Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Riverdance Farewell Tour

Riverdance is finally saying farewell.

Sort of.

It’s saying farewell to the United States, but taking 3 years to do it, wanting to say goodbye to every city where it’s played before. But it still hasn’t been to South America or Africa so there will be tours there in the foreseeable future and there is already a “farewell tour” traveling around Europe, another trip to China planned. There is talk of a permanent production in Dubai.

So although the performance at the Sacramento Community Theater (an 11-day, 16-performance run, which is almost sold out already) is Riverdance’s farewell to Sacramento, I think it’s fair to say that it will be a very long time until those crazy tap dancing Irishmen finally hang up their tap shoes!

Riverdance began in 1994 as a 7 minute filler act for the Eurovision Songfest, which was hosted that year by Ireland. The host country traditionally provides the entertainment while the votes are being tallied. With the talents of Michael Flatley and Jean Butler and the music of Bill Whelan, the original “Riverdance” was conceived. The number was broadcast to some 300 million viewers and was such a hit that producer Moya Doherty, composer Whelan and director John McClogan expanded the piece into a full length stage production.

“Riverdance–the Show” had its world premiere at the Point Theater in Dublin in February 1995 and to date has played over 10,000 performance and been seen live by more than 21 million people in over 300 venues in 32 countries and across 4 continents. The show has traveled well over 500,000 miles, played to a worldwide television audience of nearly 2 billion, sold over 2.5 million copies of the Grammy Award winning COULD and over 9 million videos, making it one of the best selling entertainment videos in the world.

If you’ve never seen Riverdance, the farewell tour will knock your socks off. If you’ve seen it, best to set aside all memories of previous performances and concentrate on this one because who could possibly match the flying feet of Michael Flatley or even the amazing dancing fiddling of Niamh Ni Charra, seen the last time the show played Sacramento in 2001. Fiddler Pat Mangan is has a delightfully engaging twinkle in his eye as he walks around the stage, but he doesn’t dance.

Riverdance has gone more high tech now, too, with projections to set the scene, such as the rocky structures of ancient times, the Norman columns of less ancient times, or the pastoral scenes indicating the failure of the land, leading to a mass migration out of Ireland, while the sonorous voice of John Kavanaugh booms out, setting the mood for the next scene.

The heart of Riverdance is its dance numbers. The now-familiar ramrod straight upper torsos and the inhumanely precise furiously tapping feet are never more spectacular than when all dancers are stretched out across the stage in a chorus line that rivals the Rockettes. There is also a mic along the edge of the stage so all those taps are amplified to get the most out of them. If you like tap, you’ll love this. If you don’t like tap, this is not the show for you!

Leading the dancers on opening night are Marty Dowds and Alana Mallon (the leads will alternate throughout the run). Dowds has legs which often seem to have the consistency of rubber bands as he taps furiously, perhaps at its best in “Thunderstorm,” a piece for the male dancers.

Also outstanding is the second act “Trading Taps,” with Dowds, along with Craig Ashurst and Marcus Maloney (now having immigrated to the United States), engaging in what might be called a “tap rumble” with a couple of African American street kids, Parker Hall and Jason Bernard.

Riverdance also demonstrates the similarities of Irish dances with and influences on other cultures. Thus Carmen Armengou brings a fiery flamenco to the stage danced in a pool of red light and backed by a projection of the sun, and of tongues of fire.

Members of the Moscow Folk Ballet Company, led by Yuri Zhivoglotov and Anna Brovkina bring high energy and high leaps and some circle dancing that relies heavily on centrifugal force.

The Riverdance singers provide soothing and sometimes downright delicious harmonies, led by the clear soprano of Laura Yanez. In Act 2, baritone Michel Bell brings down the house with his “Heal Their Hearts.”

Lighting designer Rupert Murray also deserves high praise for making lighting a principal “character” in this production. Shafts of light flashing across the stage before the finale are a light show in themselves.

If you are one of those rare individuals who has never seen Riverdance, treat yourself (if you can get tickets) to see this production. If you have seen it before, you’ll enjoy seeing it again. The whole thing may have become a bit too mechanized after 14 years, but it’s still an enjoyable evening.

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