1994 will always be seen as a pivotal year for Irish culture. For seven minutes on 30 April that year millions of people all around Europe fell silent and watched, totally captivated, as a troupe of dancers – the interval act in the Eurovision Song Contest – introduced them to a form of dance that most had never heard of, let alone seen.
It appeared to be a curious mixture of wild leg and foot movements combined with upper body rigidity. In the years that followed, Irish dance exploded in popularity and the show created from that interval act – Riverdance– was a worldwide hit.
In 1999 producer Kieran Cavanagh and composer Carl Hession together with former Riverdance performer, and skilled choreographer Doireann Carney
created Rhythm of the Dance. Unlike its predecessor, it is totally and utterly 100 per cent Irish. Featuring a cast of 22 youthful and energetic dancers, three supremely talented tenors and a six-piece Irish band ,the piece is a showcase of 1000 years of Irish cultural history, though presented in a very modern way.
Each set-piece dance tells a short story and, whether it is the aggression of battle, a romantic courtship routine or macho posturing by the men of the troupe, each routine is perfectly executed using military precision combined with almost balletic grace. The dance action in interwoven with the fine harmonies of the tenors who filled the room with traditional Irish songs like “Molly Malone” – also known as “Cockles and mussels” or “In Dublin’s fair city – and “Danny Boy”.
The male and female leads are taken by Mike Byrne and Nicola Kennedy and they are, I am sad to say, the show’s only slight weakness. Lacking charisma and chemistry, they leave the audience wanting. However, that need is more than amply satisfied by Brian Shinners and Irene Cunningham.
He, as the only dancer/musician, provides an almost constant and very strong presence on the stage and she, with her somewhat unusual style –called Sean Nos, meaning old style – has an air of playful naughtiness about her which appears both amusing and dangerous. Together, they own the stage.
The six musicians who are seated across the back of the stage, with some playing traditional Irish instruments, are enhanced when Shinners joins them to play the Irish hand-held drum, known as a bodhran. Each of the musicians proved to be incredibly accomplished and throughout the performance they all visibly love every minute.
This production performance is both entertaining and mesmerising and the performances create a warm feeling – so typical of the Emerald Isle that I am sure I am not the only member of the audience who left with a bizarre craving for Guinness and Irish stew.