25 Years Later: Riverdance is Still a Powerhouse Performance Troupe

by Debra Danese for The Dance Journal | photo credit: Jack Hartin

Twenty five years since its inception, Riverdance is still going strong. What started out as a 7 minute dance for the interval of the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest has grown into a world-wide phenomenon. The anniversary tour- currently at the Merriam Theater-  is packed with the signature pieces that have made this company so widely popular.

I attended the Tuesday night opening performance with great anticipation. Riverdance- The 20th Anniversary World Tour was my first review for The Dance Journal. Although I don’t remember all the specifics, I do recall being blown away with the sheer quality of the whole production. Lighting, costumes, music and choreography were all top-notch and left an impression, even after all this time. The 25th Anniversary Show promised a newly reinvented production. This included a rerecorded soundtrack by Grammy winning composer Bill Whelan and reimagined lighting, stage and costume design. I was curious to see how they were going to outdo the previous show I saw in 2016. I admit it was hard not to make comparisons.

The show opened with a brief video montage of performances from the last 25 years. It was fun to see how the costumes evolved and look back at a young Michael Flatley. (Flatley performed in the initial 7 minute dance and pushed to make Riverdance into a full length production.) After that, the troupe got down to business. This was an ensemble who really knew how to own the stage right from their entrances. Literally bursting onto stage in the opener was Will Bryant. From that instant on, there  was no question that he was the show’s male lead. His charisma was matched only by his female counterpart, Gianna Petracic. Petracic was one of the best female leads I’ve seen in this show. She was utterly commanding, whether dancing a solo or with other troupe members. The onstage chemistry between her and Bryant was potent and made their duets that much more entertaining to watch. Another force to be reckoned with was flamenco dancer, Rocio Montoya. Her arms movements alone could tell a story.

The 25th Anniversary Show did not disappoint. Flatley’s original choreography is still featured and included two iconic favorites- Riverdance and Home and the Heartland/Heartland. These were integrated with other crowd pleasers such as Trading Taps. Here three Irish dancers take on two American style tappers in a dance-off.  The performers  had a chance to really highlight themselves as masters of their craft while also incorporating some humor and good-natured spoofing. Lighting speed and crisp precision of footwork, sound, and syncopated rhythms had the audience cheering their approval.

The show also featured haunting vocal arrangements, narrated poetry, and the exemplary showmanship and skill of the band. My only disappointment in this revamped version was the overuse of digital media. Every number had a moving image displayed behind it. I found it to be unnecessary and often distracting. The choreography and performers were of a caliber that could stand alone without the diversion of constant projected images.

About Debra Danese

Debra graduated with a degree in dance from the University of the Arts and also holds a B.A. in Arts Administration. She is accredited at the Master Level with the National Registry of Dance Educators. Debra has performed in Europe, Tokyo, Canada, and the Caribbean. She teaches and choreographs world-wide and has been an international guest artist in Switzerland, England, and Slovakia. Debra has been an Artist in Residence on five occasions in Norway where she showcased full length dance productions at the acclaimed Nordland Theatre. She has also presented an original dance production at the Elspe Festival in Germany. Debra has been featured in Dance, Dancer and Dance Teacher Magazines for her work in dance education. Additionally, she has been a contributing writer for Dance Studio Life Magazine since 2010.

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