Riverdance The Show Olympic Park, Munich, 13 May 2000 (AW)
The Irish music and dance spectacle Riverdance burst onto the world stage in 1995. It is described as the most successful musical show ever, and has been touring the world since then with three simultaneous productions in Europe & USA. Seen&Heard caught up with it in Munich, joining some 3000 people for a matinee performance at the Olympic Hall, a vast, steeply raked multipurpose space. On this month's showing in Germany, standards are being maintained rigorously.
On arrival a background of very gently amplified traditional Irish music, sounding as if it might be coming from players by the stage, set the ambience. It made us feel at ease and aware of the roots of this show.
It also lulled us into a mood of relaxed expectation which was blown apart by the dynamic and colourful spectacle which unfolded. The energetic dancing with its rhythms, cleverly amplified percussive foot tapping and split-second accuracy was spellbinding and invigorating just to behold. The often mournful folk songs were sung beautifully and provided quiet counter-points to the more frenetic items. The sound of the traditional Irish instruments was sensitively enhanced with louder, but kindred, instruments and the whole was amplified by sound engineer Michael O'Gorman, maintaining clarity with technical brilliance, no mean achievement. (I had come across O'Gorman's work some years back in a choral performance in the Greenwich Naval Chapel, with a group of singers who were the precursors of the Riverdance chorus. He explained to me then his use of radio microphones for discreet enhancement, with in-built delay so that the sound always appeared to be coming from the singers themselves wherever they were. PGW)
Riverdance can be seen as a self-confident cultural ambassador for a new Ireland, which has been emerging over the last two or three decades. This production has put the country and some of its traditions on the map in a real but also a metaphorical sense. Riverdance appeals to a with-it, sophisticated and technically literate audience. It is rooted in traditional music and dance, but transcends it and moves with the times. It is capable of speaking across frontiers. It is generous in acknowledging kindred cultures by including a flamenco item, in which the dancer used her whole body (traditional Irish dancing is almost exclusively based on foot-work). It is polite in using the host country's own language to link the tableaux, with spoken texts to provide some understanding and a poetic background (in this case beautifully delivered by a mellifluous male voice).
Riverdance is produced by Moya Doherty and directed by John McColgan. The excellent team includes Rupert Murray, responsible for very imaginative lighting and Michael O'Gorman's outstanding sound production. This show rests on teamwork both on and behind the stage of a very high order. If Riverdance comes your way, don't miss it.
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