Riverdance: Throwing those artistic shapes

I have been dancing for almost twenty years. At university I have tried latin, ballroom and ballet, but the love of my life has been Irish dancing. On Saturday, the Irish Dance Society performed their final show of the year together and, as I relinquish power and responsibilities as Secretary, I feel as though I’m never going to dance again. Whenever I think about it I get a sad saxophone solo in my head.

It is an enormous show, and almost too much to take in all at once.

On Sunday evening a group of us went to the Metro Radio Arena to watch the 21st Anniversary Tour of Riverdance. It isn’t the first time that I’ve been to see the show. I saw the matinee at the Sunderland Empire in 2014, and in 2015 saw Michael Flatley himself in ‘Dangerous Games’ at Wembley. It was his last UK show before retirement—allegedly, he’s never going to dance again either.

Riverdance is the story of that Irish people told through traditionally inspired Irish step dancing blended with Spanish, Russian and American styles. It is an enormous show, and almost too much to take in all at once. When I saw the show in 2014, I was blown away by the musicianship. The opening soloist brought tears to my eyes. I was completely unprepared for how it would affect me.

This time, I was much more aware of the innovative interplay between dance styles. On Sunday they were spectacular, skilfully straddling a space between folk dancing and heart-stopping acrobatic feats. The duet between the Spanish soloist, with her smoothly lyrical arms, and the male principal was another high point of the evening.

Riverdance is the story of that Irish people told through traditionally inspired Irish step dancing 

In twenty-one years, the show has changed. ‘Trading Taps’, a dance-off between three Irish dancers and three tap dancers, was added in 1996. It transformed the show as a whole through the injection of an adversarial, competitive format in which the dancers can break loose a little, show off and play up to the crowd. Not only did they dance beautifully—their movements were wonderfully precise—but the mimicry of each other’s moves and style had me in stitches. The Irish dancers looked effortlessly casual, as though the complex rhythms and neat turns were as walking to other men, seeming to come off the stage without effort and hang in the air for seconds at a time.

No recording could compare to the live performance. The magic is in the atmosphere, the anticipation of what might happen next. The back and forth movement across the stage gives a side on view of the complex footwork and impressive synchronicity of the dancers, which due to the neatly crossed positioning characteristic of Irish dancing is less visible from the front. The dance is a masterclass example of the seamless slide between music and dance within the show and it was gratifying to see talented musicians given their time on stage, moving in amongst the dancers rather than hidden in a pit.  Unfortunately the company were only here for two nights, but I am confident that Riverdance will continue to tour globally for the foreseeable future.

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