Dance Matters

February 23, 2010



Riverdance Waves Farewell

The iconic Irish dance show revisits every city it’s played.


After traveling over 600,000 miles (or to the moon and back!), the global phenomenon Riverdance bounds back to New York City to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, but also to say good-bye. The show, famous for its long line of unison Irish step dancers who pound out lightning-fast rhythms with ramrod straight arms, returns March 17–21 to Radio City Music Hall for eight farewell perfor­mances. Following an incredible 15-year journey, which witnessed spectacular growth from a seven-minute interval act for the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest to an international sensation, Riverdance is in the midst of farewell performances throughout North America. It’s a long good-bye, since the goal is to return to every city that the show has ever played. The tour began in 2007 and will continue to upstate New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Massachu­­setts, Virginia, Kentucky, Florida, North Carolina, Tennessee, and South Carolina before its final U.S. performance at Wolftrap in Vienna, VA, in June. To date, Riverdance has played over 350 venues throughout 40 countries across four continents.


Riverdance’s overwhelming success has surprised even those close to it. “If anyone had told me in 1996, when we played our first shows in the U.S. at Radio City Music Hall, that we would be back at Radio City for the sixth time, celebrating our 15th anniversary in 2010, I would have doubted their sanity,” says senior executive producer Julian Erskine. “But here we are, about to go back to the greatest stage in the world, and everyone is so excited at the prospect.”


The excitement is tinged with nostalgia for veteran performers. “It’s very sad to be saying good-bye. The show is like family at this stage,” says Niamh O’Connor, the only original troupe member still dancing in the show. “When I was growing up doing Irish dance competitions, there were no professional shows for us to join. It’s amazing what has happened. Riverdance has made people take Irish dance seriously as a professional art form.”


Over the years, the show has employed more than 1,500 Irish dancers, not to mention the countless Russian dancers, flamenco dancers, tappers, singers, and musicians who make up the 70-person traveling company. Riverdance can also be credited with building an audience for dance, since it has been seen live by more than 22 million people and by a television audience of nearly 2 billion.


Staggering figures aside, the show profoundly affects individual audience members. “Each night, we’ll meet people who have seen the show four or five times,” says O’Connor. “Everyone has a story about his or her own connection to Riverdance. It touches each person in a different way.” While fans are sad, O’Connor reassures them, “It’s not good-bye forever. It’s good-bye to the cities that we’ve already played.”


Indeed, a newly formed Riverdance company began the troupe’s first extended tour of China in December 2009. Producers are exploring other new markets, including India and South Africa. With the luck of the Irish, Riverdance may well travel to the moon and back again! —Darrah Carr



It’s An Honor

Four outstanding artists receive Dance Magazine Awards.


It was an evening of laughter, cheering, awe, and fortunate accidents. Members of the dance community gathered at NYC’s Florence Gould Hall in November to recognize Jason Samuels Smith, Sara Rudner, Ohad Naharin, and Allegra Kent at the 52nd Dance Magazine Awards.


First up was Jason Samuels Smith, who took turns hoofing with Chloe Arnold, Christopher Scott, Baakari Wilder, and the fabulously hard-hitting Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards. The one-upping, through-the-roof-energy performance brought the house down. Before presenting his award, venerable tapper Dianne Walker recounted watching Samuels Smith since he was a teen; his bear hug in response spoke volumes. Samuels Smith invoked Gregory Hines and Savion Glover in his remarks.


Next onstage was Cunningham legend Carolyn Brown, who placed awardee and Twyla Tharp star Sara Rudner in a pantheon of idols that included Margot Fonteyn. Rudner had her son Eli (in the audience) set the time for five minutes and performed “The Talkie,” in which she improvised while answering questions from the audience (which Rudner said Tharp used to make her dancers perform). Rudner’s humor had people in stitches, but it was her spontaneous movement that captivated them. The funniest bits included her answer to “What was Tharp’s most difficult question?”: “When are you going to shut up, Sara?” The audience was so elated that they gave her a standing ovation.


Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet dancers Jason Kittelberger and Acacia Schachte performed the menacing yet compelling duet from Mabul, made by Ohad Naharin in 1992. Naharin, who received his award from Juilliard dance director Lawrence Rhodes, read excerpts from The Dance Critics’ Manual. While there was some confusion as to whether the manual was of Naharin’s creation at the beginning, when he read “connect to the physical pleasures of life” with his deadpan delivery, it began to sound like Gaga for critics. Knowledge of his authorship did nothing to abet the quotes’ hilariousness.


Jacques d’Amboise recalled dancing with Allegra Kent in the 1950s. When he called for Kent to “Come dance with me!” she fluttered in, dancing. As a tribute to Kent, Janie Taylor and Daniel Ulbricht led other dancers from New York City Ballet in the haunting “The Unanswered Question,” a section of Ivesiana, the first ballet Balanchine made on the then-17-year-old Kent in 1954. Four men maneuvered Taylor so that she stayed aloft, just out of Ulbricht’s desperate reach.


The evening’s span of performances, from jubilant and funny to gritty or mysterious, made for a true celebration of dance.—Kina Poon



From top: Photo by Jack Hartin, Courtesy Abhann Productions; Chloe Arnold, Jason Samuels Smith, Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards, and Baakari Wilder. Photo by Jerry Ruotolo.