Archive for Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Riverdance’ delights with more than steps

March 14, 2007


Since it premiered in February of 1995 in Dublin, "Riverdance" has become an international sensation. With more than 9,000 performances in 32 countries, it has delighted more than 19 million people. Now, it has come to the Lied Center, and opening night did not disappoint.

A packed house saw firsthand what has made the show famous: traditional Irish step-dancing executed with stunning precision. The dance troupe tapped, clapped and stomped its way through one intricate number after another, moving with exceptional grace. The sheer energy pouring off the stage lit up the Lied Center and electrified the crowd.

Lead dancer Marty Dowds was phenomenal. He alternated between gliding across the stage and stepping so furiously, so quickly, he was mesmerizing. Each of his dance solos raised the intensity of the performance. Melissa Convery was a perfect partner for him, moving so lithely on her own, only to match him step for step when they danced together.

But there's so much more to "Riverdance" than the dancing. The show is a retelling of Irish mythic history. The first act is a paean to Celtic heroes and the power of the earth and sun. An a cappella dance by the men describes the power of a thunderstorm and the refusal of the people to yield to it; a flamenco dance shows the warmth and passion of the sun and fire; and a dance by the women celebrates femininity.

The second act features an interpretation of Irish immigration to the New World. The action reveres the culture of the homeland and its merging with that of the new land encountered. This last is told most effectively by the number "Trading Taps" a duel between American tap dancers and traditional Irish step-dancers that was a real crowd-pleaser.

Bill Whelan's music is exceptional. Each number begins softly and builds to a majestic climax. While the show is known for its dancing, there is a large amount of vocal music, and each song hits just the right note. The harmonies in "The Heart's Cry" are rich and complex. Soloist Hayley Griffiths has a haunting, clear soprano voice that was especially fine in the titular song, which concludes the first act. Mark Fennell's booming baritone rendered a gripping rendition of "Heal Their Hearts Freedom."

Even the band is featured in several numbers rather than being relegated solely to the role of accompanist. Pat Mangan's fiddle solos were joyful, exuberant pieces that got the audience clapping along. Declan Masterson, who played three instruments, was stunning. After enchanting the audience with a plaintive lament played on uilleann pipes and following that up with exquisite guitar work on "Firedance," he drew enthusiastic applause from the crowd by slipping into the Kansas University fight song on low pipes during a song about spring.

"Riverdance" is much more than Irish step-dancing; it is an engrossing musical experience that far exceeds its already high reputation.

Additional performances will be at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. today at the Lied Center.

John R. Phythyon Jr. is a freelance writer living in Lawrence. He can be reached at


nbnozzy 11 years ago

Very well written review of what I saw last night. Awesome performance by the Riverdance troupe. And as the writer mentioned, there was much enthusiasm as the KU fight song was incorporated into the music about spring. So glad I attended the event and would love to see it again.

Raider 11 years ago

Riverdance was at Starlight last year, and since we have season tickets, we saw it. We were looking forward to it, but when when we saw it we were less than impressed. Most everyone of the season ticketholders around me were the same way. I'm sure it was cool back when it was a new show, but methinks it's outlived its time.

Ashley Woodward 11 years ago

I saw the show last night and completely agree with the writer of this review. I am Irish, I visited Ireland in 1997 and it brought back so many memories of being there and my family that still lives there. I'm sorry for those of you that attended & didn't enjoy it as much as I did, but maybe some of us get more out of it because it's our culture. I thought it was amazing!

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 11 years ago

I went last night and the dancing was fantastic! I watch the video with the original troupe about twice a year. If you hear a song once, do you stop listening to it? Plus, each group of dances brings something different to the performance. The precision is really impressive! All those feet doing the exact same thing in the exact same second! And the guy on the Irish drum was very skilled. I've been trying to teach myself to play the bahrain (sp), and it is not easy.

The only down side was having to walk past the phelps crowd without spitting. It takes a lot of effort not to lower myself to their bottom feeding level. I think the officers who had to stand there and listen, so none of us would violate their freedom to hate everything, should be given free tickets. What a nasty job to have.

nbnozzy 11 years ago

The phelps idiots pissed me off too. I asked one of them what problem they had with Riverdance since they were there to protest but all I got was some song about dead babies. Didn't need to hear any more from them. They are buffoons.

Now for dambudzo, another idiot who constantly cries for attention..... stfu......... you impress no one. Your caterwallings only reveal your insecurities in life, and not a single strength. For your postings reveal the immaturites and virginity of a sophomoric adolescent, not that of a rational thinking adult.

Try again once mommy removes you from the nipple.

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