Theater Review: RIVERDANCE (25th Anniversary Tour)

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by Lawrence Bommer on February 5, 2020

in Theater-Chicago,Tours


This Irish extravaganza is celebrating its 25th anniversary, a quarter century of Celtic thunder as thousands of feet have pounded countless floorboards. What Stomp offered to percussive street-dancing and Forever Tango did for Argentina’s national cooch dance, Riverdance breathtakingly delivers to Irish dance and its cultural spin-offs.

Wowing rapt crowds in a tour to mark a milestone, Broadway in Chicago’s high-hoofing spectacle, now in a very short run at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, can slam a stage to raise the dead. It’s impossible not to get caught up in its spontaneous thrill as the literally knee-jerk precision from a line-dance of awesomely coordinated feet drives home a beat that feels stronger than your heart.

Conceived by Moya Doherty and shaped by John McColgan into a hit in Dublin, London, New York, Cork and Belfast (with help from Michael Flatley before he broke away to become the “Lord of the Dance”), this supple show traces Irish dance — embodied in the endless variations of the jig — through its influence on Harlem tap-dancing, Spanish flamenco, even Cossack spins. Bill Whelan provide a supple Euro-pop score that traces the Celtic beat across the years and continents.

Once you get past John Kavanagh’s pretentious narration (which recalls the pompous voice-overs in That’s Dancin’), Riverdance quickly scores a choreographic integrity. Accompanied by a terrific 4-person orchestra (down from the original 13) on exotic-to-inexplicable instruments and performed against a video screen of gorgeous projections (now a huge canvas rather than three screens), these inexhaustible young dancers recapture the tribal terrors and Dionysian abandon of ancient Gaelic dance.

Exemplified by lead dancers Will Bryant and Maggie Darlington, the jig becomes a dance incantation where the lack of arm movement channels tension and energy into the blurred legs. (The brain clearly isn’t wired enough to supervise both.) The eighteen-strong Riverdance Irish Dance Troupe combines the easeful elegance of a coursing thoroughbred with the dexterity of tap heels striking the stage (or each other) quicker than the eye (or ear) can follow.

Moving from a silhouette against a firestorm backdrop, Rocio Montoya emerges to perform an equally flaming flamenco, its insistent rhythms taking up the beat of the jigs before it.

Easily the pile-driving evening’s most astonishingly original event is a dance-off between Lamont Brown and Tyler Knowlin, tap-dancing Harlem hoofers, and a trio of Irish steppers. The contest flows irresistibly between the sensuous hip-swings, acrobatic flips and break-dancing bravura of the African American duo and the unbending accuracy of the arm-less, hip-less jig trotters. You’ve never seen the like.

Performed by the orchestra and the Riverdance Singers, musical interludes deliver a lament to the fallen hero Chu Chulainn, spring and harvest, and the immigrants’ homesickness for the Olde Sod.

Almost as dazzling as the dancing, Andrew Voller’s lighting effects, precisely synchronized to his projections of moons, stars and seascapes, unleashes torrents of strobe-like lightning and rock-concert refulgence.

The truest tribute to these disciplined dancers, with their perpetual motion wedded to hot fusion, is how hard it is to believe you see what you feel; the latter seems that much stronger than the former. But as you hear these lithe bodies land on foot as if all were two legs, you savor Yeats’ wondrous paradox, “How can we know the dancer from the dance?”

photos by Jack Hartin

national tour
ends at Chicago’s Cadillac Palace Theatre
on February 9, 2020
for tickets, call 800.775.2000
or visit Broadway In Chicago

tour continues through 2020
for dates and cities, visit Riverdance

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Nataliya March 1, 2020 at 10:08 am

Hi, I attended Riverdance 25-Anniversary show in Toronto, February 29 2020. While I enjoyed it, I was very surprised to see the Ukrainian folk dance “hopak” presented as “Russian dance“. Not sure what exactly was the reason of such misrepresentation?


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