Thirteen years ago, a troupe of Irish dancers performed a seven minute piece as part of the Eurovision Song Contest in Dublin. The audience response, worldwide, was so huge that it was later expanded into the phenomenon that is Riverdance; since seen by 9 million people. Judging by the enthusiastic response at the opening of the tour in Manchester, the show has lost none of its appeal.
Joseph Moriarty and Aislinn Ryan lead the riverdancers, and excellent they are too. The producers wisely do not try and make them emulate the star appeal of Jean Butler and Michael Flatley. The show itself has evolved into a really fine ensemble piece, unlike Flatley's recent ventures which seem to be all about Michael.
Bill Whelan's timeless music gives the show the authenticity it requires to remain Irish. It also provides a perfect show case for the excellent band which, this time around, is a major part of the show. Fiddler Alexis Macisaac puts the recent Lord Of The Dance tour to shame by playing without a backing tape. Darragh Murphy moves the audience by performing the stirring "Caoineadh Chu Chulainn" (Lament) beautifully. Multi talented Guy Rickarby provides the heartbeat and backbone to the show with his spirited percussion, Bodhran and drumming. Toby Kelly's sax is a great soundtrack for the athletic and streetwise crowd-pleasers, the Riverdance Tappers, Kelly Isaac and Lee Payne.
Many have criticised the show over the years for being po-faced but the playful humour of these tappers leaves the audience beaming with delight. Yes, the show is at times self important; but it is nowhere near as irritating as Cirque Du Soleil.
The sheer variety keeps things moving at a rapid pace. Stunning Carmen Armengou’s flamenco dancing is full of life and passion. The almost elasticised Moscow Folk Ballet are like human spinning tops and a sight to behold, leaving you breathless with excitement. The Irish troupe themselves remain just as tight and synchronized as before, bringing ‘sexy’ back to Irish dancing.
Some of the Enya-esque elements of the show could be cut as they remind you of a spoof scene from Stones In His Pockets. But Riverdance remains the dance show to beat, as it is good old fashioned variety with added sex appeal and dazzling movement. Still the Celtic cream of the Irish Dancing show crop.
- Glenn Meads (reviewed at the Opera House, Manchester)