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LORD OF THE DANCE (article first published : 2000-04-12)

If you thought Star Wars offered pretty neat effects, think again. That was on celluloid. With Lord of the Dance, it all happens right in front of you – live every night – on a stage somewhere around the world. Despite their bad reputation for supporting live theatre, Durban audiences have been privileged to be included in the tour of this highly acclaimed international production which was created, choreographed and produced by the inimitable Michael Flatley.

I confess to having been a little resistant to Lord of the Dance because, while his talent and energy is undoubtedly impressive, I was becoming a trifle weary of the Flatley ego and his performance seen on film and video tended to overshadow the rest of the cast. However, he has now wisely stepped aside to allow new talent to lead the show into the future.

What a joy to see the Playhouse Opera filled to capacity with real paying customers and very little “paper” (complimentary seats). Proves that if there’s something that they want to go and see, Durbanites will support it, book in advance (virtually unheard of), pay comparatively high ticket prices and shelve their unwillingness to go into the City centre at night!

The dramatic and slow moving opening doesn’t prepare you for the pyrotechnics (figuratively and literally!) that are to come and it isn’t long before you acknowledge that the overwhelming accolades showered on the production are all highly deserved.

With the aid of microphones, the opaque coloured stage constructed from plywood, neoprene rubber and Marley tiles provides a perfect sounding board for the dancers’ lighting feet that literally talk. Part of the impressive set is a dome which holds a vast bank of spotlights as well as panels featuring a historic Celtic symbol. The highly skilful lighting design produces spectacular effects from blazoning gold to moody blues. The costumes are striking and, with all the hammering they get, the dance shoes must take some upkeep. Altogether, it is not surprising that an 18 member production team travels with the show.

There is a story line, if you need one. It’s the tale of the delightful Little Spirit (Sharon Murry) who travels through time and space to help the Lord of the Dance (Desmond Bailey) protect his mythical people from Don Dorcha, the Dark Lord (Daire Nolan). This paves the way for tempestuous and dramatic battles between the Warlords and the Warriors. In the process, the Lord of the Dance is waylaid by the temptress Morrighan (Gillian Norris) but his heart lies with Saoirse (Bernadette Flynn), the Irish Colleen. Clad in dramatic green velvet, the elegant and stately Goddess Erin (Maev Nimachacha) occasionally graces the stage to sing in either Gaelic or English. Providing some of the highlights of the evening were the two attractive fiddlers Lisa McLoughin & Claire Dolan.

This form of traditional Irish dance is noticeable for its use of a virtually rigid torso from the neck to the base of the spine with very little in the way of arm movement, particularly for the girls. This means that the focus is inevitably drawn to the legs. The dancers wear short tunic skirts so the full leg is visible and, as they are invariably clad in black stockings, they look delicate and fragile. Hardly strong enough to produce the extraordinary display of footwork that they do - at such speed and for so long.

Since breaking my foot nearly two months ago, my focus was naturally drawn to the footwork and I was fascinated by the complexity of the movements, particularly one which has a swaying motion with one foot tucked behind the other which almost defies gravity! I also marvelled at the strength of the calf muscles that must have been built up while performing this kind of work.

Bernard Jay of Big Concerts co-ordinated the tour of Lord of the Dance to South Africa because he wanted to bring people back into the theatres. Well, it certainly worked. The show runs in the Playhouse Opera until April 23 on the last leg of their nationwide tour and I understand that there are very few tickets left. However, you may be lucky if you book fast. Otherwise plan your next holiday to somewhere in the world where the show is running. It’ll be worth every penny.




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