I met the folks behind the Riverdance in Dublin recently and given that its a show — or rather a performance, which is more electric and intense than a show — I’ve been wanting to see for awhile, I was thrilled to learn that it was coming to the Bay Area within a month. Last week, close and center, I took it all in — from the incredible colors of the costumes, to the dance numbers themselves.
Scene one (photographed above) started out with an eerie blue blackdrop, cloud-like smoke emerging from the floor. The background and its meaning? In a primitive and powerful world, Ireland’s ancestors knew fear and joy and fire, worked wood and stone and water to make a place they could call home.
The first peoples knew the world as a place of power, their songs and dances and stories are negotiations with elemental powers. The first half of this performance shows them coming to terms with the world and with themselves.
Some of my other favorite scenes including the powerful playing of a lone piper who mourns Cú Chulainn, the implacable Bronze Age warrior, the great hero of Celtic myth. In Act Two, they cover the mid-19th century, the hunger and famine which drove the Irish out of their home island, across the Atlantic to a New World. Lovers parted from lovers and families and communities were torn apart.
The women’s costumes were stunning and their energy addictive – it wasn’t possible to get up and dance during the performance but they should find a venue where you can…imagine the tapping, clapping and singing. I’ll be there in spades if they line up something like this in the future.
Later, we see an image of a ship in the background and powerful scene emerges. It was somewhat confusing at first (though this didn’t matter because the music was so unified and so beautiful that you were drawn into the “performance” over its meaning). Here, the music and dance that forged a sense of identity are now exposed to new and unfamiliar cultures. Ultimately, in the blending and fusion that follows, the emigrants find that the totality of human experience and expression is greater even than the sum of its many diverse parts.
From the darkness a lone voice sings and is then joined by other immigrants, reflecting the universal yearning of the dispossessed wherever they make their home.
My favorite scene by far was when two black tap dancers emerge onto the stage with three Irish “Riverdance-style” tap dancers. They compete. They join. They mock. And in the process, they entertain. The original choreography was done by Colin Dunne and Tarik Winston.
Imagine the wealth of the poor in song, dance and story. Under the street-lamps in the new cities the dancers perform with pride in their heritage, curious to see what other traditions bring, struggling to bridge the gap between old dreams and new realities.
We also are introduced to a Latin dancer amidst Irish energy, folk and fiddling. In the cauldron of the big city, the pulsing energy of the streets is reflected in the fiery Latin dance rythms and she entertains us in her yellows and oranges, all representing the strong contrast to a northern European culture.
The stunning lighting, the choreography, the mix of broadway style, modern and traditional dance performance and a rich cultural heritage is what makes Riverdance a huge hit, and a not to be missed performance when it passes through your city.
All images taken by Jack Hartin.