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A Tapping Good Time

In 1994, Michael Flatley, Jean Butler and a score of Irish dancers took to the stage as an interval act at the Eurovision Song Contest. The seven-minute, frenetic step-dancing that followed not only immediately became one of the defining moments in the talent contest’s 55 years, but would launch the theatrical performance empire Riverdance. On 12 January, the group’s ‘Farewell Tour’ taps into Shanghai’s Grand Stage, promising a proper Irish knees-up of incredible synchronous choreography.

Step-dancing, a style traditional to the Emerald Isle, is characterised by dancers keeping their upper body stiff while rapidly moving their feet in tandem with the other performers. Dancers are capable of executing an astounding 20 taps per second – visually it is truly something that needs to be seen to be believed. It is performed to the tune of baroque-influenced music with flairs of modern elements.

The success of Riverdance cannot be overstated. Since its very first performance 15 years ago in Dublin’s Point Theatre, the show has played to sell out crowds worldwide. Its audio recordings have broken sales chart records and spawned numerous concert DVDs. The show has arguably done more than anything else to globally spread awareness of Irish culture – the group estimates that over 22 million people have seen the show. Furthermore, it is indirectly responsible for Michael Flatley’s wonderfully titled spin-offs including Lord of the Dance and Celtic Tiger.

Due to its popularity, six different production companies have been formed to enable Riverdance to tour multiple countries at any given time. According to senior executive producer Julian Erskine, “The group coming to Shanghai will be the Moy Company. We name all of our companies after Irish rivers and the Moy is a beautiful river in the west of Ireland that is very famous for its fishing.”

“There are nearly 50 people on the road in each company with over 30 of those being performers,” he adds. The Moy troupe’s lead dancer is Maria Buffini, a graduate of the National University of Ireland. She has been with Riverdance since 2004 and has previously toured Europe, the US, Japan and Taiwan.

Logistically, moving costumes, stage decorations and equipment around the world can be quite a headache, but with 15 years of experience the group has gotten it down to a science. “We ship everything from Europe in three sea containers; it takes about six weeks for the containers to get to China,” says Erskine. “Once they clear customs they are loaded onto trucks and are driven around China from city to city. When the tour is over, the containers are put back onto a ship and head for the next country that the show is visiting, in this case Australia.”

Although the current ‘Farewell Tour’ might lead one to believe this is the last chance to see the show, Erskine assures TALK this is not quite the case. “This definitely not the last chance to see the show,” he stresses. “We are doing a major overhaul to the show in 2011 and so when it is next in Shanghai it will be in a new format. So on one hand, yes it is ‘farewell’ to the current version of the show, but on the other hand, at some stage in the future it will be ‘hello’ to the new show!” Consequently, while Riverdance will inevitably scissor-kick through Shanghai in the future, this month’s performance will be the last time to experience the original show’s magic.

Riverdance. 12 January, 7.30pm. Shanghai Grand Stage, 1111 Caoxi Bei Lu, near Zhongshan Lu. Price: RMB 180 – 1,280. Tel: 6120 4560. Web:


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