BWW Interviews: Craig Ashurst, Principal Dancer, RIVERDANCE
Broadway World speaks with Craig Ashurst about life on the road and why Riverdance has such a strong following.
Ashurst started his competitive dancing career at age 5 in his home town of Melbourne, Australia. By the age of 17, Ashurst had won 9 state and 10 national titles. After moving to England, he went on to win such major titles as the British Nationals, Great Britain's, North American Nationals, and All Ireland Championships. After achieving 2nd at the worlds 3 times with the Doherty Academy, England, Ashurst looked for a professional career, performing in Busch Gardens theme parks and Dance of Desire and Celtic Reign before touring Asia, North America, and Europe with Riverdance. Ashurst is delighted to now perform the lead role with Riverdance.
The Riverdance tour will be in California through December 4 and includes a stop at the Pantages theatre in Los Angeles, where Riverdance opened exactly 15 years to the day before its November 15 engagement. Other tour cities include Fresno, Modesto and Sacramento. See the complete list below.
Describe Riverdance for, as unlikely as it is, readers who haven't heard of the show or aren't sure what it's about.
It has been described as a 'phenomenon' and 'a family show for everyone.' Riverdance offers live music, song and dance in such a powerful and explosive way. The music, song and dance tell the story of Irish Myth and Legend and also departure from Ireland during the time of the famine, and then the discovery of a new world. The show features American Tap, Irish Dance, Flamenco, a live band and choir.
Riverdance is a big deal. It started this ongoing trend of having all these dance shows. What is it about Riverdance that makes it so spectacular?
Being the original gives Riverdance a certain element of prestige. With that, a massive amount of passion is involved with being a part of it. Every member of the company is delighted to be with the show and puts in 100 percent every time. The cast, crew and audience feel a sense of what it is to be Irish every show. This is because the pure cultural experience is intense and enjoyable at the same time.
Dance is such a passionate, beautiful art form. Where did it all start for you?
I'm always moving, always tapping my feet and constantly feeling inspired by music and have been that way all of my life, so, it felt only fitting to embark on dance classes growing up, especially when my sister was already taking dance classes and I had the opportunity to sit in on them. That's where the passion began and I saw the beauty of dance.
Why this particular kind of dance? What endured you to it? Where do you get your inspiration from?
Our family emigrated to Australia shortly before I was born. So it felt right for my sister to take Irish dancing classes in Australia in an attempt to cling to our Irish roots. When I was 5, I couldn't wait to dance, and of all the art forms that were out there and that I was exposed to, I liked Irish dancing the best. I was drawn to its diversity and explosiveness and, of course, the energetic music.
Can you describe how the dancing in Riverdance differs from other forms of dancing, especially in terms of how much discipline and practice it takes?
Riverdance is unique. Often we will focus on rhythmic movements in lines and other formations. We may, at times, keep our arms by our side which demonstrates a traditional style. Fibreglass tips and heels are used on the Irish dancing shoes instead of regular taps.
We are on tour for months at a time, performing 8 shows a week and often traveling a few days during that same week. The dedication by the cast and crew is amazing to see. It is important to stay focused and keep your body and mind as 'fit as a fiddle.'
Dancing takes a lot of energy. How do you do it every day?
Good question! Sometimes at the end of a long tour you can be fitter then ever, and after 8 shows a week for 6 months this can be hard to believe. But we have a traveling physiotherapist and a massage therapist on tour with us. They do all they can to keep us in shape. Whether that means we have to jump into a cold bucket of ice at the end of each show, we'll do it. It can be difficult to get the right amount of nutrition on the road. So we need to pay extra attention to this.
What is the process like for getting into a show as big as this? You're coming all the way from Australia . That's a long way.
I know! A good 24 hours flying time for most tours. It is the same process as anyone else seeking to get into the show. Usually, after applying for a spot, there will be auditions for select applicants. After a good audition, you may be lucky enough to be granted a spot on one of the tours. Prior to the tour commencing, you will be taken through a rehearsal week in order to have you 'show [you're] ready' before the tour starts.
You've toured with Riverdance before. What's it like living on the road? Do you develop a sense of family?
Definitely! You become very close with everyone. Also it is common to miss home, that is only natural. However, it is a wonderful thing to be doing what you love and travel the world at the same time. Our management team organize our hotels and travel, etc, and when we travel, it is a vital that you are very organized. Once you get in to the swing of it, it is very rewarding.
Did you start out as just one of the background, so to speak "chorus" dancers?
I did! In May 2005 I started in Dublin. This was a special place to start as it is where Riverdance began. It is also where our family is from. Naturally I had many people come to watch me dance. My parents flew out to Ireland and it was fantastic for them to see me in the show.
And now you're the lead dancer. How does that feel?
Great! You are out there on your own at times and in the bright lights. This takes a different amount of focus. It also calls for added motivation. I remember watching other male lead Riverdance dancers and being so inspired when they flew across the stage. Now I am performing that same role and I can only hope to carry out that same sort of inspiration for the younger generation.
I've heard this current tour called the Farewell Tour. Riverdance is such a popular show. Will there ever be a real farewell?
We have been on a Farewell Tour in the US for a while now, returning to many cities where we have played before. We have also been going to some new smaller cities, as well, that we have previously been unable to play. While there is no specific closing date for this company touring North America, there are two other productions of Riverdance touring the world, so it looks very likely there will always be a Riverdance playing somewhere in the world... I don't see the show disappearing totally anytime soon.
The current tour is going all over California right now. Any touristy spots you're looking forward to visiting while here?
I am a sports fan, and I'm pretty sure a group of us might go to a Lakers game on one of our nights off. Apart from that, even just being in California is exciting. It is a friendly and laid back state, and the scenery can be, at times, spectacular. Whenever we get a free moment we often trade ideas of fun things to see and do in each place.
Riverdance will be in California on the following dates:
Costa Mesa - Segerstron Center - Oct 28-30
Bakersfield - Rabobank Theatre - Nov. 1
Fresno - Saroyan Theatre - Nov 2-3
San Bernardino - California Theatre - Nov. 4-6
Sacramento - Community Center Theatre - Nov 7-9
Santa Ynez - Chumash Casino - Nov. 10
Modesto - Gallo Center for the Arts Nov 11-13
Los Angeles - Pantages Theatre - Nov. 15-20
Cupertino - Flint Center - Nov. 21-22
Redding - Redding Convention Center - Nov. 223
Palm Desert - McCallum Theatre - Nov. 25-27
Santa Rosa - Wells Fargo Center for the Arts - Nov 29-30
San Diego - Civic Center - Dec 2-4
Visit http://www.riverdance.com/ for more information.
Photo Credit: Jack Hartin