Riverdance 25 Anniversary, Bristol Hippodrome

IF I was to ask 1,000 people who won the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest, I doubt that more than a handful would come up with the answer – Irish duo Paul Harrington and Charlie McGettigan singing Rock ‘n Roll Kids. If I mentioned the name Michael Flatley, a dancer who led an Irish dance team in a seven-minute routine, put in to cover an intermission, the majority would, I venture to say, almost immediately say Riverdance.

That seven minute break focusing on traditional Irish dancing took the world by storm that night in Dublin, quickly developed into a full-length show and for the last 25 years has toured the world gaining an ever increasing army of fans wherever it goes.

During those years the show has changed from a simple format dominated by Irish dance movement into a highly polished production, widening its dance horizons and taking full advantage of the tremendous advances in theatrical staging. The lighting effects and video pictures created to take us from a view of a ship sailing out to an exciting new destination, to downtown Brooklyn and a typical Irish village, were stunning. The only time that these staging gymnastics went wrong was on the second occasion that we were set to go to Spain to witness a sample of flamenco dancing, after a slight pause the lady, completely unperturbed by the wait, danced in front of a New York background.

In that downtown Brooklyn sequence came one of the high spots of the show when three Irish dancers did battle with two terrific Brooklyn tap dancers. There was also a visit to Moscow where, with a change of costume, four boys and two girls from the company showed that they were as equally adept at presenting Russian traditional dances as they are with those of their native land.

One solo singer and three lady musicians, violin, pipes and saxophone/clarinet, plus a busy male drummer provided the stylish live musical input. Very professionally delivered backing tracks added drama and changes of mood to many scenes, as well as aiding all the vocals, but some of the dancing chorus members were not completely at home miming the vocals.

All the visual wonders and added extras paled beside the still breath-taking traditional Irish dancing.  Some wonderful solo efforts were dazzling to watch, but it was the ensemble routines that were really show stopping in their disciplined delivery.

Linked by a lilting Irish voice the show is still a delight, but if it could speak for itself, you would probably say that it has lost a little of its original Irish brogue.


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