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Lord of the Dance

Lord of the Dance (1996/2002) starstarstar

Reviewed 2002-10-27
: The stage is painted in deep blue light. A spirit plays a flute. Cloaked torch-bearers emerge. The music swells, a blend of traditional and modern Celtic tunes. The dancing begins. Both are bright and rhythmic, inviting you — compelling you — to tap your feet to the beat. Even if you have no dancing skill, your heart is dancing, racing, to the Celtic cadence.

The story is rudimentary: good vs. evil, based on old Irish folklore and featuring the Dark Lord, Don Dorcha, challenging the Lord of the Dance, a collision of opposing dancers reminiscent of West Side Story, and a passionate love story setting a seductress named Morrighan to temp the Lord to turn from the pure Colleen named Saoirse. All this is staged with colorful costumes, and flashy lighting and pyrotechnics. And the dancing. The exhilarating dancing!

This is Michael Flatley's Lord of the Dance and, while the creator of the show no longer dances the title role — he gave it up after 390 performances to create Feet of Flame — the road company I saw at the Lyric Opera House in Baltimore has done the former Chicago construction worker proud. His fans are called "flatheads," and Flatley isn't Celtic: he was born in the USA, studied Irish dance from age 11, became All-World Irish Dancing Champion at age 17, and worked on Chicago's South Side until he choreographed his first show, Riverdance. He premiered Lord of the Dance, in Dublin, on July 2, 1996; a video followed in 1997. Flatley was phenomenal: listed by The Guinness Book of World Records for having "the world's fastest feet" at 35 taps per second.

The show I saw, as Flatley himself says, is "not ballet. It's not tap. It's not Flamenco. It's something that I created from scratch because nothing else was just right." The music, composed by Ronan Hardiman, is a perfect compliment to the ramrod straight backs, straight arms and flying feet of the dancers. There was also the ballad-singer, Erin, who sings three times. A pair of blonde, female violinists clad in sexy black leather costumes, duet and duel. The women in the company come onstage to dance, then drop their diaphanous pastel costumes and step lively in black hose and brief tops. The Spirit reappears in the second act, in which the mean gang of the Dark Lord break her flute in half, but then the Lord of the Dance comes to her rescue, beats back the bullies, and fixes her flute. A final battle between good and evil. The Lord of the Dance dances in victory. The company of finely tuned bodies and winning smiles indulges the audience in two encores.

The show has been around long enough to be parodied (in one of the Naked Gun films, I think). Lord of the Dance has plenty of razzle-dazzle and isn't even originally Celtic: Shiva was the original, performing the cosmic dances that emulate the ordered movement of the universe. The Hindu god may dance to punish enemies, or to destroy what is evil, or to eliminate old forms so new forms can emerge, or to teach proper conduct — much like his Celtic counterpart.

The show itself was heavily amplified, and that was a little annoying. There was no orchestra, so the music was canned. Does that mean the tapping of the feet, which sounded louder than human feet could tap, also canned? And what about the violin music? Was anything but the dancing produced live? No matter: The lighting and the dancing were real enough and energetic enough. Once again, the Lord of the Dance reigns supreme!

Lord of the Dance (1996/2002) The Lyric Opera House program did not list the names of the members of the dance troupe performing on October 27. The dancers from the 1997 Lord of the Dance video production are: Michael Flatley as Lord of the Dance, Bernadette Flynn as Saoirse (the Irish Colleen), Daire Nolan as Don Dorcha (the Dark Lord), Gillian Norris as Morrighan (the Temptress), Helen Egan as the Spirit, Anne Buckley as Erin the Goddess, Mairead Nesbitt and Cora Smyth as The Violins.

Agree? Disagree? Tell me!


Ronald Bruce Meyer is a freelance reviewer.