Reviewed by Katherine Damisch
Riverdance’s 20th anniversary tour is a whirlwind tour of western dance. While the name is synonymous with traditional Irish hard-shoe, the performances encompassed Russian, ballet, tap, and Flamenco dance, as well as a chorus of singers and a 4-piece band. Colorful lights, costumes, fog, and projections painted the near-bare set to transport the audience to distant locales populated by lithe, elegant natives.
There is one element that severely dampened the effect of the evening’s magic: the extensive use of background tracks. Riverdance is a show that drops jaws because such flawless feats seem impossible without the multiple takes of television or film, but there it is, right in front of your eyes. It is ironic that a show that sought to highlight its four main musicians by making them as visible as possible (for a spectacle about dance) would insult their immense talent by forcing them to play with pre-recorded songs. But that was not even the worst part about the use of non-live music.
These tracks did not just artificially supplement the melodies and harmonies; they also beefed up the percussion produced by the hard-soled shoes of the dancers. It was painfully obvious that small groups of dancers were not making that great of a noise when their feet hit the floor. And that’s a shame. These dancers beautifully carried on the Riverdance tradition of machine gun-like precision, airy gracefulness, and major-league athleticism. They did not need to rely on misrepresentation of their art in order to be spectacular, because they already were. Such falsehoods undercut the mastery on display, doing both the performers and the audience a disservice.
Still, the performers told some beautiful stories: of love and desire, of confident masculinity, of leaving home for a world unknown. A lighthearted competition between two vaudevillian tap dancers and a group of traditional Irish performers quickly became a crowd favorite. The Russian dancers wowed with daring acrobatics and lengthy leaps. All in all, Riverdance maintains its status as elite, vibrant entertainment while breathing new life into its legacy.