Riverdancing through the winter

Review by Julie Goldsberry; photo by Ewa Figaszewska & Fatima Caballero.

Do you remember where you were when the Celtic Tiger first dug its claws into you? I do. I was in high school and my mother was watching the first production of Riverdance on PBS. Yes, the first one, with Michael Flatley himself. How that is 25 years ago, I have no clue because it feels like just yesterday. And in case you were wondering, I still remember every part of it.

The 25th anniversary of Riverdance, at the Cadillac Palace Theater from February 4 -9, brings with it the promise of spring. Written by Bill Whelan, Moya Doherty and John McColgan, it tells the story of the Irish through dance and music, also by Bill Whelan. With most of the original choreography, Riverdance transports you to the rolling hills of the Irish countryside and around the world. The set is simple, yet more sophisticated than the original production, utilizing digital screens to move the audience through time and space seamlessly in front of a troupe of extremely talented dancers.

The Principal male and female Irish Dancers are perfect. They are equally strong and engaged in what they are doing. The most powerful moments happening when they are on stage with the troupe and they move forward in unison, looking out at the audience with unwavering, determined expressions. The most energetic and fun performances are also when the entire Irish dance troupe take the stage together. I won’t say more, because I don’t want to give anything away.

The performance also includes Russian Folk and Flamenco dancing. The Russian Folk Dancing troupe brings high energy with amazing feats of flexibility and strength. The Flamenco dancer brings pure passion and power to the stage with her performance. She draws you in and brings you into the dance while commanding the stage. When she interacts with the male troop of Irish Step dancers, you might find yourself cheering her on as she goes step for step with them.

One important note: audience interaction is encouraged, though it may not seem like it until the second act. Cheer or whistle when the dancers hit a step or do a move that inspires you; let them know. The second dance of the second act was by far my favorite, as the audience travels with the lead step dancers to Brooklyn, New York and have a dance off with two tap dancers. The pure joy of this trade of taps is evident from the first beat and neither group steps down but instead joins together to share their love of dance.

Interweaving through the dancing is the music and singing. The female singer brought the haunting mysticism with her songs, telling the tale of where we were going next. The musicians sit on stage throughout the performance, backing up the dancers until it is their time to shine with their solos. The female drummer stole the show at the end of the second act with a solo on the Bodhran. The quartet of musicians were very involved in the entire show, interacting and smiling with the dancers from song to song. Specifically when the Principal male Irish Step dancer went beat for beat with a pair of drummers, they cheer him on.

If you are thinking you have seen Riverdance before, I can assure you, you haven’t. The production in Chicago is definitely worth your time and is the perfect pick me up for the midwinter blues.

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