In Review

Riverdance - 20 years

4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5 stars - 'Right on the Money'
Broadway San Jose
San Jose Center for the Performing Arts
Review by

Riverdance… even if you’ve never seen the show, it’s probably part of your cultural DNA. Twenty years ago, it opened in Dublin, and from there to the West End and Radio City, bringing new fans all the while. Their current project, a 20th anniversary tour that opened yesterday at the San Jose Center for Performing Arts, is as good as it ever was.

Touring shows are an odd mix… The same ones that make your heart skip a beat the first time can make you stifle yawns the second. Whatever novelty once existed is no more and you’re often left with art that often looks dated at best. Don’t worry about it happening here, though. While Irish dancing is no longer novel to most Americans, the beauty of Riverdance remains timeless.

With small changes, the numbers of this 20th anniversary tour are largely the same as the original – a mix of music and Irish dancing – but spiked with other cultures and pairing Irish dancers against impossibly acrobatic Russian ones, and pitting an Afro-American duo doing the dozens against an Irish pair.  Programmatically, this draws the audience into something new and fresh – before returning again to the mind-blowing Irish numbers as percussive as the drummer on stage.

Riverdance - 25th anniversary review

The phenomenal power generated by these dancers executing precisely articulated steps so rapidly that their lower limbs and feet blur is intensified all the more because, as with most Irish dances of this style, the upper torso remains absolutely still. Travelling steps appear most curious of all, largely because it’s not entirely obvious how the dancers actually move in a given direction. Throw in 15-20 dancers on stage moving simultaneously on the beat, and you’ll be forgiven if you ask if their shoes are mic-ed.

Keep an eye out for principal Clara Sexton. She’s easy to recognize because she’s the only short-haired female dancer – a tiny thing – to whom your eyes will be automatically drawn because she single-handedly answers any complaints that Irish dancing appears superficially mechanical and devoid of emotion.

Starry projections remind you this is a season for hope

This time round, I found myself drawn to the musicians, especially the Mark Alfred, the drummer who remained on stage throughout, manning a drum set that rivaled that of the Grateful Dead, and fiddle-player Pat Mangan, whose electricity equals that of the dancers.

The only off note was the occasionally cheesy voice-over spouting poetry that accompanied the video projections.

Starry projections remind you this is a season for hope – even in this election year. Outside it may feel like we’re on brink of World War III, but Riverdance is big enough to hold that in abeyance – at least for this holiday.

Photo credit: Rob McDougal

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Cy Ashley Webb
Cy spent the ‘80’s as a bench scientist, the tech boom doing intellectual property law, and the first decade of the millennium, aspiring to be the world’s oldest grad student at Stanford where she is interested in political martyrdom. Presently, she enjoys writing for Stark Insider and the SF Examiner, hanging out at Palo Alto Children's Theatre, and participating in various political activities. Democracy is not a spectator sport! Cy is a SFBATCC member.
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    Misrepresented. Ok, if you like a multicultural celebration.

    I attended the March 26, 2016, 2:00pm performance of Riverdance at the State Theatre in Minneapolis MN, USA. First off it was too loud. The State Theatre in Minneapolis is glorious venue but too small for the high volume.

    Riverdance was originally represented as modernized Irish cultural dance and music. Thankfully the majority of the performance I saw was based on traditional Irish dance and music. The other reviews can describe the grandeur of the Irish part of the performance.

    For the heart of Irish heritage come to the world’s largest Irish fair outside of Ireland in Saint Paul Minnesota. The local Irish dance schools present Irish dancing during the entire three days. Wonderful traditional music and history and storytelling. If you cannot get there at least visit the web page of The Saint Patrick Visitor Centre in north Ireland. Click “Exhibition” and click “Historical Notes”.

    Or at the very least do a search for and take twenty minutes to read “The Confession of St. Patrick”.

    This Riverdance multicultural celebration included dance from Spain, Russia and Africa. The music for Spanish and Russian dance had embedded Celtic music. Unquestionably entertaining but not culturally authentic. A man of African descent sang a lament implying the African slave trade. We must remember that slavery was multicultural. Irish slaves came to the Americas before African slaves. In the book “White Cargo” Jordan & Walsh document that the Irish slave trade depleted the population of Ireland from about 1,500,000 to 600,000 in one single decade from 1641 to 1652. African slave trade was just beginning. Irish slaves cost less so were treated with more brutality.

    Let’s not forget the Barbary pirates. Wikipedia admits Barbary pirate slave trade went “as far north as Iceland” and “The main purpose of their attacks was to capture Christian slaves for the Ottoman slave trade as well as the general Arabic market in North Africa”. What that really means is capturing girls for harams in North Africa. So in other words the female ancestors of those Riverdance girls were captured, put on display without clothing in a slave market, ending in harams to live out their lives “servicing” their Islamic captors till they die of venereal diseases from their captors. The Irish white skin and light hair earned a high price for the Barbary pirates. The current Princess Lalla Salma of Morocco (Africa), who is native Moroccan, has the unmistakable Irish red hair.

    So if we are to lament African slavery we must also lament Irish slavery.