By Ian Rigg
The thundering of feet. The yearning call of a Celtic siren. These coalesce and cascade into the phenomenon that millions of people all over the world have flocked to: Riverdance.
You don’t need an explanation of Riverdance: you just need to experience it. The Riverdance site quotes: “Our ancestors knew fear and joy and fire, worked wood and stone and water to make a place they could call home.” Sure enough, this creative team channels those primordial craftsmen to make a peerless product.
Set Designer Alan Farquharson and Motion Graphic designer Cosmo Av work hand in hand to blend ancient gathering grounds in a vividly modern way. Lighting designer Andrew Voller conjures the skies: elevating a captivating and passionate dance sequence by putting it in the middle of a lightning storm. Costume designer Joan Bergin specializes in flexible fabrics that feel at once regal and homespun, luxe and loomed from the earth. And what the hell would the Irish be without poetry? The suitably epic poetry of Theo Dorgan transitions scene to scene.
The musicians are proper stars of the show in their own right. The vividly voiced chorus stands in for the soul of Éire herself, and the instrumentalists are downright otherworldly, bringing the stirring melodies to life in all-out jam sessions: it’s a joy to hear and watch the wonderful winds of Cathal Croke, fantastic fiddler Haley Richardson, spectacular saxophonist Emma Frampton, and peerless percussionist Laura Williams.
This crew carries out Michael Flatley’s iconic choreography with phenomenally precise, percussive power. It’s a well-worn cliché to look up at professional dancers and say they look “effortless”, but knowing the countless years to hone their craft and seeing them flow onstage, that’s just how this troupe triumphs. At times they seem to channel elemental forces even more ancient than Ireland.
Every bit a lord of the dance, lead dancer Jason O’Neill steps and leaps with sheer athleticism and fire.
And Maggie Darlington is the spirit of the wind incarnate, pairing a fine-tuned delicacy with a fantastical fury.
True to Irish spirit, the show also taps into kindred souls and dance styles from other corners of the globe: The Riverdance Russian Folk Dance Troupe boasts dazzlingly kinetic acrobatics, and Rocio Montoya is a flamenco force of nature, the living embodiment of the flame and dancer emojis. And to top off Act 2, there’s a New York tap/Irish Dance battle that’s one of the most engaging things you’ll ever see onstage: Tyler Knowlin and Lamont Brown are skillful stars and the heart of the sequence comes from the right place.
Riverdance has become something more than a show: it’s a 25-year institution. If there’s any flaw to be seen, it’s ironically that it’s flawless. Partly through PBS overexposure and part polish, sometimes one might feel as though the sleek and streamlined execution infringes on the heartfelt authenticity. But you didn’t come to an Irish pub. You didn’t come to see buskers on Grafton Street. You came to Riverdance. And it’s here to sweep you away.
Step straight to Riverdance, playing now through February 9 at the Cadillac Palace, 151 W Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60601. For tickets and more, visit here.