“Riverdance” Audience Gives Warm Welcome at Denver Center for the Performing Arts

The 20th Anniversary World Tour, Photographer Rob McDougal
The 20th Anniversary World Tour, Photographer Rob McDougal

Buell Theatre Hosts 20th Anniversary Tour of famed “Riverdance

Reviewed by Tom Jones
March 9, 2016

Where to begin? What can be singled out to be the “best” of the show? Is it the opening “Reel Around the Sun”, which held the audience in awe? Or the flamenco “Firedance”? Probably the best-remembered number is “Riverdance” itself. No, the “best” has to be the “Russian Dervish.” Or the square dance take-off where partnered dancers were in a circle within a circle, with each circle rotating in different directions. There are just too many highlights to say one was the absolute “best.”

The 20th Anniversary World Tour, Photographer Rob McDougal
The 20th Anniversary World Tour, Photographer Rob McDougal

“Riverdance” has been touring the world for 20 years. Although seven years have passed since the show was last at the Buell, the audience’s enthusiasm for the production has not waned in the interim. Each standout number was greeted by sustained applause.

“Riverdance” is an unusual phenomenon, and is probably Ireland’s best-known export. It is a multi-media production featuring Irish dancing and music. Music and dancing from other nations are also highlighted. Amazing dancing skills are first and foremost. Dancers’ feet and legs move, but everything above the waist appear to be motionless. Dancers glide and swoop and even tumble across the enormous stage with virtuoso skill. The show includes skillful vocals and instrumental music by fiddle, drums, Uilleann Pipes, low whistle, and saxophone.

The 20th Anniversary World Tour, Photographer Rob McDougal
The 20th Anniversary World Tour, Photographer Rob McDougal

In 1994 one of Europe’s most famous music competitions was the Eurovision Song Contest in Dublin. For that year’s program a seven-minute interval was a musical piece known only as “Riverdance.” The performance was such a success that John McColgan and Moya Doherty decided to produce and direct a stage show, expanding the Eurovision piece, with music by Bill Whalen. The show “took off” as do the dancers performing the incredible footwork.

I first became acquainted with the show 21 years ago when I was visiting London. There were billboards on the route from Heathrow to the city proclaiming, “Riverdance”. I had no idea what this was all about, but soon found myself in line to purchase a ticket. I was thunderstruck with the dancing, and the sheer enthusiasm of the show. I saw it twice the same week.

The 20th Anniversary World Tour, Photographer Rob McDougal
The 20th Anniversary World Tour, Photographer Rob McDougal

The current exuberant cast is a combination of award-winning dancers and musical performers. Their skills are impeccable, as they thoroughly enchant everyone in the cavernous Buell. The show is so wonderful, however, that the audience might be awarded too much of a good thing. The first act flashed by in a whirlwind of excitement. After intermission the dancing continues to be wondrous. But a tap competition between American and Irish tappers goes on too long, as does an extended piece featuring remarkable drumming. I began to wonder if I was seeing “Riverdrum”.  Audience enthusiasm did not cease, however, and the standing ovation at the show’s conclusion reminded me that a remarkable presentation had been experienced, with most everyone wanting “More”!

“Riverdance”
Where: The Buell Theatre of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts
When: Through March 13, 2016
Tickets: 303/893-4100
For more information: denvercenter.org

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