BWW Review: RIVERDANCE 20 at The Playhouse
What has consumed 400,000 bottles of water, 50,000 rolls of self-grip tape by company physiotherapists, created 60 marriages netting 88 babies born (and more on the way)?
Yes, that's RIVERDANCE, celebrating its 20th touring year. Aisle Say forgot to mention that 200,000 dance shoes were used, that step-dancing study equaled 26,000 cumulative years, that 2,000,000 show programs were bought along with 300,000 t-shirts sold. (Those merch dollars add up! The average shirt is $30. Times that by 300,000 equals $9million),
I recall first seeing RIVERDANCE on TV over 20 years ago. I was in shock; mesmerized and in disbelief. What in the world was this? A stirring combination of energy, sensuality, plaintive music that touches your soul and flawless dance. The rest of the world thought similarly. 20 years of non-stop touring has brought the extravaganza onto every continent.
The current revised (and more contemporary production) at The Playhouse incorporates flamenco dancing (Maria Ortiz Duesto), a brilliant 6-person Russian ensemble and two wunderkind African-American tappers (think The Nicholas Brothers) in Tyler Knowlin and JL Williams.
Irish dancers generally began their craft before age 10. Many had competed with each other internationally. Now they come together in a fluid, mechanized ensemble.
Lead dancer Stephan Brennan by all appearances lacks both tibia and fibula. He reminded me of Ray Bolger in Wizard of Oz, but at warp speed. His legs moved with whiplash velocity. The man has great charisma and can work an audience. His partner, lead dancer Maggie Darlington was in lockstep and they shared conspicuous chemistry.
The production is plotted around the seasons of nature. One set begins with a rear projected slide of the breaking of day with the voiceover stating "they dance in the healing ray of the sun". Another speaks to 'Thunderstorm', then to "The Harvest', all indicative of Irish culture. Another scene, 'The Heartland' speaks to the ships that brought destitute Irish workers to America. It began with a wondrous high soprano who was backed by the glorious harmony of the ensemble.
An amusing number was a takeoff on the Jets vs the Sharks, as the two tappers take on the traditional Irish dancing of Brennan, Jason O'Neill and Callum Spencer.
Irish playwrights historically have written about the pain and suffering of the rural poor. DANCING AT LUGHNASA by Friel and THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE by McDonagh come to mind. This ingrained anguish was brought out in the tune 'Lament' by piper Matt Bashford. He also played a distinctly Irish instrument call the Uilleann pipes, as did percussionist Mark Alfred with the Bodhran.
The Riverdance Russian Ensemble, dancing under the backdrop of the classical spires of the Kremlin, generated some of the greatest responses of the evening. Their collective athleticism and grace is breathtaking. Oh, if they let those women go in their death defying rotating turn the ladies would have ended up in the front row!
Thunderous production numbers are at the heart of RIVERDANCE. When all 27 of these dancers take the stage, it is simply a spectacle to behold.
I love those Irish first names; Siobhan, Orlagh and Eoghan, to name a few.
Lighting design by John Comisky was gorgeous and an integral player. At final curtain and glowing in a Standing O, the smiles on the faces of the players exuded the love and camaraderie amongst them.
Through Feb 26. ThePlayHouseDE. org 302.888.0200