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Rockwell on irish dance

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In light of the discussion about Rockwell's manifesto on taking the top dance critic job at the NYT I thought this review, or rather essay, on Irish step dancing might be interesting.


"It's easy to be sniffy about the "Riverdance" experience. I've been sniffy myself. But it is what it is, and what it is is Las Vegas-style entertainment. As such it's far more popular than most dance. Which makes people scornful and envious. They even go so far as to deny that this is dance at all, which is silly. "Riverdance" goes out of its way to demonstrate connections between other forms of heel-and-toe-tapping folk dance, like flamenco and tap. And some of the dancing is pretty spectacular.


The popularity of these productions suggests parallels to music, which has seen amplified popular music challenge the commercial and even artistic hegemony of European art music. In music, pop has effectively seceded from classical. Hugely popular commercial dance is still a relatively new phenomenon, so mainstream dance intellectuals can still try to brush it aside.

These commercial shows are the tip of an enormous participatory iceberg. Yes, they appeal to the Irish diaspora. But they also appeal to anyone who enjoys step dancing, and that's a lot of people: Irish dance schools and competitions have proliferated, even beyond the English-speaking world, and most professional Irish dancers seem to have won "world championships," a title distributed rather freely."

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But consider that there have now been two articles in a row on this particular iteration of Riverdance. Yesterday's review in the print edition made it abundantly clear that whatever else about this show, these principals aren't particularly good. :lol:


I suspect that if this weren't St. Patrick's Day and this show were not in town, Rockwell would have had to resort to a St. Patrick's Notebook retrospective on Anton Dolin (Patrick Healy-Kay).

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The Kourlas piece you linked is at least a review, with some specifics, whereas the Rockwell piece is yet another strangely flee-floating piece of pontification fro which the writer doesn't even need to go see the show, since the main beef is this strange obsessing whether maybe snobs who don't care how popular a show is are perhaps fatally wrong - or even worse, not with it.

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The Times has already run a review of Riverdance this time around, and Rockwell has clearly seen this production. I think he's written a fine piece that makes proper comparisons and asks interesting questions. He also gave me my morning laugh.

Step dancing involves a stiff torso and arms held rigidly at the sides (all these companies vary that pattern with much freer arm movements). This stylistic oddity, with rapidly kicking and tapping feet juxtaposed to upper immobility, is usually credited to Irish parish priests, concerned about lascivious corporeal display.

I thought I loved the ballet vocabulary because its use of the body suggests the essential dignity and potential nobility of the human soul. But maybe I just like the lascivious epaulement and port de bras. :rolleyes:

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But it is what it is, and what it is is Las Vegas-style entertainment. As such it's far more popular than most dance. Which makes people scornful and envious.

You don’t have to be a snotty dance pointyhead to dislike the kitsch and glitz of “Riverdance.” Also, I understand Rockwell’s apparent need to keep bringing the subject back to music, where he is most at home, but the pop/classical parallel doesn’t hold here. I am still trying to hope for the best, but I can't say that Rockwell has demonstrated a gift for generalization in his new post.

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