Music by Bill Whelan
At Ford Oriental Theatre
A fond and fantastic farewell to a show that hardly needs an introduction.
Just in time for St. Patritck’s Day, Ireland’s unofficial cultural ambassador gives a loving goodbye to Chicago on its farewell tour. Since 1995 when the first full-length productions created a resurgent interest in Irish heritage and that signature step dancing, Riverdance has been seducing audiences and has itself become a cultural touchstone. Influencing and inspiring pop culture with endless spin offs and parodies since it took the world by a percussive storm, it has remained remarkably true to its humble-cum-explosive beginnings. It’s an enchanting compilation of instrumental, vocal and of course those hypnotic, physics-defying movements.
Speaking with those who were there at the beginning, I was able to compare and contrast the original with the contemporary. Though it has been tightened, this production has been able to resist entropy and cultural encroachment. The troupe is as electrifying and committed as if it were their first performance, which is a stunning achievement in itself.
Like the Nutcracker, Riverdance is hung on a thin thematic arc that propels the audience from one spectacle to the next without really being necessary to understand to enjoy. Through loose, vaguely poetic narrative it tells the story of the Irish journey from their homeland to the New World. Incorporating elements beyond its Irish roots, Riverdance also embraces hip-hop, flamenco and stylized ballet.
Of course, the centerpiece is the dance, and it lives up to the river in its name. The young dancers, lead by Caterina Coyne and James Greenan, move like a contradictory force of nature. They are at once both fluid and forceful, seemingly unbounded but disciplined, grand yet full of subtlety. Their nearly inhuman synchronicity creates not just a visual wonderment but an auditory one as well. Enhanced by the five live musicians—who also get ample time to shine with Bill Whelan’s original compositions—the effect is dazzling sensory feast. “Trading Taps” is a particularly engaging mash-up of urban and Irish movement wherein the Irish ‘get served’ by African-American duo DeWit Fleming Jr. and Michael E. Wood and must affably defend their honor. It’s a humorous send-up as each side begins to assimilate the traits of the other and a testament to the universal appeal and language of dance.
At this point, heaping additional superlatives upon this cultural emissary becomes unnecessary. With only a few performances remaining in this short-run goodbye embrace from these stunning artists, get there now and celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in a fashion that will soon disappear (and how lucky is Chicago that the tour would overlap the holiday?). It may yet return one day in the future, but that’s no excuse to risk not seeing this wonder of the modern cultural landscape.
Date Reviewed: March 13, 2012
For more info checkout the Riverdance page on www.BroadwayinChicago.com
At Ford Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph, Chicago, IL; call 800.775.2000 or visit www.BroadwayinChicago.com; tickets $30-85 (group discount available for groups over 15); performances Wednesday through Friday, 7:30pm, Saturday 2pm & 8pm, Sunday 2pm & 7:30pm; running time 2 hours minutes with 15 intermission; through March 18.