“Riverdance” refreshment: an exhilarating race of pride and precision

No one else could tell, but from the waist down we were dancing in our seats during the Riverdance 25th Anniversary Show at the Kennedy Center’s decorative opera house.

Getting jiggy is apparently what the Irish do. Indeed, “jig” derives from the Gaelic word jigeánnaiitself borrowed from Old English gigmeaning “old dance”.

“Heartland” number in “Riverdance 25th Anniversary Show”. Photo taken by Jack Hartin.

With the franchise nearly three decades old, river dance, this exhilarating spectacle of erect dancers leaping like pistons whose legs clash with military precision, has remained true to its original choreography but with a sparkling update – new social media faces, state-of-the-art technical craftsmanship , poetry by Theo Dorgan and pungent international spices. All magically delicious.

This race marks the first time river dance played at the Kennedy Center. What better way to spend St. Patrick’s Day, the green-clad audience agreed, as a refreshing rainbow ensemble danced up a storm – at one point a shivering “Thunderstorm” vignette. (Earlier in the day, the cast enjoyed a special lunchtime audience with President Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, so they were “on fire and still buzzing,” the report said. the master of ceremonies. Obviously an understatement.)

Principal Dynamos Fergus Fitzpatrick and Amy-Mae Dolan were introduced Thursday, hailing from Central Casting to pay homage, both physically and technically, to creator Michael Flatley and co-choreographer Jean Butler in their heyday. (Stars turning the spotlight in other performances are Maggie Darlington, Anna Mai Fitzpatrick and Meadhbh Kennedy in the female roles; Will Bryant and James Greenan in the male roles.)

It was exactly six years ago, on St. Patrick’s Day 2016 in Las Vegas, that Flatley, 63, made his final river dance bow, after revealing that he suffered extensive damage to his spine, knees, calves and feet. What a feat it lasted so long! Yet his presence reigns over this production via artful projections, starting with flashbacks through a gold-ringed peephole to that fateful night in April 1994 in Dublin when his troupe performed a gripping seven-minute interlude during a a lull in the Eurovision Song Contest and skyrocketed to stardom.

As with all artistic and athletic pursuits, the caliber of performance only increases with time. This company is simply superhuman. Regardless of their body types, their fleet footwork is perfectly in sync, as if made with mirrors or generated by CGI, especially when viewed from an angle. Dancers move fluidly from ballet to jazz to folk forms, women swirling from locked shoes to heels per stage, men heaving and sizzling with…may we say…”beefcake”?

“Reel Around the Sun” number in “Riverdance 25th Anniversary Show”. Photo taken by Jack Hartin.

Irish dancing is this strange mixture of courtly rest from the waist up and manic quick steps below. Mainly anchored on tap, the percussive prom is guaranteed to shock her heart. It’s relentless. It’s joyful. It’s happy feet to feet. And the kicks are incredibly higher than anything you’d think you’ve seen from the Rockettes. (Interestingly, this tour was sidelined by the pandemic on March 13, 2020, during a stint at New York’s Radio City Music Hall – which is why the 25th Anniversary is being staged in its 28th year.)

But back to Fergus Fitzpatrick, please. He should not be nicknamed the “lord” but the Adonis of dance. Her dazzling smile lit up the place, eclipsing the starry glitter, pulsating strobes and spider beams helping set the mood (brilliant lighting chemistry by Andrew Voller). Fitzgerald’s robust lineup carried the show, even as he ran into a duel between tapping virtuosos on the “wicked” streets of Brooklyn in act two. This “Trading Taps” scene is definitely a highlight of the show; Tyler Knowlin and Dharmesh Patel prove to be as charismatic as actors as they are world-class talents. By crossing the paths of Matthew and Michael Gardiner, famous tapping brothers of TikTok, jovial jousts ensue. The projected cityscape looks so real you can feel it – a wonderful departure from the predictable fog-filled backdrops and heather moorland (masterful production design was directed by Peter Canning with set design by Alan Farquharson) . It’s all part of what makes this reimagining, produced by Moya Doherty and directed by John McColgan, ultra-theatrical — more Broadway than Vegas.

The Gardiner brothers aren’t the only TikTokers ripped off this social platform to raise their profile on tour. Richmond, Virginia native Morgan Bullock discovered Irish dancing at the age of 10 and a decade later became a social media sensation with her rendition of Megan Thee Stallion’s “Savage” remix. attracting the attention of river dance producers. In media interviews, she noted that she breaks the mold of what people consider the typical Irish dancer – as a black American, she has a “built-in distinguishing factor,” she said. – and she is rightly a standout, emanating perfect joy every moment on stage. The cast is filled with newcomers like her who weren’t born when river dance started, including Cian Porter and Faith Moore, the offspring of two original dancers.

Amy-Mae Dolan made him river dance splash five years ago by becoming its youngest principal dancer at 19. His lyrical phrasing is both majestic and silky. On a particularly memorable day pas de deuxin which a shirtless Fitzpatrick clearly played Adam from the Old Testament because you could see every rib as he crab-danced, Dolan achieved poetic dominance — not easy next to such a captivating one.

But if you think river dance is all about dancing, you’d be “away with the fairies.” Grammy-winning composer Bill Whelan’s score, heart-rending one moment and shaking the next, showcases impeccable musicality, haunting harmonies from the angelic backing vocalists to the A-team accompanists giving a masterclass in instrumentation Irish. As Tara Howley treats Uilleann pipes or pewter whistles, it turns out that familiar lament is an Irish hallmark of the blues – mournful but so cathartic it lifts your soul to heaven. Perhaps my favorite moment was when playful fiddler Haley Richardson, Irish saxophonist Emma Frampton and accordionist Howley took center stage and danced to their own jazzy fugue, “Slip Into Spring – The Harvest “. Musical comedy Once, somebody? Their electricity was then matched – perhaps surpassed – by Swiss Army knife percussionist Mark Alfred, whose Bodhrán solo brought the house down. He could have broken his drum, in fact, if not his microphone. “Of course, none of these sensations could hit so deeply without Michael O’Gorman’s flawless, immersive sound design. Customers were literally vibrating with delight.

“Trading Taps” number in “Riverdance 25th Anniversary Show”. Photo taken by Jack Hartin.

The fusion of sound, styles and sensations is brought to light through 3D projections that travel the seasons and the world, from the Irish countryside to naughty Spain, then become trippy like a psychedelic interstellar journey. Fierce flamenco star Rocio Dumset puts his backup dancers’ feet in flames, while Russian dancers Christine Lesnikova, Aleksandr Safonov, Ana Turcan and Eugeniu Turcan defy the laws of physics by leaping and spinning like dervishes. (Wearing the colors of the Russian flag, they momentarily arouse sadness. Could we get a prop in blue and yellow, costume department? On the other hand, it’s important to showcase Russia’s glorious artistic culture and to remember that millions of people are caught up in today’s hellish warmongering through no fault of his own.)

And then there is the river. What would be river dance, born on the banks of the River Liffey, to be without a river running through it? The act two scene “Anna Livia” impersonates Anna Livia Plurabelle, a character from Irish author James Joyce’s Swan Song, Finnegans Wake, which symbolizes the feminine archetype. Proud ladies in blue primping and singing, echoing the hundreds of river names woven into this enlightened classic. In fact, river tones weave their way through the entire production with costumes designed by Joan Bergin, some in grainy silk that change hues under the lights – iridescent green, teal and shimmering lilac with every ripple. Greens, creams and oranges complement each other, tastefully evoking the flag colors of a proud people.

This is not nationalist pageantry in the vein of, say, Shen Yun from China. But river dance will run through your veins no matter how much Irish blood you have, transport you to the Emerald Isle and remind you that there are really only two types of people in the world: Irish people and those who would like to be.

Duration: 2h25 with a 15 minute intermission.

The Riverdance 25th Anniversary Show performs through March 27, 2022 at the Kennedy Center Opera House, 2700 F Street NW, Washington, DC. For tickets ($39 to $155), call (202) 467-4600 or go online.

The Riverdance 25th Anniversary Show the program is online here.

COVID Safety: Proof of full COVID-19 vaccination is required to attend all performances and indoor events at the Kennedy Center. Masks are mandatory regardless of vaccination status. The Kennedy Center’s full COVID safety plan is here.

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