Celtic Connection Coming To Cranbrook

How Riverdance revolutionized Irish dance and Irish music over 20 years

The true arrival of spring 2018 is at hand, with the coming arrival of Riverdance.

The legendary Irish dance troupe and stage show hits Cranbrook April 10, taking the stage at Western Financial Place.

Riverdance is celebrating 20 years since its inception; 20 years in which it exponentially raised the global profile and popularity not only of Irish dance, but of Celtic music in general.

“Riverdance is original,” said principal dancer Amy-Mae Dolan, who spoke to the the Townsman from Colorado Springs this week. “Nothing like it had ever been seen before. It took the world by storm in 1994, as a seven-minute segment at the Eurovision Song Contest. It presented Irish dance in a completely different way.”

Dolan explained that the producer, Moya Doherty, set out to present Ireland in a young, vibrant way. “When she began to present the single number Riverdance, she wanted to present Irish dance in a way that had never been seen before.”

It was that, Dolan said, and the music composed by Bill Whelan, a renowned Irish composer and performer, “that captivated the world” and led to the full-length production of the show.

Doherty’s and Whelan’s production is regarded as the flashpoint for a worldwide revival of interest in Irish dancing and Celtic music.

“It is the actual music, I think, that has had such a huge impact on why the show is still around,” Dolan said. “The music captivates the audience every night, but it also gives the dancers the energy to be able to give their best performance again and again. You can see the energy in the cast — it’s tangible on-stage — but you can also see it in the audience. They’re on the edge of their seats, and by the end they’re on their feet. We’ve had a standing ovation every night.”

Irish through and through the music and dance may be, but what sets Riverdance apart is the world element it brings to bear, the incorporation of other cultural elements into the mix to create something unique and powerful.

“Bill Whelan is a genius in the way he created the Riverdance music,” Dolan said. “It has the familiarity, but it’s different at the same time. He’s mixed cultures — he’s somehow managed to mix both flamenco and Irish music so that both the Flamenco dancers and Irish dancers can dance to it. He has done the same with Russian dance.

“Riverdance music has had that impact on Celtic music, because of Bill Whelan — he made it in a new, exciting way that became famous as well.”

Dolan herself is one of the top Irish dancers in the world, and sees the world from a unique position as the principal dancer in Riverdance.

Growing up in County Tyrone, Ireland, she began dancing at the age of two, and has won the World Irish Dance Championships and many other major titles. In 2016, she completed the Riverdance Summer School and in November of that year achieved her lifelong ambition of joining the Riverdance team in November 2016.

“As an Irish dancer, competing, growing up, my top goal was Riverdance, and to one day hopefully be the principal dancer within Riverdance,” she said. “It’s the biggest achievement that you could possibly reach.”

Twenty years on, part of what makes Riverdance such an enduring phenomenon is the unique set of challenges it presents every night — to the artists who perform it.

“Whenever you become the lead dancer, you just want to keep improving every night,” Dolan said. “It is a different challenge in the way that, as a competitive Irish dancer, you don’t express emotions or use your arms whilst dancing. In Riverdance, we tend to use our arms to convey some kind of message — we’re almost acting, in a sense. And whenever we’re dancing as part of the troupe — we have about 20 Irish dancers — it’s very important to be dancing in perfect unison.

“As a competitive dancer you develop your own style, and you can’t lose that, but at the same time you have to be dancing exactly like everyone else, because that’s what really impresses the audience.

“It brings a different challenge, but it’s exciting and I absolutely love it. It’s definitely not getting old for me. I love the challenge that it brings, and every night there’s a new audience, new cities. We have a really great cast and a really great team and I just love travelling with them.”

Dolan added that the Cranbrook audience on April 10 is going to be absolutely captivated from start to finish. “The show is electrifying, they’re going to love the music — the music is going to move them in so many ways throughout the show. I guarantee they’re going to leave happy and energetic and excited.”

Dolan mentioned a new number — an a cappella piece for the female Irish dancers. “It’s really strong and really fierce, and because it is new it brings another excitement with it. It really shows how Irish dancers have developed in 20 years.”

As for the rest of the show: “We’ll see an exciting storyline, and we’ll see how the Irish dancers mix their styles with the Flamenco dancers, with Russian dancers and American tap dancers. And we have this fantastic finale where everyone is on stage, and the audience is going to love it.”

Riverdance plays Western Financial Place in Cranbrook Tuesday, April 10.


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