Lord of the Dance

Lord of the Dance 25

The Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham


Oh, what it is to not only have a national culture and tradition but to embrace it, celebrate it, and celebrate it in some style.

Lord of the Dance might be an international phenomenon but it is as Irish as a pint of the black stuff straight from St James’s Gate brewery.

It might have its battle between good and evil, The Lord of the Dance and The Dark Lord, it might have its moments of whimsy, of fairytale even, but at its heart this is Irish dance, pure and simple, and what a wonderful spectacle it creates.

From opening moment to closing standing ovation it is a joyous festival of glorious entertainment.

Leading the show in the eponymous role is Cathal Keaney from Galway, who is not only a World, All-Ireland and all points East, West, North and South champion, but an accomplished pianist.

Watch any of the greats, Ronaldo in Soccer, Carlos Acosta in ballet, Alan Birkett in tap and the two things they all have in common is that they make it look so easy and natural, never awkward, and they always seem to have that bit more time than anyone else, nothing ever seems rushed.

ladies of the dance

Keaney falls easily into that category despite feet whirling around like a windmill in a hurricane. I still don’t believe feet can move that fast. He does more steps in a dance than most people manage in a week.

He’s not the only one though, the Dark Lord, Alasdair Spencer from Warwickshire on Press night was no slouch either, and the 14 other dancers that night weighed in just to add to the uneasy feeling of inadequacy of the many dedicated dad dancers in the audience.

It is not just the dancers that make this show though, it also sports two traditional fiddle players, Megan McGinley, from County Donegal and Aisling Sage from West Cork, with that unmistakable sound of a Cèilidh about them. It’s fiddles in traditional music, violins in orchestras for those who are wondering.

Welsh soprano Celyn Cartwright added her own moments to the show with Irish songs including a rather lovely version of Carrickfergus, a song with a tradition which apparently goes back to 1965 and Dominic Behan who learned it, or at least two verses of it from Peter O’Toole.

unison in dance

Put it all together and you get a two hour dance spectacular with time just flying by, the 20 minute interval, impossible I know, seeming to be the longest part of the show.

A mention too for the full stage video creation from Jet TV, lighting from Lite Alternative and well balanced sound from Wigwam Acoustics. Which all combined to enhance the production.

Music, from Gerard Fahy, was a big part of the show, creating mood and atmosphere but the overriding theme was Sydney Carter’s 1963 hymn, Lord of the Dance, used by churches and school assemblies around the Christian world, as well as becoming a standard within the folk music canon.

It is a title which fits the creator and choreographer of the show. Michael Flatley took the traditional centuries old Irish stepdance and modernised it, adding high kicks, heel taps and arms that moved.

His vision first came to international attention with Riverdance at the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest in Dublin. It was created as the intermission piece, a seven minute filler for when the main event, the songs, had been all been sung and voting waiting to start. A time for viewers to go to the toilet, make a cup of tea and get ready for the nil points bit.

Except, that year, Riverdance, became the main event. Ireland won the contest for the third consecutive year, a record, with Rock 'n' Roll Kids, performed by Paul Harrington and Charlie McGettigan, but who remembers that? Riverdance was a sensation and Michael Flatley was a star.

A well publicised artistic clash saw Flatley and Riverdance go their separate ways and the break up spawned Lord of the Dance, 25 years on still going strong and with, yet more standing ovations, no signs of slowing down. To 19-06-22.

Roger Clarke


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