Riverdance 21st Anniversary at New Wimbledon Theatre
Riverdance's First Act: A Celebration of Irish Soul
Ultimately, Riverdance is not all about the dancing. That is what electrifies and animates, but it still needs the right backdrop and soundtrack to elevate the power of the environment and historical legacy that drives the passion of what unfolds before us. In the first half of the show, the picture of the primitive passions are painted with a mournful piper solo (expertly played by Tara Howley) that pays tribute to a true Bronze Age warrior with evocative images of a primeval land.
The temperature is raised with the elements coming to the fore in the form of thunderstorms and moon and a voiceover that is not intrusive.The choreography has always been a wow moment as the renewed sense of cultural identity ends with a "riot" of celebration that is breathtaking. The two lead dancers, Bobby Hodges and Emma Warren, are perfectly pitched. Hodges absolutely commands the stage, not in a "look at me" manner, but rather with an understanding that he can drive the audience interaction with some dazzling footwork and full face expression. We may have seen it from afar, but to see and hear the speed of movement close, even with a soundtrack of tap overloading the audio, is still remarkable.
Riverdance Gives the Stage to Expert Musicians
What is also refreshing about Riverdance is that it celebrates its own musicians, unafraid to give them the stage at various intervals. Negah Santos demonstrates terrific control of the drums/percussion and the traditional bodhran, also engaging the audience into some hand clapping. Ceilidh Briscoe merits a mention too with her complete mastery of the fiddle.
Riverdance: A Blend of New World Dance
Act Two builds from the dissolution of old communities as people flood over to New York and new lands with a plaintive cry of courage as the ships hit the harbour. American Wake opens up the second half which demonstrates that much of American folk music is derived from an Irish heritage. "The wealth of the poor is in song, dance and story" proclaims the programme notes and this creates one of the most interactive and engaging scenes of the night “Trading Taps,” is a supreme tap dancing showcase that begins with Rohan Pinnock Hamilton and the thoroughly engaging Dharmesh Patel dressed as city hipsters who bump into three of the troupe’s other male dancers, dressed in traditional garb, as a dance duel ensues.
There is humour abound in the machismo and the ultimate respect of both parties. Patel makes the most of his cheeky persona and main lead Hodges is the outstanding go-to performer. The last 20 minutes leads up to the frenetic finale, celebrating Russian dance with some explosive twirling and a more traditional ending with a flourish of fervour. Rocio Montoya's Flamenco also gives flame to the fervour.
The audience was onside from the start and there are not many shows that can still demand a standing ovation after over two decades.
Riverdance still retains that ability. It may be a new generation, but the raw power renews. It deserves to be seen again and again.