by Catherine Blanch.
Lord Of The Dance is the theatrical spectacular that has broken through the traditional realms of Irish dancing by incorporating upper body movement, edgy rhythms and breathtaking visuals that have been mesmerising audiences around the world. Irish-American dancer and choreographer, Michael Flatley, first came to fame in Riverdance. Following his departure from the show in 1995, Flatley created Lord Of The Dance and subsequent chapters: Feet Of Flames and Celtic Tiger.
The story of the character ‘Lord Of The Dance’ follows his quest to protect Planet Ireland from being taken over by the Dark Lord ‘Don Dorcha’, with help from The Little Spirit. It is based on ancient Irish folklore with the title originating from a contemporary hymn written by English songwriter Sydney Carter.
With original music by composer Gerard Fahy, Lord Of The Dance – Dangerous Games is a story of love vs lust, good vs evil and a love of dance with a 40-strong cast performing 200 shows across 15 countries in 18 months. World Champion Irish Dancer Cathal Keaney, 23, takes the lead role as The Lord and we speak to him from Hobart.
“My role is to protect the little spirit in the show that is being harassed by the bad guys,” he begins. “I don’t want to give too much away but there are a few fight scenes.”
That will be interesting, considering you’re not supposed to move your arms.
“That’s the more traditional style of Irish dancing,” Cathal laughs, “but the show has really moved away from that. We still dance to Irish music, but we move our arms in every single number. Traditionally, the back is meant to be kept straight, but this is more of a theatrical show so we use a lot more contemporary movement to get the storyline across.”
We ask if he had heard of the recently discovered missing instruction manual The Book Of Irish Dancing Volume 2: How To Incorporate The Arms.
“I’ve seen that as well. It’s so true and probably what happened,” he jests.
So, why were dancers not permitted to move their arms?
“Probably because they couldn’t find the second book!” Cathal says. “But seriously, I don’t think anyone knows the real answer. There are many stories, the latest being that they didn’t find the second book [laughs]. Another story was that back when the English took over Ireland, they didn’t want the people speaking Irish or doing anything traditional – including dancing. Back then, the doors were in two halves so you could open either the top or the bottom half. So, when the Irish people were dancing and the English would come and knock on the doors, they’d open the top half so they couldn’t see their legs moving. The soldiers would tell them to carry on and walk off. So they say that we kept our hands by our side so the English couldn’t see that were dancing and moving our legs [laughs]. Who knows? But those two stories are as good as any.”
You are performing alongside James Keegan, Morgan Comer, Fergal Keaney and Matthew Smith – the latter not being a very Irish name.
“People often think that because it’s called Irish dancing that it’s all Irish people in the show, but only about half of the cast are actually Irish,” he says. “We have a lot of English dancers, as well as people from America and Canada, New Zealand and Australia. We also have four Hungarian dancers.
“Most of us have come through worldwide competitions, so people from everywhere have been scouted into the show. It’s a very diverse cast. In fact, there are more American Irish dancers in the world than what there are Irish Irish dancers!”
The costumes for this performance are amazing and a far cry from the traditional uniforms. Although these guys [pictured above] are the good guys, The Dark Lord looks like a Borg.
“Yeah, his does look like something that came out of Star Trek or Terminator. He is played by Tom Cunningham and Zoltan Papp. Traditionally, the costumes meant that all the girls had ringlets in their hair. While we still use a lot of the traditional Irish instruments, the music has a modern take as well, as do the dances.
“Many of the performers come from different dance backgrounds, and Michael [Flatley] has put a real focus on the fitness and image, therefore making the guys bulk up and get in shape,” Cathal says. “Things have moved a long way from what they used to be. We each carry some light weights and gym equipment with us, and make use of the gyms in many of the hotels we stay in.”
So, Michael Flatley is bringing sexy back.
“I guess he is [laughs]!”
How did you begin Irish dancing? Did your mum force you into it and then you decided you liked it?
“That’s very close to the truth,” he chuckles. “I began in school. We were all made to do it and, of course, I hated it. I thought it was silly and that dancing was for girls, so I stopped. My mother always wanted me and my brother to have a bit of rhythm because my father had two left feet and couldn’t dance at his wedding. So once a day she shipped us into a class in town – and, of course, we hated it – but then there we a lot of the lads our age in the class who we played other sports with, so it got easier after a while.
“As I grew older, I realised I had a talent for it, and once I got into the competition side, it was like a whole new world; it was a sport that I absolutely loved. I competed up to the age of 18 and then got scouted into the show.”
Being a more contemporary dance than it once was, are more young people being attracted to Irish dancing?
“One hundred percent,” Cathal says. “And this show, itself, has a lot to do with it. One of the reasons I stayed at the dancing was after seeing Michael Flatley in Riverdance as a child. I don’t know how many times I watched those tapes; he made Irish dancing look very cool and manly – especially for the guys. The show has been seen all over the world and has really got the dancing out there.
“We were recently in South Africa, and the amount of Irish dancers that come from that country is unbelievable. We were doing workshops in some of the schools there and it was great to learn how many people are competing in competitions. This show has been so big in removing the stereotypes of Irish dancing.”
Making the show so theatrical must also play a part in the increased interest?
“People are always pleasantly surprised when they see the show for the first time; they really don’t expect it to be so theatrical and athletically rhythmic.”
Do you have a favourite part to the show?
“Kissing the girl is always the good part,” he laughs, “but I really enjoy a lot of the group numbers. When dancing alone on stage, it can be quite intimidating, but I enjoy getting to lead everyone else in the dance. The fight scenes are fun, but the encore would be my most favourite part.”
Lord Of The Dance – Dangerous Games performs at Adelaide Entertainment Centre [in intimate mode] at various times on Wed 23 Sep until Sun 27 Sep.
Book at Ticketek on premier.ticketek.com.au. Click HERE to purchase your tickets.