Oxford life. Thirtysomething challenges. Music leanings. Anything really.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Michael Flatley? Raging megalomaniac? Surely not.

This is a slightly altered version of a review I have just written for the Daily Information:

Twenty-two pairs of legs tap the stage furiously, pounding out a thunderous, frantic and exciting rhythm. As the pace quickens, and the music goes up a key, there is an unavoidable rise in spirits, in the dancers, myself, and, quite noticeably, the rest of the audience.

I had come to the New Theatre to see Michael Flatley's Lord of the Dance with some apprehension – no matter how modern, or how lively they make it, it’s still Irish dancing. And surely that’s a little twee? And maybe without enough variety to sustain a full evening? How utterly wrong could I be. The en-masse dances would convert the most cynical. I defy anyone to watch all forty-four feet and legs swinging, tapping, swaying and twisting and not feel the hairs on the back of the neck raise.

An evening like this could not be sustained by just the big ensemble dancing, and fortunately even when there are as few as two dancers, there’s a magic and a cleverness in the choreography to keep the crowd thoroughly entertained.

The show moves from dance to dance, or song, or fiddle solos by means of the shakiest of narratives. It’s your run-of-the-mill good dancers against the evil dancers, the evil dancers rob the nymphs flute, only to be defeated themselves by the Lord of The Dance himself. Just like real life, then. Fortunately, of course, nobody is here to appreciate the writing skills of the producers.

The story does not need to be any more complicated than this, but it is necessary to give the sequence of dances just enough of a thread to feel like one continuous performance. Some dances involve just women, some just men, and some are mix of the two. Each dance has its own costumes, and they all have their own character.

Particularly entertaining for me was the evil dancers – twelve men, stomping angrily around the stage like a bunch of futuristic soldiers with rhythm. The noise of the tap shoes on the stage filled the theatre, and the speed of the footwork was astounding. The women’s dances were mostly less noisy affairs, but performed with grace and dexterity.

It was when the whole cast came together that we got the full adrenalin rush. I am sure this style of show has received criticism from the high-brow intellectuals who see this as art without purpose or meaning; a vehicle to impress by scale alone. And there are some areas where the show isn’t perfect: the (recorded) music occasionally drowns out the tapping and the live fiddles; the story is daft; and the fireworks are an unnecessary diversion.

But really, as myself and anyone else in the rapturous audience would say, who cares? This is pure spectacle, a show to entertain and amaze. In the run up to Christmas, this is an excellent show to sit back and enjoy, and let these talented dancers do the hard work for a couple of hours.

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It's funny, Michael Flatley has a reputation as a cocky arrogant bloke. And "they" say he created this show as a vehicle to promote himself. You can see some of that in the way the current Lord of The Dance dancer plays with the crowd. There's a lot of milking of the crowd's applause at the end of the show, which is a little hard to take. Standing at the front of the stage while beckoning everyone to stand up doesn't really count as getting a proper standing ovation, does it now?

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