Riverdance was born in 1995, the energetic young offspring of Big Eighties shows like Phantom of the Opera and Miss Saigon.
It was bred with that curious – and theatrically unsustainable – mind-set that bigger is better. It’s a lovely relic – unlikely, it seems, to have made such a remarkable global impression if it were born in these cost-conscious times.
That makes its last stop in Boston – April 13-15 at Boston Opera House – a milestone worth recognizing.
Of course, there’s no future in shows built around helicopters hovering above stage, and it’s probably also a deal-breaker to tour a dance show that requires teams of professional dancers. Dance, like plays, has gotten small. And although we all know it’s dangerous to trade art for opulence, there’s no denying the power of a line of dancers – extending from one end of Boston’s biggest stages to the other – hammering out tightly choreographed Irish dance steps that look like the height of military precision and sound like Celtic thunder.
The show is a feat of teamwork, built around the idea of a dancer being part of a whole, being part of something bigger than herself. Despite the fact that the show gave us Michael Flatley, Riverdance is not a show about stars, it’s about the company. And, arriving on the heels of street-bred dance shows like Stomp and Bring in ’da Noise, Bring in ’da Funk, Riverdance found humor and insight with its playful competition between step and tap dancers, a competition that’s clearly more of an appreciation than a rivalry.
Dancing is in these days, as you may have noticed. And it’s not really professional dancing; it’s the amateurs who are stealing the show. Ellen DeGeneres’ dancing became a signature moment of her hit talk show, and we cringe at the foibles of the overmatched “stars” of Dancing with the Stars, but deep down we admire them for dancing like nobody is watching, even though everyone is watching.
You can’t give Riverdance all the credit, but it surely deserves some of it. Just ask the suburban moms trundling their kids off not to soccer games, but to Irish step-dancing classes and competitions, complete with over-the-top costumes, sometimes hand-sewn by moms who can’t explain their kids’ obsession, but secretly love it. It’s a phenomenon that certainly wouldn’t have occurred with such force without frequent Riverdance stops in Boston, rousing our Irish roots.
It’s a fitting legacy for the show. I remember when I first saw Riverdance all those years ago, it seemed odd that the audience sat so still, spiritually moved by the spectacle onstage, but physically, literally, unmoved. Good dancing makes you want to dance, and Riverdance does that. Not only is this incoming production a chance to see, one last time, one of the defining touring shows of the past 20 years, it’s a chance to pay tribute to a show that, I’m sure, swells the ranks of local dance classes, where young girls and boys turn step dancing from something you simply see into something you do.