Canberra Theatre 7 – 11 October 2015
Michael Flatley may not have been in the Canberra Theatre in person for the opening of the latest version of his dance show, but he was there in hologram form dancing with his son, Michael St James Flatley, in a filmed sequence which opened the show, and again dancing a competitive trio with himself to close the show.
For the rest of the show the Lord of the Dance was performed by two-time World Irish Dancing Champion, Cathal Keaney, who not only dazzled with his astonishing dancing, but proved a dab hand at working the audience.
Michael Flatley is credited with popularising Irish step dancing, a form of traditional dance characterised by rapid intricate leg and foot movements usually performed with the upper body and arms being kept largely stationary. When Flatley led a troupe of dancers in a televised interval segment called “Riverdance” during the 1994 Eurovision contest, Irish step dancing became a world-wide phenomenon with “Riverdance” touring the world and attracting huge audiences.
In 1996, Flatley created his own show, based loosely on the “Riverdance” model, which has been touring the world, in different versions, ever since. The latest version “Lord of the Dance – Dangerous Games” harkens back to the days of the good old-fashioned pantomimes where the audience is encouraged to cheer the handsome hero and hiss the dastardly villain. The first night Canberra audience embraced this opportunity with gusto.
|The Dark Lord in "Lord of the Dance - Dangerous Games"|
Set in an idyllic fantasy world somewhere between “Game of Thrones” and “The Magic Flute”, the storyline depicts a battle between good and evil where thanks to some impressive technology and pyrotechnics, rushing waterfalls, gushing fountains, frolicking unicorns and endlessly soaring butterflies and doves, accompany the action. Battles take place against erupting volcanoes and burning forests.
Representing all things good, the handsome hero and his chieftains must fight against the Dark Lord and his band of dark disciples as well as the temptations of the seductress, to win the heart of his beautiful maiden.
That’s all you need to know about the story. Two Irish fiddlers (Giada Costernaro Cunningham and Eimear Reilly), a vocalist from the UK version of “The Voice” (Rachel O’Connor) and a contortionist disguised as a Little Spirit (Jess Judge) are threaded through the proceedings.
|The Little Spirit (Jess Judge) and ensemble|
Many of the costumes are spectacular, especially those for the dancing robots, however some unattractive grunge outfits, and others from the first half which re-appear surprisingly in the second half, detract from the overall spectacle.
But as dazzling as the scenic elements are, it is the dancing which leaves the strongest impression. Although the rather silly storyline provides the opportunity to inject visual spectacle among some seriously impressive dancing, the show is at its best when the stage is filled by the rows of impeccably -drilled ensemble dancers executing complex steps with extraordinary concentration and precision, or when the testosterone-fuelled male leads display their mastery of the dance form with dazzling solos.
Surprisingly, on opening night in Canberra, no acknowledgement, either in the printed program or from the stage, was made of the presence in the cast of Canberra's own 2015 World Champion Irish dancer, Connor Simpson, who had joined the cast of "Lord of the Dance - Dangerous Games" just three weeks previously.
Connor is making his professional debut with the company during the Canberra season, and following the Australian tour, will join the Broadway cast. Most of the audience would have been unaware of Connor’s presence in the show, therefore missing the opportunity to express their good wishes for his future success.
This review also appears in Australian Arts Review