Riverdance: The Irish Dancing Phenomenon
For my sixteenth birthday, my parents took me to see Riverdance the show at our local theater. I have always loved Irish culture and I had seen Riverdance on tape before, but to actually be in the same room as these dancers with the Irish music filling up the vaulted ceiling, the beat of the drums synchronizing with the beat of your heart, is truly a unique experience. Needless to say, it was one of my favorite birthdays, one I will never forget.
Riverdance is a dance and music show that came out of Ireland. It showcases traditional Irish dancing and music with a modern, progressive flair. Although based on Irish traditions, Riverdance also exhibits dances and music from around the world. Riverdance helped to rejuvenate the traditional Irish dance and to introduce this tradition on an international level.
Irish step dancing has evolved out of centuries of traditional dance. The Irish Dance is set apart from other forms of dancing by elements such as rigid postures with arms down and quick steps with either hard shoes or soft shoes. The visual effect is an exciting dance that can be very fast-paced yet is always controlled.
Reels and jigs are danced with softshoes. Women wear soft shoes called ghillies. They look similar to ballet shoes and are made of black leather. Men wear soft shoes that look like jazz shoes with hard heels.
Hardshoes are used for heavy dances such as hornpipes. Hard shoes are similar to tap shoes, but instead of metal taps, hard shoes are given taps and heels made of fiberglass. There are eight striking surfaces on a hard shoe.
Riverdance began as a seven minute interval act for Eurovision Song Contest 1994 which was held in Dublin, Ireland. This first show of Riverdance starred Michael Flatley and Jean Butler with music composed by Bill Whelan. What started as a short sideshow grew into a full-length theatrical production that premiered at the Point Theatre in Dublin in February 1995. Riverdance has been running for fifteen years now, touring in several continents. It is currently (2010) on its farewell tour in the UK.
Born: May 22, 1950 in Limerick, Ireland
Bill Whelan composed the music for Riverdance. He is an Irish musician and composer. He has produced and arranged music for musicians such as Kate Bush, U2, and Van Morrison. He composed musical scores for the films Dancing at Lughnasa, Some Mother’s Son, and Lamb. Bill Whelan won a Grammy in 1997 for his Riverdance CD.
Born: 1957 in Donegal, Ireland
Moya Doherty is the producer of Riverdance. She is married to Riverdance co-founder John McColgan. She has worked extensively in television, radio, and theater. She is currently a director of Tyrone Productions, which produces television in Ireland. Moya Doherty is considered one of the richest women in Ireland.
John McColgan is the director of Riverdance. He is married to Moya Doherty. He has had a long career directing television and theater, and has received many awards. John McColgan directed the play The Shaughraun at The Abbey Theatre.
Born: March 14, 1971 in New York
Jean Butler, whose mother is Irish, was the first leading female dancer of Riverdance. She helped choreograph the first Riverdance. She was joined by Colin Dunne after Michael Flatley left the show. Later on, Butler and Dunne created their own show called Dancing on Dangerous Ground. Jean Butler was Artist in Residence at the University of Limerick’s Irish World Music Centre from 2003 to 2005.
Born: July 16, 1958 in Chicago, Illinois
Michael Flatley, an Irish American, was the first leading male dancer of Riverdance. He was the first non-European dancer to win the All-Ireland World Championship for Irish dance in 1969. He helped choreograph the first Riverdance. After leaving Riverdance, Michael Flatley has been involved in his other shows: Lord of the Dance, Feet of Flames, and Celtic Tiger.
The Music of Riverdance
Riverdance is more than just fast feet however. There couldn’t be dancing without music. The music of Riverdance is based on traditional Irish reels and jigs. Traditional instruments such as fiddles, bodhran drums, and uilleann pipes take center stage. Modern instruments like the saxophone are added into the mix. The result is a familiar yet progressive sound. Not only are there Irish songs, but music from other countries is also featured.
A very important part of Riverdance’s music is the use of vocals. Anuna, an Irish choral group, sang for Riverdance the first few years. The haunting vocals of Katie McMahon gave Riverdance a unique and intriguing sound.
Reel Around the Sun
This is a fast-paced reel that hooks you at the very beginning of the show.
The Heart’s Cry
The beautiful vocals of Anuna are announced in this a cappella song.
The Countess Cathleen
The fiddle is prominent in this piece where the ladies of the dance show off.
Caoineadh Cu Chulainn (Lament)
The uillean pipes featured in this lament are absolutely haunting. The song mourns over Cu Chulaiinn, a hero of Celtic legends.
This piece exhibits a melding of Spanish and Irish influences.
Lift the Wings
This is a song of immigrants, about longing for home and hope for a new future.
Home and the Heartland
This song is all about the love of home, even after traveling around the world.
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