by MIKE CHAIKEN
Twenty years is a long time for a touring stage production, especially a touring stage production that doesn’t lead a double life on community theater stages.
But 20 years it has been for “Riverdance,” the Irish-centric dance production that has been entertaining full-houses—with consistently refreshed casts—since the days of President Bill Clinton.
On Feb. 11, “Riverdance” was being performed for the second of a two night stint at the Grand Theater at Foxwoods Resort Casino.
And despite its march into the age of majority, the show still has a great deal of kick.
I have never seen “Riverdance” before. So, I can’t speak about how the show differs from its earlier days or if it’s better or worse for the wear of two decades.
However, I can say I thoroughly enjoyed “Riverdance,” circa 2018.
I am no newcomer to watching Irish step dancing – or dance of any kind—so I have a great appreciation of, and understanding of the form.
The large cast for this tour production clearly has been culled from the best of the best Irish step dancers there are.
The movements were crisp and precise as the genre should be. The leaps of the dancers, male and female, had a great deal of life and the air they created had a purpose rather than the leaping for the mere sake of leaping.
And the choreography throughout “Riverdance” cleverly and entertainingly drew parallels with other dance forms and willfully cross-pollinated the world of Irish step dance with other dance forms.
One of the biggest crowd pleasers of the night was a “dance off” between two tap dancers and a team of male step dancers. What started off as a moment that created some dynamic artistic tension evolved into a piece that drew parallels between the Irish art form and other dancing. There was a great deal of energy and joy on the stage that the audience had no choice but smile and laugh along with the dancers. Similar parallels between the Irish and flamenco and Russian folk dances also were drawn.
The large group numbers were also a delight. The precision of the dancers, moving as one, was a sight to behold. Those moments also clearly illustrated the talent and skill of the dancers who have called this tour of “Riverdance” their home.
The evening is not just about dance. There also is music. And the Celtic tones that lifted over the crowd at the Grand Theater alternated between lulling you into a calm peace evoking the lush green Irish hills or prodding you into jumping to your feet and joining in with the dervish of dancing on the stage. Saxophonist Emma Frampton was especially fine as she found a way to weld her instrument—usually more at home in jazz—into the Irish atmosphere. Tara Howley also delighted as a jack of all trades playing everything from pipes to the fiddle. Drummer Mark Alfred was fantastic because his sense of rhythm provided the power beneath the feet of the step dancers.
“Riverdance” attracted a different kind of crowd. All ages filled the seats. It was fun to watch the captured gaze of little ones watching the athleticism of the dancers on stage. I wonder how many of the children, sitting on the laps of their parents for a better view, will become the next generation of “Riverdance.”
If all goes well, maybe some of them will be able to revisit Connecticut as members of the 40th anniversary tour of “Riverdance.”
I give “Riverdance” at the Grand Theater at Foxwoods Resort Casino on Feb. 11 four out of four stars.