Review: Riverdance Farewell Tour

Based primarily on traditional Irish music and dancing with modern and cross-cultural influences blended in to the mix, Riverdance features a five piece band playing both contemporary instruments and old Irish instruments like the Uilleann pipes and the bodhran and a full troupe of Irish dancers joined by the Moscow Folk Ballet Company, two tap dancers and a flamenco soloist. The show is very loosely arranged as a sort of artistic interpretation of Irish history from ancient times to the modern era via segments that include a five piece band, singers and dancers performing sometimes together and sometimes separately, linked together by offstage narration and onstage screened projections. While the narration was sometimes useful for providing a sort of context to the onstage action, it wasn’t strictly necessary. The show would have been equally as enjoyable and easy to watch without it. The projections, however, actually detract from the show, displaying art that is probably meant to appear primitive but seemed rather amateurish instead. It also didn’t help that the stage set was unattractive, with unappealing full-length panels that seemed to serve no other purpose than unnecessarily drawing the eye from the onstage action.. The show definitely would have been better served by a simpler set that keeps the focus where it should be, on the perfomers.

These minor irritations aside, Riverdance remains a compelling show. Irish dancing can appear simple on a superficial glance, but the intricate footwork of the dancers is astonishing, even when you’ve seen it before. Try to mimic the straight upper bodies with arms held at sides while you tap, twirl and kick and you might be surprised at just how challenging it really is. While all of the dancing is quite spectacular, I found that I enjoyed it best stripped down to its essentials. The first act’s “Thunderstorm” in which the Male Irish Dance Troupe storm over the stage with no other musical accompaniment than their own tapping feet is breathaking. Then again, any time a large group of the dancers take the stage, the sheer force of their presence is dazzling.

The dancing is the deserved primary focus of the show but music gets its chance to shine, too. The luster dims a bit for the vocal performances–I wasn’t horrified by the singing but I wasn’t impressed by it either, and wouldn’t have missed it had it been left out–but any time the band became the center of attention was a good time. Of particular note is fiddler Pat Mangan who is so clearly having a good time that if you somehow managed to dislike his excellent playing ability you’d still have to appreciate his pleasure.

Overall, Riverdance was an enjoyable show, accessible to a wide audience. You don’t have to like or know anything about Irish culture to enjoy the show but if you do want to see it–and I heartily recommend it–you’ll want to get your tickets right away–it’s only at the Paramount until February 3rd before moving on to the next stop on its farewell tour.

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