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Michael Flatley on tour again

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Clare Raymond of the U.K. Daily Mirror talks to Michael Flatley about what he’s doing these days.

http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/showbiz/tm_ob...-name_page.html

Next month, he embarks on an extravagant world tour called Celtic Tiger, which has taken five years of planning and will cost him more than £10m. "It's far and away my best work," says the man who shot to fame in Riverdance with Jean Butler during Eurovision in 1994. "I'll be the first dancer in the world to sell-out football stadiums."

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I saw the original Riverdance, shot in Dublin, on video. I was unfamiliar with Irish step dancing and found the performances, especially the woman, Jean Butler, strangely beautiful, with their intense concentration, powerful verticality, and strange other-worldliness.

Subsequent Riverdances -- not to mention Lord of the Dance -- have moved more in the direction of nightclub dancing, Broadway, and Las Vegas, bringing in a variety of styles, all of which can be seen performed better and with more interest elsewhere.

I wonder what others think of Flatley, and -- even better -- of this style of Irish dancing?

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I saw Flatley in the original Riverdance and although the production was not to my taste, at his peak Flatley was obviously a superb dancer – in a class by himself on that stage. Of course, compared to Flatley’s follow up, Lord of the Dance, Riverdance looked like Swan Lake.

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I saw Flatley in a recent arena tour of Lord of the Dance. It was programmed a couple of days after Janet Jackson, in her Velvet Rope show, and I remember thinking that LotD was a very similar kind of event. It made me think of the old court ballets, full of animal performers and special effects, but with the kernals of what has become real ballet inside them.

Underneath the paraphernalia of the spectacular, Flatley was still an astonishing performer in a very specific and arcane dance style. I don't know if he's still able to dance at that level, but he was then, and I'd be more than willing to endure the pretentious scenarios and overblown production values to see him try again.

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Amy, the term "Celtic tiger" is a nickname for Ireland, because of its quick economic growth in the 1990s (by analogy with some Asian countries called "Asian tigers", like Singapore, Taiwan, etc.) See for example:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Celtic_Tiger

So perhaps Flatley's show is a pun about that expression ?

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As someone deeply involved in Irish dance, I have a different take on Michael Flatley. Those of us who make our living from Irish dancing are indepted to him because he put Irish dance on the map. But is he a phenomenal dancer? I don't think so. He has chutzpah or, as my Irish mother-in-law used to say, moxie. But within the Irish dance world, he actually has a lousy style. Bent knees, feet not pointed very well, upper body jackknifes forward with big kicks - no, he wouldn't win an Irish dance competition nowadays. I can just see an adjucator's comments on his marks sheet: "Straighten legs!" "Watch those knees!" "Posture, posture, posture!"

I've always favored the dancing of the original "Evil Lord", Daire Nolan, over that of Flatley. And Flatley's immediate Riverdance successor, Colin Dunne. Those men can dance! Impeccable form, dashing personalities. Some of their finest work was not seen in any of Flatley's productions.

Flatley brings to Irish dance the tough-guy macho image. I don't really know if it increased the ranks of male Irish dancers though. He also introduced to the masses the power of the "hard shoe" dances and I'm delighted they've gotten to enjoy it. Irish dance schools choreographed that kind of dancing long before Flatley brought it to mass acclaim.

But this was all bound to "pop" anyway. In the years just prior to Riverdance, there was a sudden burst of really incredible step-dancing going on at the local feiseanna (Irish dance competitions). I remember being blown away at how complex the choreography was becoming and how it was - pardon the pun - growing by leaps and bounds.

Flatley just happened at the right time. I'm happy to thank him for that. :(

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Thanks, vagansmom, for that reply. Question: doesn't Flatley consider himself something of a stylistic rebel, a cultural hero breaking away from rigid, even ossified rules and conventions? At least that's how I've heard him interviewed.

Also, what's your take on Jean Butler? I admit to being mesmerized by her in the tv Riverdance.

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Irish dancing is intoxicating.....

Last week in San Francisco the Ethnic Dance Festival presented Murphy's Irish Dancers, a folkloric association that's been going here for decades, and their kids are entrancing. Especially the tinies -- there were kids out there who looked four or five years old, demonstrating remarkable mastery (and presence of mind). There was by the way nothing creepy or exploitative about this to my eye -- it looked likeh they were enjoying themselves, thinking hard (that "don't bother me, I'm busy" face was seen much of the time) -- But I felt no harm at all in that. It's food for thought, how kids love to solve movement problems no wonder they play the computer versions of pinball)...

The most fun of all was to see the Chinese dancers in the lobby after the show trying to learn the Irish steps. They'd just done a willowy Manchu ballet, looking like Les Biches (I wondered if Nijinska had ever seen one of these court ballets from the early twentieth century), wearing marvellous shoes with a white 3-inch box platform in the middle of the foot, under the instep. And they could DO some of the irish steps, and they weren't afraid to fall down trying.

Edited at poster's request to insert link.

This link will take you photo of a Chinese dancer from the festival. She's on the left side of your screen -- just scroll down a bit.

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Those dancers in the air are doing what's known in most schools as "freeze leaps". They lift their back leg up in the air before their front leg - a hard concept for a dancer, actually - and their front leg should be parallel to the floor. When done correctly, the dancer truly DOES look as though frozen in the air. We have a tiny 17 year old dancer in our school whose freeze leaps cause my spine to tingle; they're the most gorgeous I've ever seen.

Bart, yes, you've nailed Flatley's image of himself. :beg: The truth, though, is that the rigid look exists only in the competition circuit. Long before Flatley became famous, there have been experimenters in Irish dance. I'm grateful Flatley made it famous. Irish dance NEEDED someone to do that, but many teachers at many Irish dance schools, notable ones and not, had created fusion choregraphy for their dancers' non-competition performances before anyone ever heard Flatley's name.

The difference, of course, is that Flatley (well, the "Riverdance" producers did so, Flatley supplied much of the choreography) put together a professional show whereas nearly everyone else (Trinity was the exception) was choregraphing on their students. Obviously, dance teachers didn't have the money for all the glitz, but the dance was there, the dance formations were there, but it took a lightning rod - Flatley - to bring it to the non-Irish dance public's attention.

Flatley seized a great moment; percussive dance was all around us. African dance and flamenco were wooing audiences. Stomp! (developed in the late 1980's) was already a big hit. Even the young men in our dance school were performing to African rhythms played on a dumbek before anyone ever heard of the "three minutes that shook the world". The rhythms were driving and when the young men performed en masse, thunderous and oh, so masculine.

Even in competition back then, while most dance dramas used Irish music or Irish fusion music, some were being choregraphed to rock music. An entire school of dancers would perform a work based on an ancient Irish legend. In some cases, new tales were told through dance. These dramas continue to resonate with Irish audiences much the same as "Giselle" with all its pathos and other-worldly creatures - the wilis - captivates ballet audiences. These Irish stories, much like the story ballets, may seem silly but they are based on ancient tales and ancient ethos. I remember complimenting Michael Smith, TCRG from Boston, whose winning dance dramas and teacher's choreography are better than any I've ever seen. I said that his way of moving dancers reminds me of Balanchine and he replied that Balanchine was the choreographer whom HE most admired.

So the timing was right for all this to come together. In 1994, when the 3 minute dance intermission at the Eurovision music event shook the world, it was no surprise to anyone in Irish dance.

My husband, whenever asked, maintains that "Jean Butler turning her head in her side-step in that original 'Riverdance' piece was the earthquake; everything else was a tremor." I agree. In my opinion, Butler's contribution, her stunning beauty - dance form and face - played every bit as much a part of the success of this show as did Flatley's contributions. Butler choreographed her own dances but it's Flatley's name we hear. He's got the moxie, alright, and yes, it's a good thing for Irish dance that he does. :wacko:

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