, 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.
Irish dance career
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 Stéphane 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.
Dunne 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 on short notice. He toured with the production for three years, taking the show to its US 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 included The Royal Variety Show (The Dominion London), The Kennedy Center Honours (Kennedy Center in Washington D.C), and the Grammy Awards (including a duet with Savion Glover) at Madison Square Garden, New York.
In June 1998 Dunne 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 had 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 failed to capture the imagination of audiences and critics in London. It closed in June 2000.
Crossover to contemporary dance
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 studied for 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. He presented short solos at The Vail International Dance Festival in Colorado, Jubilee Auditorium in Edmonton and The Queen Elizabeth Hall in 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 included choreography for The Abbey Theatre (The Shaughraun 2004) and performances with The Irish Chamber Orchestra (Carna, written by Bill Whelan, tour of Ireland in 2004 and Carnegie Hall in 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 in the US, 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 six 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 Television show Celebrity Jigs and Reels. He also wrote 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) saw 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 Limerick, Ireland.
- Irish Moves: An Illustrated History of Dance and Physical Theatre in Ireland By Deirdre Mulrooney April 2006 ISBN 1-904148-92-1
- Riverdance Official Web Site/Colin Dunne
- A Celtic Legend Told Through Feats of Footwork by Anna Kisselgoff March-10-2000 The New York Times
- Untraditional, but Still an Irish Tradition, by Claudia La Rocco October-14-2011 The New York Times
- His Life After ‘Riverdance’ Is a Braid of Traditions by Brian Seibert October-21-2011 The New York Times
- Going Forward, Going Back by Siobhan Burke The Brooklyn Rail Magazine November 2011
- Birmingham-born Colin Dunne returns to Birmingham for the International Dance Festival BBC
- Riverdance Official Web Site/Colin Dunne
- In Dublin, Seeing Irish Dance of a Different Sort May-6-2008 The New York Times
- Celebrity Jigs 'n' Reels line-up is revealed