Celebrating its 21st anniversary, Riverdance hits Leeds Grand Theatre this month as part of a national tour.
The Irish line-dancing phenomena began as a performance piece in Dublin, supporting 1994's Eurovision Song Contest. This year the expanded dance show celebrates a landmark anniversary with a tour showcasing a cast of dancers born in the year of Riverdance's creation.
Any reservations which concern how one routine can be extended into a two-hour show should be quickly dispelled; Riverdance consists of a lyrical story, an anthology of Irish lore and romance which is punctuated by a four-piece folk band that bookends stories and experiences told through percussive and bold dance routines.
The Riverdance band consists of Fiddle, Drums, Bodhran, Pipes, Tin Whilstes and Saxophone. Cheerful and celebratory, the four-piece perform live on stage amongst the action, furnishing a diverse range of numbers with a youthful verve which charms and uplifts. Equally, the Riverdance singers provide beautiful harmonies with a stunning vocal alacrity, creating a mythical and ethereal quality to the experience.
The dance is diverse and presents a bold fusion of Flamenco and Russian styles, offering diversity within traditional Irish dance which is surprisingly complementary, issuing a range of styles to ensure a constant engagement from its audience. A particularly entertaining episode includes a tap-off between Irish and New York dancers, with Rohan Pinnock Hamilton and Dharmesh Patel performing in a charismatic Broadway routine. An all-male acapella tap number called Thunderstorm is dramatically captivating, in a forceful and aggressive routine originally choreographed by Michael Flatley.
The indelible aspect of the show is its meticulously choreographed percussive Irish dance, which collectively produces a pounding, visceral volume. The pieces are endlessly inventive, showcasing groups and duets to communicate stories and feelings with charm and humour. Led by Natasia Petracic and Bobby Hodges, the dancers deliver thunderous tap routines with a razor-sharp precision which almost defies belief; a peerless powerhouse of energy which pounds the stage with a primal and exciting urgency. In short, these are meticulous performances which provide an irresistibly uplifting experience.
Bill Whelan's musical arrangement has an authentic and evocative quality, lending Riverdance a gravity which complements the percussive tap. Celebratory and upbeat, the numbers have a bombastic defiance which effectively underscore the charisma of the dance. Lighting and simple staging generates an atmosphere which moves from the romantic to the dramatic with a brooding intensity, whilst a wide range of colourful costumes provide a shift in texture and tone between scenes.
Living up to its phenomenon, Rivderdance opens Spring in full fling, ushering in a thunderous feeling of celebration. Full of flair, flavour and fun, it is a show which delivers a unique spectacle of tireless talent. Evocative, uplifting and full of excitement, Riverdance is an art form which truly needs a live audience to appreciate its complexity, precision and scale. Don't miss it.
Cast: Natasia Petracic, Ciara Sexton, Emma Warren, Brendan Dorris, Bobby Hodges, Callum Spencer. Director: John McColgan Composer: Bill Whelan Theatre: Leeds Grand Theatre Duration: 130 minutes Dates: 19th - 22nd April 2016.
Originally published for Entertainment Focus.
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