Review: Riverdance 20th Anniversary Tour, Ipswich Regent, September 9 to 14

Riverdance performer Siobhan Manson

Riverdance performer Siobhan Manson - Credit: Archant

It was 20 years ago that Lord of the Dance Michael Flatley thundered into our living rooms with his seven-minute introduction to Riverdance, performed during the interval of the Eurovision Song Contest in Dublin.

Riverdance

Riverdance - Credit: Archant

It was 20 years ago that Lord of the Dance Michael Flatley thundered into our living rooms with his seven-minute introduction to Riverdance, performed during the interval of the Eurovision Song Contest in Dublin. And last night, Live Nation bought that magical show to Ipswich for a second time.

For years, I have watched Irish dancers in action on TV but I am ashamed to say this was the first time I had experienced Riverdance live.

Nothing could have prepared me for the pulsating energy, the deafening rat-a-tat of the iconic hard shoes and sheer skill of the dancers.

To say the opening scenes of Riverdance are breathtaking would be an understatement, underplaying it.

Riverdance

Riverdance - Credit: Archant


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The eerie back drop, the dry ice and the haunting voice of the female singer combined with the whistle of the wind instruments, create a chilling effect, building up the suspense for what is to come.

And then the dancers arrives, just willowy silhouettes to begin, before they awaken and come alive with a single, united stomp.

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The sound alone is mesmerising, at first you can do nothing but stare at the feet of the delicate female dancers, moving in perfect unison at a frightening speed, the clicking echoing through the auditorium. Then you gradually release the stare and see for the first time the utter beauty of this national dance.

The lead female has a calm stage presence but dances with strong, defined moves, setting her ever-so-slightly apart for the highly-talented ensemble.

Riverdance is a fast-paced show, not only the steps but also the way the story unfolds and moves from light to dark, from the traditional Irish jig to Spanish dancing, with ballet, Russian dancing and even 1950s-style jazz-hands tap in between.

What’s more, the musicians are given nearly as much prominence as the dancers, and rightly so.

The musical interludes, showcasing the talent of the musicians playing traditional Irish instruments adds another dimension, all too often the orchestra are hidden in the depths of the pit but their part is as important as any ‘on-stage’ role and Riverdance plays to that - making them a part of the performance.

And you see that these musicians are not playing for the dancers but playing with the dancers, immersing themselves in the music and getting lost in the spirit of the dance.

The first act begins to build towards the close with an all-male dance, showing the brute force of the powers of nature.

The male lead, originally danced by Flatley himself, is dressed in black leather and looks every bit the dominant male in this scene.

As the first act draws to a close, you are transported by a sea of green to another universe for a finale-style showdown.

But there is more to come, the story takes you from famine-hit Ireland to the promised land.

The Irish migrants may have had little in the way of physical wealth, but they took with them a wealth that is immeasurable - song, dance and story.

When they meet American tap dancers, with their flamboyant gestures, acrobatics and free-form moves, the dancers seem rigid and rehearsed but a dance-off ensues, giving the five male dancers the chance to show off some intricate steps and original routines that test even their stamina levels.

Riverdance was a truly magical show that can only be fully appreciated in the flesh and the cast show dedication and passion that is unrivalled by any other performers I have ever seen. It is easy to see how, 20 years on, Riverdance can still sell out night after night.

Riverdance runs until Sunday, September 14.

Natalie Sadler

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