Allen — Time has had an interesting effect on Riverdance, which stormed into the Allen Event Center for its 20th anniversary tour. Its worldwide popularity in the last two decades proves that just like many famous musical acts, you can’t keep a good man down. Four years ago, Mark Lowry predicted that the show’s 2012 “Farewell Tour” was anything but, and that prophecy has come to fruition.
It also demonstrates the timeless quality of the dancing and music. Building on the ancient roots of Irish heritage and dancing, melding old and new, and blending with other cultures like the Irish have frequently done, the worldwide appeal of the show is obvious to those who have seen it.
But even an enduring production must evolve, and additions and changes over time have mixed results. Produced by Moya Doherty with direction by John McColgan and music by Bill Whelan, this newer edition brings back all the dances audiences love, with new costumes, new projections and lighting, and even a brand new dance sequence.
Time and culture are the threads that drive the narrative, conveyed through narration and projections. A strong connection to the homeland and the elements dominates the first act, while shifting conditions create a need to change and adapt in the second.
The show has run long enough that Riverdance frequent flyers likely have distinct preferences regarding the ideal leads. Some dancers bring an intense focus, others a warm beam, or perhaps even an arrogant swag.
Ciara Sexton and James Greenan tend towards the former, so much that they almost seemed cold in the beginning. That fervor served them well, though, in the all-male hard-shoe “Thunderstorm” for Greenan and the new “Anna Livia” for Sexton.
Audience favorites for the first half remain the same, for good reasons. “Thunderstorm” got the ladies cheering, and flamenco dancer Marita Martinez-Rey—one of the best performers to fill the role—brought a spark of life to a slow first act.
Contemporary modern choreography finds its way into the show, with disappointing results. A male trio towards the beginning with Sexton pushing them away lacked technical virtuosity, and the more recent addition “Shivna” (which depicts a medieval Irish myth) contains dull choreography. The two parts aren’t dreadful, but the vast talent in the contemporary world puts these segments to shame. It’s best to leave them out in the future.
The variety after intermission creates more exciting sequences. The large ensemble number “Heal Their Hearts,” with a thoughtful Rohan Pinnock-Hamilton as lead baritone, provided an emotional build to the best part of the show, the tap/Irish battle. Tyler Knowlin joined Pinnock-Hamilton as they banter back and forth with Greenan and two others. It’s a time for personalities to shine as well as technique, and Knowlin especially knocked it out of the park.
Almost as equally entertaining but definitely more explosive was “The Russian Dervish,” with three ladies and three men spinning, twirling, and jumping with superhuman energy. Pike jumps and toe touches abounded, leaving the audience gasping with delight. The newest work “Anna Livia” proved that the ladies can deliver equal intensity in an acapella hard-shoe segment as the men.
Four musicians shared the stage with the dancers and each had his time in the spotlight. Mark Alfred impressively maneuvered through a large drum set with ease, yet beautifully tapped his hand across the bodhrán. Patrick Mangan seems to get better each time on the fiddle, and Matt Bashford and Ken Edge delivered soulful performances on the wind instruments. Dancer Meghan Lucey provided an angelic soprano voice for many of the songs.
With an entertaining show such as this, the visual picture has just as much effect on the audience as the dancing, and it’s where this production fell flat. The artwork in the new projections looks amateurish and outdated, as do the sparse gray backdrops, with swirls and sharp, geometric shapes.
Another issue was the Allen Event Center set up. The venue is in a great location, as it services the far northern suburbs of Dallas, has free parking, and lands squarely in the retail and restaurant haven of Allen. But the stage orientation made the production appear diminished. Patrons in the stadium-style seating further back got the best view, rather than those in floor seating who received a better view of facials expression, but likely missed much of the footwork, a key component to the show.
But this is Riverdance. Whatever the shortcomings, all was forgiven with the finale, where all the dancers reminded us why the show is still going strong 20 years later.