Touring with Riverdance

April 12, 2009

It’s Friday night in downtown Detroit, and I’m in the dressing room of the Fox Theatre, getting ready to perform with the national touring company of Riverdance. The Boyne, as the North American company is known, called me in when one of their dancers went on leave, so I’m taking a one-week hiatus from Dance Magazine to bring some Irish cheer to the Motor City. I think we’re doing a good job so far; this town might be hard-hit by the economic recession, but you wouldn’t know it from the enthusiasm in the crowds.

This week has been a whirlwind––reacquainting myself with the choreography, getting fitted for costumes, catching up with old friends––and tonight will be my fourth show in three days. It’s always a little nerve-wracking jumping right back into the troupe; before opening night, I hadn’t danced the show in almost a year, and I had about a half-hour of rehearsal time onstage. But once you’ve done the steps eight times a week for four months (which I did a few years ago), they don’t really leave your body. The music comes on, you start lining up in the wings, and it all comes racing back, from the details of the footwork to the whooping and hollering at the end of each act.

Every time I reunite with Riverdance, I feel more at home onstage, more present. During my first tour in 2005, I was all tension and nerves, afraid that I’d draw a blank in front of thousands of people, or get lost in the cloud of dry ice and end up in the wrong spot, or run out of steam mid-finale while the rest of the Rockette-like line kept on chugging. It was draining (when you tell yourself you won’t have enough stamina, you won’t).

But since then, I’ve learned to relax into performing, and it’s not just a matter of comfort through repetition. I’ve also gotten some new movement principles under my belt—from yoga, Feldenkrais, and release technique––ideas that are helpful for any performer, but that don’t make their way into a traditional Irish dance class. Now when I get onstage, I have a fuller awareness of my whole body, of how to use it efficiently and present it confidently.

Dancing this show is like running a few 100-yard dashes––really fast––with plenty of time to breathe in between. When you’re on, you really have to be on, but there are lulls in the action where you can refuel. During those times, I always like watching the show from the wings, especially Firedance, the sultry flamenco solo that melds into a fire-against-ice quintet with four of the male Irish dancers. The flamenco soloist on this tour is my friend Rocio Montoya from Granada, Spain. She is a gorgeous mover, and I feel lucky that I get the chance to watch her so close up. In stature, she couldn’t be more different from the show’s original flamenco soloist, the towering, voluptuous Maria Pages. Rocio has a tiny frame, but she moves big; you feel like every twist of her body and toss of her red skirt really is powered by some kind of elemental force. Offstage, Rocio lets me practice Spanish with her, and before I go home on Sunday, I want her to teach me a few steps of flamenco.

There’s a lot of good energy in the company right now, thanks to the results of the World Irish Dancing Championships, which have been going on this week Philadelphia. We just found out that former Riverdance member Scott Doherty (who now tours with Lord of the Dance) won first place in the senior men’s competition, and Meghan Lucey, who’s currently in the troupe but taking the week off, brought home second place in her age group. Everyone is so happy for them, and we’ll be thinking of them when we perform tonight.