Thursday, Nov. 16, 2006 | Remember the “Riverdance” craze several years back? First the show and then the taped version that eventually began airing incessantly on public broadcasting stations everywhere? The show is now in its 11th year (and no, Michael Flatley is not with the production). So when I heard “Riverdance” was coming to town, I thought, “Oh, I’ve already seen it on PBS.”

Don’t make that mistake.

“Riverdance” is not just a Rockette-style line of traditional Irish folk dancers. The live performance is a visual, aural and even emotional journey through music and dance, movement and rhythm.

At the opening night at the Civic Center Tuesday, many parents took the opportunity to bring their kids to see the fantastic performances up close. As the five-piece band took their places onstage and the lights went down, fog streamed out over the stage, causing a collective shiver of anticipation throughout the audience.

Originally conceived of as a brief-intermission piece for a European televised contest, producer Moya Doherty, composer Bill Whelan and director John McColgan expanded “Riverdance” into the full-length stage production we know today. Currently, there are three “Riverdance” productions touring the world and the show’s look has been updated over the years, keeping it bright and fresh.

Incorporating traditional Irish folklore, songs and dance, “Riverdance” innovatively fuses aspects of modern-day music and dance from other cultures into the performance with such talent and style it makes for a take-your-breath-away experience.

A Spanish flamenco-style dancer (Carmen Armengou) tantalizes skillfully while the musician who had earlier played a haunting bagpipe solo (amazing Declan Masterson), switches gears to accompany her on Spanish-sounding guitar. Very nearly stealing the entire show, dancers from the Moscow Folk Ballet Company twirl and whirl at such high speeds, they become blurs. Two tap-dancers (Kelly Isaac, Corey Hutchins) engage members of the Irish troupe in a tap-off (“Trading Taps”) while a saxophonist (Carolyn Goodwin) sultrily accompanies the taps and a fiddler (Pat Mangan) fiercely, speedily accompanies the troupe. The audience went wild.

“Riverdance” ambles along just like a river – taking the audience on a journey through mythic tales, forests and into bay-harbors. Conveyed by a screen-projection of burning suns, full moons or twinkling starlight, the setting follows the journey of the river with each turn bringing new surprises and talent.

The Riverdance Singers narrate parts of the story with both traditional songs – the lead female singer sang beautifully, but, sadly, lacked projection. The baritone soloist (Mark Fennell) sang clear and strong.

The Principal Dancers amaze and endear: Melissa Convery’s stage presence adds to her graceful dancing and Joe Moriarty’s charisma and speed has the audience on the edge of their seats.

Everyone knows that “Riverdance” features Irish dancers. That’s why most people initially go to see it. The innovation with which it showcases the musicians, the dancers and the singers makes it beautiful. The obvious pride and commitment of the performers to constantly re-energize “Riverdance” and not milk-it-to-death keeps it sending those shivers down your spine. That’s a great achievement for a long-running show.

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