When a large pair of fuschia lips appear on screen and utter a techno-like “There’s no place like home,” you know you can’t expect a traditional Irish dancing show. Irish dance legend Michael Flatley has choreographed and/ or produced shows that have grown progressively glitzier from his breakout Riverdance sensation to Lord of the Dance and Celtic Tiger. They’ve also edged further from traditional Irish dance, pulling from a larger range of dance styles. Flatley’s Celtic Tiger (2005) was made available as part of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Shows Must Go On program from July 3 – 5, 2020.
If you’re interested in Irish dance fusion, Darrah Carr Dance modERIN combines Irish dance with modern dance.
Celtic Tiger: Irish Dance Review
The Celtic Tiger show is meant to re-enact historical Irish events. The first half accomplishes this, but when the second half transitions to the USA – anything goes: a jazz-themed take on Irish dance, a number inspired by cheerleaders and a very uncomfortable strip tease that comes from the faaar left field. Still, the audience shrieked their enjoyment throughout – and even roused enough excitement to cheer on four encores… of the exact same one-minute dance snippet… without knowing that the final rendition would rain down reddish sparks before the stage finally went dark.
The stage is so packed with movements of all sorts, fanciful costumes and colorful projections during Celtic Tiger, the numbers that focus on the musicians offer a welcome break for the eye. And although there’s enough material from the choreography, performance and stage elements to pen a ten-page essay, this review will break down the Irish dance show into the good, the less good and the ugly for the sake of simplicity.
C’mon. Michael Flatley is an Irish dancing powerhouse. You’ve got to respect his talent and athleticism, even if his showmanship (or his choreographic whimsy) doesn’t suit your style. He dances at the helm of a troupe in golden warrior outfits, waggling his feet with alarming speed and accuracy. Even a decade after his starring role in Riverdance, you’d swear he could still skid across puddles like a water bug.
Flatley commands specific sections of the group to rhythmically stomp in clean rounds, accelerating and decelerating the a capella tempo to hold the audience’s attention. Of course the dancers don’t really need to see his dramatically pointed fingers to know their cues, but that’s all right. It’s all a part of the show.
The more traditional numbers with precise steps tend to be best. Soldiers in red long-tailed coats and white wigs tied back in ponytails amaze with their series of synchronous heel clicks – and the fight between soldiers and the Irish countrymen works well, too, even if their arms assume kung fu pose caricatures while they battle.
Flatley returns to center stage, but as a silhouette on a red background, dancing to jazz music in his hard shoes. The syncopated rhythms give it a cool aesthetic, though he later dances on a tiny platform, his feet surrounded by flames. Women in white suits also try to channel the Luigi vibes by bouncing and snapping their fingers, but they really come into their own when they return to Irish dancing.
The Less Good
Women swish their colorful skirts as they grape vine to give their Irish dancing a more folksy feel, but their arms look like they’re practicing to become Las Vegas show girls. At one point, they parade downstage through a formation of kneeling men in a soul train-style segment – flipping their hair and leaping with equal vigor. Then Flatley decides to show off his musical skills with a flute, wiggling his torso in ‘conversation’ with female fiddle players in heels and fishnets (though roundly ignoring the male musicians on the side). Can’t complain about the music, though!
Celtic Tiger also includes an exodus of townspeople when they flee their burning village. This scene exposes a new audience to modern dance, and although it’s meant to be heart-wrenching, it’s overacted. If done right, it could act as a powerful requiem – like Lin Hwai-Min’s Dust piece. But there’s no subtlety. The dancers thrust their limbs and heads back, and they leap up like competition dancers, rather than dance artists. The women wear warm-tinged rolled up convertible tights for lyrical dance street cred as they dramatically reach and spin.
Most of the ‘ugly’ Celtic Tiger choreography is set on the female dancers. Women in red writhe on the ground before a projection of snakes, then claw at sanctimonious men in white robes that run around like children when gifted a cape (except their hands are held at their chest in a prayer posture). And it’s almost de ja vous when more women crawl on the ground, but this time pouting and snarling in tiger unitards. They parade to the front to hit burlesque poses before one poorly pirouettes into a layout – which the camera abruptly cuts off because it must have ended badly.
But the worst part of the production has to be the sleazy flight attendant strip dance. It starts strangely with the woman carefully hopping through Irish dance steps in stilettos. Then Flatley tugs at her uniform (harassment, anyone?), and she suddenly decides to let her hair down, rip off her glasses and strip in front of corny red flame projections. She clenches the finger tip of her glove with her teeth to peel it off, a tribute to burlesque, but it quickly degrades to saluting while twerking in her American flag-themed bikini.
In addition to misogynistic tones throughout Celtic Tiger, the choreography didn’t play to the dancers’ strengths. They kind of ‘got away’ with modern dancing by hamming up the expressions, but the ‘ballet’ portions were shocking. If you want to create a professional show that mixes genres, you should hire professional dancers in each genre. For anyone that loves ballet, watching the pas de deux was grim – as was the springtime flowers section, where women continuously to open their arms in a fluttery port de bras that symbolized blooming… Why would you cast the world’s best Irish dancers to skip prettily with streamers in between perform pseudo-ballet to a burbling jig that sounds like it’s being played under water?
Although there are tiny gems, brilliant examples of Irish dance and instances where Irish dance merges well with other dance genres, they were too far and few between during a spectacle that drags on for approximately an hour and 45 minutes (without intervals). It was a shame to see so much talent go to waste on this show. The show is mostly disappointing because the concept and cast had so much potential.
The constant short video cuts of the Celtic Tiger Live film didn’t help, either. The frame rapidly grew and shrunk to cover group formations, soloists, close-ups of the dancers’ feet or a single performer’s facial expressions – and occasionally showed the dancers from backstage. The effect is literally nauseating during some parts. And the slow motion montages, meant to cut out some of the less impressive choreography and/ or poorly executed moves, are still clunky.
Were you surprised when you saw Michael Flatley’s Celtic Tiger Live show was playing online as part of The Shows Must Go On series? What did you think of the flashy production? Let us know in the comments section.