Dance Fighting and Other Long Term Goals

By Rachele Stoops

Riverdance 25 at The Lied Center, Tuesday March 8, 2022 7:30PM

On an episode of the TV show Friends, Chandler’s biggest fear is outed during a quiz game he and the others are playing. He’s terrified of Michael Flatley, Lord of the Dance, because “his legs flail about as if independent of his body!”

That was my first exposure to the phenomenon that is Riverdance, created and made famous in the 1990s by Mr. Flatley. I finally experienced them live on the opening night of their Lied Center run, and indeed, the speed at which the dancers’ feet move, perfectly timed, is awe-inspiring. 

Although Riverdance 25 was Interrupted in 2020 by the COVID-19 pandemic, the show is finally picking up again, and the tour hits Lincoln just in time to begin St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. 

The audience was certainly ready, with many sporting bright green sweaters or accessories. One audience member went all in, and her neon green hair stood out among the jewel tones of the Lied. 

To highlight the 25th anniversary of Riverdance, the show begins with a look back at the history of the troupe, with video clips and newspaper headlines highlighting the group’s rise to fame in the 1990’s. I took a second to Google Michael Flatley to see what he was up to. In case you’re also curious, he left the show several years ago. He’s now 63 and enjoying a well-earned rest.

The 25th anniversary show moves through a folk history of Ireland, employing John Kavanagh’s deep voice and haunting live music to draw the audience through the centuries. 

Each plot on the story map is illustrated with its own version of the Irish stepdance, led by two of the season’s lead dancers (I assume they take turns so they don’t wear out by age 25.) The Riverdance team knows what the audience wants to see, and there are plenty of gorgeous costumes and the unison stepping that characterizes the dance genre. I was immediately struck by the female soloist’s pure soprano voice. I couldn’t find her name in the program, but she delivers the Irish melodies beautifully.

This show adds in some new elements, too. In addition to the solemn-faced, stiff-spined step dancers, Riverdance showcases a flamenco dancer, four Russian style dancers, and two contemporary tap dancers, who almost stole the show. I know very little about dance, but even I could see some of the similarities between the styles, especially when members of the Riverdance troupe danced alongside the other dancers. It made me wonder what events led some cultures to adopt one style, and another something different. (If I find out, I’ll let you know!)

One of my favorite parts was watching the transition between the early chapters in the story of Ireland, represented by the solemn, ritualistic dances, to the brighter partner dances in the second half. I could absolutely imagine the Druids or Celts making those lightning fast steps part of their ceremonies. I also couldn’t help grinning while the powerful queen/fairy/warrior fights the encroaching male dancers and succeeds in pushing them away. (Note to self: Learn how to dance/fight.)

But the biggest audience reaction came from the dance-off between the contemporary tappers and three of the Riverdance male lead dancers. Set in a young New York City, the three young men from Ireland venture out into the streets while Kavanagh’s deep bass voices the words the men had grown up with: “We dance straight, we dance tall.” At the same time, the tappers, Tyler Knowlin and Dharmesh Patel, are having some fun with their loose, full body dancing. A tap battle ensues, and it builds into steps so quick they’re almost unbelievable. 

You can’t go wrong with a dance troupe with the reputation and history that Riverdance has, and their updated show is the perfect way to celebrate the culture of the country where 16% of my DNA comes from. Even my husband, who would’ve been happier at a KISS concert, was tapping his feet and clapping along. A beautiful show in a beautiful place – what could be better?

If you go: Riverdance 25 has two more performances at the Lied Center; Wednesday, March 9, at 7:30pm, and Thursday, March 10, at 7:00pm. Click here for tickets.

Note: The performance includes bright lightning flashes in the first half, and strobe lights in the second.  

Rachele Stoops teaches English with Graduation Pathways for Lincoln Public Schools. She stays busy with her many side hustles, and loves to pretend she’ll get everything done someday. Rachele shares a townhouse with her wonderful husband, Shane, her spoiled Chihuahua, and just the right amount of shoes. 

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