A step-dancing spectacular: ‘Riverdance’ charges onto Shubert stage
Just as surely as “Rivers everywhere run down to the sea,” “Riverdance” returns often to Boston.
After all, this multimedia journey richly combines high-speed dance, evocative design, Irish folklore and universal messages about heritage, diversity and understanding. In the past, this distinctive blend has high-stepped with great gusto at the Citi Performance Center (then the Wang Theatre). Now this great 1995 phenomenon is taking on another key asset at the cozier Shubert Theatre: real intimacy.
Granted “Riverdance,” which first dazzled Dublin, crosses the Atlantic from first-act rural Ireland to second-act urban New York City. Granted the international hit embraces a spectrum including Russian, Spanish and African-American cultural influences. Most importantly, though, “Riverdance” kicks its way into the heart. By turns joyous, thoughtful, sad and triumphant, it captures the human spirit even as it showcases individual talent.
That spirit is predominantly Irish in the first act as composer Bill Whelan and poet Theo Dorgan celebrate the tenacity and inner fire of their ancestors. Rocio Montoya, dressed in the color of blood oranges, blends grace and sensuality for “Firedance,” a memorable Flamenco-accompanied stretch. Robert Murray’s poetic lighting catches the intensity of the sun and its special importance to the crops.
Michael O’Gorman’s crisp sound design, by contrast, helps to conjure up a particularly strong thunderstorm during which the Male Irish Dance Troupe provides sharp syncopation.
Closing out the well-paced first act – credit director John McColgan – is the terrific title ensemble itself. Principal Irish dancer Marty Dowds (lead dancers alternate at various performances), almost as fast and dynamic as original performer Michael Flatley, kicks very high and establishes a gusto and a spirit matched by the other 17 members of the perfectly synchronized line. Alana Mallon, his female counterpart, may not be as charismatic as Dowds, but she does display strong technique. That stunning synchronization earned a well-deserved round of cheering on opening night.
Immigration to America becomes the operative choice for many Irish youth as poverty oppresses them. In what can fairly be called the high point of the evening, Irish and African-American dancers trade taps – competing with each other at first but eventually learning from each other’s dance styles. Dowds and his accompanying duo give their rivals serious competition. Best of all are the two American tappers, lead Jason Bernerd and Parker Hall, who bring to mind gifted dancer Savion Glover with the intricacies of their steps and the level of their confidence.
What makes this edition of “Riverdance” particularly satisfying is the equally high quality of the Russian Dervish. Here the male partners seem to defy gravity as they execute intricate lifts and configurations with their respective female counterparts.
For the finale, Dowds enters with exciting speed and achieves good height as he kicks.