Where Were You When
It was a quintessential ‘where were you when’ moment. Up there with where were you when David O’Leary slotted in that penalty sending Ireland into their first World Cup Quarter Final? For many it was the most exuberant where were you when moment of them all; when Riverdance stole the Eurovision in 1994. Awe struck, people sat transfixed in front of televisions. Calling friends and family as Micheal Flatley and Jean Butler made Irish dancing look magical. Listening, enthralled, to Bill Whelan’s exuberant Celtic score that sent the soul soaring. ‘Are you seeing this?’ people called out in disbelief, it being too big to miss or to have to experience alone. As heels crashed against the stage in final, perfect synchronicity, it wasn’t just the audience bursting into ecstatic applause. Pubs, clubs, and living rooms were on their feet cheering. Caught up in a spontaneous outpouring of something pride seems too small a word for. This, finally, was what we believed ourselves to be. Exciting. Passionate. Sexy. Innovative, inclusive, and wildly confident. And it was there, on stage, for all the world to see.
Thankfully that iconic first performance was a teaser for what was to come. Premiering at The Point, Dublin, on February 9th, 1995, Riverdance: The Musical cast its spell and has kept the world spellbound ever since. Which, if you do the math, was exactly twenty-five years ago this week. And this week Riverdance has come home to celebrate its anniversary back where it all began with the "Riverdance 25th Anniversary Show". If many have aged both gracefully and disgracefully during the intervening twenty-five years, with The Point reinventing itself into the 3Arena, the eternally youthful Riverdance shows no signs of ageing. Looking as young, exuberant, and as wildly intoxicating as ever.
For those familiar with Riverdance, "Riverdance 25th Anniversary Show" boasts some new elements as it transitions into its next twenty-five years. Always music and dance provide the pulse as it charts a journey through heart and history. Like some mythical, half-pagan stations of the cross, or some Druidic mystery play played out in a temple cave, scenes unfold through eighteen musical and dancing vignettes. Offering images, like pictures in a gallery, charting a vision of Ireland and Irishness rolling out from under the rolling mists of time. Before travelling throughout the world and returning home richer and wiser. Learning and sharing as fiddle meets flamenco, tap meets Sean Nos, all with a breathtaking beauty. Proving Irish identity is not one simple thing, even though it is always present. Grab at it with definition and it will slip through your fingers. But watch it dance and sing through cities and caves, forest and night skies, seas and rivers, and you’ll hear its voice, and see it move, as it celebrates home, harmony, and the whole world in shared togetherness.
Throughout, director John McColgan crafts moments of astonishing beauty with compositional brilliance, channeling an unending flow of energy so that even when still the stage never feels stationary. Andrew Voller’s superlative lights illuminate Alan Farquhason’s sublime set which provides a visual feast that sees all the world onstage. All costumed to perfection by Joan Bergin and enriched by Peter Canning’s High Res and Cosmo AV’s graphics. A world distinctly Irish, yet includes fiery Flamenco from dancer Rocio Montoya, and a whirling dervish of delight that is The Riverdance Russian Ensemble, whose hybrid of Russian folk dance and ballet is jaw droppingly flawless.
Friday nights performance, led by principals Natasia Petracic and Callum Spencer, saw an unrelenting rigour and exactitude deliver some exquisitely executed sequences. If the Thunderstorm sequence saw Spencer deliver a masterclass in precision, the Trading Taps scene saw him finding his swagger during a delightful Sean Nos versus Tap Dance battle with the lovable Riverdance Tappers, Kayla Lomas-Kirton, Dharmesh Patel, and Rohan Pinnock-Hamilton. Whether during solos or group scenes, like the beautifully brazen The Countless Cathleen, Petracic moves with the ease of a breath, embellishing with subtle gestural flourishes of personality that transcend the purely technical. An abundance of both flowing throughout the entire company, whose displays of unparalleled virtuosity are executed with military precision.
Musicians, too, light up the stage, conveying the haunting, the playful, the plaintive, the exuberant. At key moments singer Edel Murphy haunts and soothes with a voice that would silence angels. Fiddle player Haley Richardson, with a wickedly mischievous glint in her eye, invites everyone to the party with some superb playing. Who, along with Tara Howley’s excellent Uilleann pipes and whistles, and Emma McPhilemy’s superb saxophone, supplies all the strings, winds and brass you could possibly need. Yet all risk being seriously upstaged by percussionist Mark Alfred, whose endless energy and enthusiasm makes Animal from The Muppets looks chronically laid back. All of whom are wonderfully supported by Damien Mullane on accordion, Seamus O’Flatharta on harp and bodhran, and Declan Masterson on guitar, pipes, kaval and bouzouki.
Over the years Riverdance has had its detractors. Some accusing it of promoting a Yeats styled Celtic romanticism, fostering mythologised notions of Ireland that keep realities like the homeless or hospital trollies far out of sight. Or of becoming a corporate brand with too many offshoots trying to rehash the original magic. But realities of the heart are as real as the day to day realties we all want addressed. And myths allow us to shape and reshape our understanding of who we are. As a nation we’ve always been romantic at heart, prone to singing, dancing, poetry, and stories. Affording us a resilience to weather the storms and keep moving forward through the dark times, always celebrating life. In which Riverdance is an act of hope, dancing defiantly towards better days.
Produced by Moya Doherty, "Riverdance 25th Anniversary Show" is both a tale of Ireland and of Riverdance’s own journey. So where were you when you first saw Riverdance? Equally as important, where are you now? Because life’s too short not to embrace the richest, most rewarding, and uplifting experiences. Magical, moving, and utterly memorable, "Riverdance 25th Anniversary Show" is one such experience. And it's here for only a few days. So live, or relive, the ecstasy, energy, and exuberance. Why on earth would you want to deprive yourself of that?
"Riverdance 25th Anniversary Show," produced by Moya Doherty, directed by John McColgan, with music by Bill Whelan, runs at the 3Arena until February 9.
For more informatioin, visit 3Arena or Riverdance.