After seeing the Riverdance show at least six times over their 20 years of performances all over the world, I was prepared to see the same ol’ same ol’; but I was quite pleasantly surprised. Riverdance: The 20th Anniversary World Tour, now playing at the Durham Performing Arts Center, features new costumes, lighting, and projections and brand-new music — and it explodes with the energy of a meticulously tuned freight train. Riverdance is tantalizing. It enchants. It thrills. The show is still a hit!
With music composed by Bill Whelan, the show is produced by Moya Doherty and directed by John McColgan. Riverdance is back at DPAC after a four-year absence from North America. When the show arrived in New York in 1996, it had already been running for a year in Great Britain, where it smashed box-office records. It continued its phenomenal success after sold-out shows at Radio City Music Hall, extending its nonstop touring to a 16-year stretch.
The show’s Irish dance troupe, musicians, and singers are among some of the most talented performers of any show currently touring. Their energy and precision enthralls the audience from the moment the stage darkens and the Gaelic announcer introduces the show with a poetic passage on the sun’s powers and an admonition to “dance in his healing rays.” The dancers that storm the stage, straight-backed and stiff-legged, are the most on-point dance troupe this reviewer has ever seen.
When the show begins, so does the story. The dancers represent a stoic people, and the dance takes us to a windswept place. The place becomes a character in this story loosely based on the history of the Irish people, and it is a very powerful character that determines the Irish people’s lifestyle and future. The music underscores the way that those people deal with the life that they’re handed: “[T]he key to everything is love.”
Riverdance not only spotlights Irish culture, but also incorporates other international cultures, with Russian folk dancers joining the show’s female lead and troupe in “The Countess Cathleen.” An absolutely passionate and spectacularly danced flamenco is the central focus of “Firedance,” and the flamenco dancer returns in the second half in “Andalucia.” And one of the most exciting moments of the evening’s performance is a nod to American tap.
“Trading Taps” becomes a challenge between the Irish Dance Troupe and the American Tappers. It’s an exciting, highly charged, and extremely energetic dance that has the audience screaming and applauding several times through the amazing segment. High-flying splits, heavenly kicks, and machine-bullet taps bring “bravos” and spontaneous applause; and it is well-earned.
The dancers are not the only powerfully talented creatives in this show. The Riverdance band members move from one instrument to another, blending their haunting sounds with the gorgeous voices of the touring singers. A shining star is Mark Alfred, who plays the drums, percussion, and Bodhrán with the fierceness of a god of war.
Though the principals are mesmerizing, particularly a sprite-like creature who practically flies across the stage like the quintessential hummingbird, the troupe steals the show when they line up in razor-sharp lines, straight and proud, kicking and tapping and doing ankle twists so perfectly synchronized that it seems like they are simply parts of a larger organ. The sound of so many pounding feet reaches deep into your soul, and there isn’t a body in the audience that isn’t tapping along in same manner. The musical theme continues with “We will not be beaten down like grain,” and the male members of the troupe dance like thundering horses.
The atmosphere within which the dancing and music take place are constantly changing in this production. The sets designed by Robert Ballagh often feature symbolic Irish metaphors, such as a full moon or a deeply rooted tree, highlighted with the dramatic lighting designed by John Comiskey. Costume designer Joan Bergin contributes to the ethereal mood with wonderfully vivid costumes, such as the rich red one the principal flamenco dancer wears in her first number and sound designer Michael O’Gorman rounds out the talented crew.
There aren’t enough superlatives to define this now classic show. The fleet-footed dancers move so quickly that they’re often blurs. The songstresses weave the fragile strains of traditional Irish music into a multilayered sound that spellbinds. The musicians perform complicated refrains with the ease of a knife through half-melted butter. Riverdance sparkles, it pounds, and it subtly raises one’s consciousness. Riverdance is the whole package!
SECOND OPINION: June 9th Raleigh, NC Triangle Explorer review by John Huisman: https://triangleexplorer.com/2016/06/09/riverdance-thrills-at-the-dpac/ and June 2nd interview with principal dancer Chloey Turner, conducted by John Huisman: https://triangleexplorer.com/2016/06/02/riverdance-at-dpac-june-7th-12th/; June 8th Durham, NC Herald-Sun review by Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: http://www.heraldsun.com/lifestyles/review-impressive-footwork-in-riverdance/article_70494ba6-2dcb-11e6-a13b-4fb745b4e604.html and June 2nd preview by Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: http://www.heraldsun.com/lifestyles/irish-dance-riverdance-is-the-pinnacle-of-any-irish-dancer/article_fd6c579c-285f-11e6-b654-3b4dbce7a31e.html (Note: You must subscribe to read these articles); June 8th Burlington, NC Times-News review by Rachel Teseneer for “Teens & Twenties”: http://teensandtwenties.com/riverdances-20th-anniversary-tour-comes-to-dpac/; and June 8th Raleigh, NC Triangle Arts and Entertainment review by Susie Potter: http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2016/06/riverdance-offers-up-riveting-cant-look-away-magic/; June 4th Fayetteville, NC Fayetteville Observer preview by Brooke Carbo: http://www.fayobserver.com/living/arts_theater/riverdance-still-wowing-the-world/article_a60e3dad-933f-5985-b9ce-2800b68ea868.html. (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the June 7th Triangle Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2016/06/the-20th-anniversary-tour-of-riverdance-will-burn-up-the-dpac-stage-on-june-7-12/
The Durham Performing Arts Center presents RIVERDANCE: THE 20TH ANNIVERSARY WORLD TOUR at 8 p.m. June 10, 2 and 8 p.m. June 11, and 1 and 6:30 p.m. June 12 at 123 Vivian St., Durham, North Carolina 27701, in the American Tobacco Historic District.
TICKETS: $25 and up. Click here for DPAC Special Offers.
Ticketmaster: 800-982-2787 or http://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115558/778497.
GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919/281-0587, Groups@DPACnc.com, or http://www.DPACnc.com/events-tickets/group-services.
VIDEO PREVIEW: https://www.youtube.com/user/OfficialRiverdance.
THE TOUR: http://riverdance.com/tours/usa/.
TOUR CASTS: http://riverdance.com/the-show/cast/.
CREATIVE TEAM: http://riverdance.com/the-show/creatives/.
Riverdance (1995 “celebration of Irish dance, music and culture”): http://riverdance.com/ (official website), https://www.ibdb.com/Show/View/7545 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0136491/ (Internet Movie Database), https://www.facebook.com/Riverdance (Facebook page), https://twitter.com/Riverdance (Twitter page), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Riverdance (Wikipedia), and https://www.youtube.com/user/OfficialRiverdance (YouTube Channel).
Dawn Reno Langley is a Durham, NC-based author who writes novels, poetry, children’s books, and nonfiction books on many subjects, as well as theater, music, and dance reviews. She is also a writer, editor, writing coach at Reno’s Literary Services of Durham. To read all of Dawn Langley’s Triangle Review reviews online at Triangle Arts and Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/dawn-reno-langle/. To read more of her writings, click http://dawnrenolangley.blogspot.com/ and http://poetryandgardening.blogspot.com/.