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Riverdance, the long-running international hit showcasing Irish dancing, music, and culture, is now in Raleigh on its Farewell Tour. Presented by Broadway Series South in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium, the show drew a large crowd for the first of its eight performances there.
The production is less of a dance event than a themed variety show that includes a lot of fancy dancing. The numbers — song, dance, and music — follow a quasi-mythical, quasi-historical narrative line bolstered by resonant voiceovers, video imagery projected within a portal, lots of flashing lights, and many costume changes. It is not precisely dramatic, but it is exciting and will get your blood racing. Following the narrative may be a little tough, as there is no program, unless you spring for the expensive glossy “souvenir program” hawked in the lobby. So, you may want to read up on the web site before going. You may still not understand how (or why) Spanish flamenco, African-American tap, and Russian folk dancing got rolled into the story; but it doesn’t really matter. The styles fit remarkably well together, and the mix adds to the fun.
Riverdance is a lot of fun, but also very loud. The wonderful rhythmic thunder of Irish step dancing — hard shoes ringing on the boards — is at times overwhelmed by the highly amplified music being made by the onstage players. Much of the nuance of the music is lost in the noise, but its energetic spirit always comes through. The more satisfying sections, musically, were the instrumental solos, especially that of Steve Holloway, when he left his enormous drum kit and came downstage with his bodhran, the classic Irish drum. Baritone soloist Michael Samuels was also impressive in his a cappella song.
But I doubt anyone goes to Riverdance primarily for the music. It is the sparkling dancers we want to see, those women and men descended from sprites and pixies and selkies, from ancient Gaels and Celts — people who may have long ago left the Old Country behind, but whose souls and soles still know the ancient ways, and the primeval powers of sun and dark, water and earth and air. We want to see the flashing changes, the frisking play, the stomping challenges, the fierce line pushing all before it, the sublime circling that honors the sun and moon, the seasons, and the life-force itself.
All that we get in abundance from Riverdance. Led on April 29th by Marty Dowds and Alana Mallon, both intense, graceful dancers with tremendous snap, the troupe frolicked through the numerous dances with an élan that belied the physical prowess and the precision training the work requires. The “Trading Taps” section, a kind of street duel in dance between the Irishmen (Dowds, Marcus Maloney, and Craig Ashurst) and the African-American men (Jason E. Bernard and Parker Hall), was a delightful high point, as was the spectacular showoff piece by the Moscow Folk Ballet. The opening “Reel Around the Sun” and “Riverdance,” which closed the first act, were also particularly fine. The show ends with a rousing finale that confirms that we — even if born Spanish, or African, or Russian — are all one in dance, and, just maybe, all Irish in our hearts.
Broadway Series South presents Riverdance Tuesday-Friday, April 29-May 2, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, May 3, at 2 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, May 4, at 2 and 7 p.m. at Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 East South St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $31-$69.50. Progress Energy Center Box Office: 919/831-6060 or through the presenter's website. Student Discount Program: Students with valid ID may purchase any remaining seats for any performance, except the Saturday evening show, for $20 each at the Progress Energy Center Box Office, starting one hour before show time. Group Rates (for parties of 20 or more): 919/857-4565, firstname.lastname@example.org. Broadway Series South: http://www.broadwayseriessouth.com/. The Show: http://www.riverdance.com/. The Tour: http://www.riverdance.com/htm/theshow/theboyne/index.php. Internet Broadway Database (Riverdance on Broadway): http://www.ibdb.com/show.asp?ID=7545. Internet Movie Database (Riverdance: The Show): http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0136491/. Video Clips: http://www.riverdance.com/htm/multimedia/video_clips/index.htm.