‘Magic of the Dance’
The Devil Getting His Due
by Stuart Sweeney
June 29, 2004 -- Churchill Theatre, Bromley, England
I remember the original version of “Riverdance” from the Eurovision song Contest in Dublin. Having turned on to have fun at the expense of the dire Europop tunes, I was suddenly on the edge of my seat with the energy and skill of the line of perfectly synchronised step dancers, choreographed and led by Michael Flatley. The video of the original version of the stage show has Flatley again impressing with his own dancing and the ensemble concept. However, his idea of continuity is to appear in every scene, whether it be Irish, Russian, Spanish dance or whatever – the ego has landed. Thankfully, “Magic of the Dance” avoids this trap.
Overall, I came out exhilarated by the “Magic of the Dance” experience and unsurprisingly, the strongest features were the solo and ensemble Irish dancing. However, the producers know that you can’t sustain a production with only Irish dance and the main alternative is tap dancing, which dovetails stylistically with the primary dance style. A few novelty sections also break up the action - the best is tapping on flat electronic tuned drum machines. There is a story, about emigration to the US, a love affair and devils, but this merely provides a few cues for the various dance set pieces and can be safely ignored.
Michael Donellan plays the devil figure and as his multiple world champion pedigree suggests he dances at a furious speed, with footwork as nimble and precise as you are likely to see anywhere. Given his role and audience expectations, he adds flamboyant gestures, plenty of upper body movement and attitude. John Carey, as the romantic lead, matches Donellan’s skill, but as an upright citizen, he dances in a more traditional way. In my view he gets the best of the deal and I found myself leaning forward and concentrating on his magical footwork, without any extraneous distractions. Suzanne Cleary, as the female devil, dances in the centred and focused way that you see from all top performers. She doubles as a street gang member in a 4-a-side tap vs Irish contest where her flicks and pointe work are breathtaking.
Not everything works - heaps of dry ice, fire at the front of the stage and other over-dramatic effects I could have done without, but I suspect they are expected. There are also some weak lyrical dance sections in between the pyrotechnic footwork, some dull modern Irish songs and a voiceover by Christopher Lee, which was difficult to hear on the Churchill’s sound system. Lee gets two pages in the programme, which omits to credit the technical team. But these shortcomings couldn’t dim the excitement generated by the lead dancers and the corps. For this first performance in the UK, the cast received a standing ovation and I’m sure it won’t be the last.
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