Riverdance keeps on rolling

Famed touring production is Irish in spirit, world in style

Sixteen years after it took the world by choreographed storm, Riverdance sweeps onto stage for its Kamloops debut Wednesday at Interior Savings Centre.

Those who waited until now to purchase tickets may want to give themselves a tap (pun intended). The show is sold out, but talent buyer Bill Jaswal hopes to open some seats around noon Wednesday for last-minute hopefuls.

"Riverdance is obviously trying to get around to different parts of America and Canada where we've never been before," said Caterina Coyne, the show's lead dancer, said from Vancouver. "It's great to see it where you wouldn't normally get to see it."

A fusion of Irish and international music, song and dance, Riverdance broke box-office records when it premiered in Dublin. It began as a seven-minute segment on the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest and soon exploded into a full-scale show that premired in Dublin in 1995. Ten performances planned for London, England, grew to 151, followed by a New York tour and success beyond wildest expectations.

In all, there have been more than 10,000 performances seen by 22 million people in 32 countries on four continents. That's a fine feather in the caps of composer Bill Whelan, producer Moya Doherty and director John McColgan.

Along the way Riverdance became, in effect, a cultural institution with four productions performing simultaneously in North America, Europe, Ireland and China.

"I believe Riverdance has been basically a pathfinder," notes Niall O'Dowd, founder of Irish America Magazine and the Irish Voice newspaper. Along with the peace process in Northern Ireland and the economic miracle in Ireland proper, the show "has been a hugely important part of a transformation of the image of Ireland in the last 20 years."

It has also influenced the art itself.

"Irish dancing has evolved because of Riverdance," Coyne said. Dancers were freed from pure footwork to use their upper bodies as well. "People had never seen Irish dancing being done like that. It opened up Irish dancing to different styles."

Born in London, Coyne's parents are Irish and the family relocated to County Galway. She started dancing at age four and went on to win several championship titles. Coyne consistently ranked in the top 10 at the world and all-Ireland championships.

But before the Riverdance phenomenon, there were limited options for young Irish dancers after their competitive years. They either gave it up or founded their own schools. Coyne toured with other three other Irish dance shows before auditioning six years ago for Riverdance. It was an important step in her career.

"I think, definitely, it's the original. All the other shows are spinoffs of Riverdance. They try to replicate what Riverdance always did, but it's not the same. It's a great honour to be in the show."

For those who've seen the show before, this production remains essentially the same, though it has evolved through the years. Long gone are dancers Michael Flatley and Jean Butler, who starred in the original show.

Coyne was asked what advice she might give to young dancers, there being an Irish dance school in Kamloops.

"I suppose if you want to become a professional dancer, it's very important to have longevity," she said. She practices yoga for fitness and relaxation when not touring: "The show in itself is very physical. That's enough to keep you in shape on the road."

Keeping fit is uppermost, she said.

"Eat right and keep healthy."

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