Early in Riverdance a projection declares it as “a journey”. But while I’m still trying to wrap my head around exactly what that journey was, it takes nothing away from an entertaining evening of Irish (and other) dancing and some really great music.
While trying to judge if a dancer is hitting all the right steps is something better left to the likes of Bruno Tonioli or Mary Murphy, there are some big clues in the precision work of the numerous kick-lines that punctuate the show. With each group dance I found myself scanning the dance line looking for something, anything out-of-place. I was convinced the weaker dancers would be in the back row. They weren’t. These kids make the Rockettes and even the best cast of A Chorus Line look like rank amateurs.
Then there are the soloists. The biggest hit of the evening comes part way through act two which is probably why it received so much buzz last night: the showdown between the tappers (DeWitt Fleming Jr and Michael Wood) and the Irish dancers. It was so full of wit, energy and dancing prowess that it is not hard to see why this would not be the highlight of any performance of the show. But throw in a couple of hot, hot, hot Flamencos from Marita Martinez-Rey and the astonishing athleticism and skill of lead Irish dancers Joe Moriarty and Alana Mallon and it is easy to see why this show has been attracting an audience for all of its 15 years.
Then of course there is the music and perhaps the biggest surprise of the evening – this show is much about the music as it is about the dancing. Patrick Mangan’s fiddling was of such quality that you just know he’d win any contest against the devil and such oddities as the Uilleann Pipes and the whistles being played by Matt Bashford brought a uniquely beautiful quality to much of it. Percussionist Mark Alfred, keyboardist Cathal Synnott and saxophonist Daniel Dorrance complete the five-piece band, elevating the entire proceedings to more than a simple dance recital.
One of the ladies seated beside us last night warned me that she had seen the show before and found it so infectious she begged me to forgive her in advance if she stepped on my toes. Funnily enough I found my own toes a-tapping on a couple occasions too and for good reason.
Queen Elizabeth Theatre
5 – 10 April 2011