Disclosure: Dance Dispatches received complimentary admission to write an open and honest review of the Riverdance 25 Anniversary Show in Wimbledon.
There’s a reason why Riverdance is synonymous with Irish dance, the whole world over. Now, a quarter century after the show’s international debut in Dublin, the rhythm of Riverdance once again strikes the stage (literally), sounding with a renewed vigour.* And while they perform sans Michael Flatley and Jean Butler, the troupe has recruited a new generation of torrential talent.
* The original Riverdance 25th Anniversary Show was postponed over a year due to Covid-19, so it’s closer to 26 years – if you’re being pedantic. But the important thing is they’re back on the road for their UK tour before heading to the US in 2022.
A Quick History of Riverdance – The Show
Before it became an evening-long spectacle, Riverdance first made an appearance at the Eurovision Song Contest, hosted by Dublin in 1994. A few months later, the 7-minute performance showed again at the Royal Variety Performance in London. And a few months after that, the extended Riverdance – The Show (the world’s first Irish dance show) sold out for five weeks straight in Dublin. From Dublin, the cast returned to London before hopping over to North America and subsequently touring the world.
So, how is the Riverdance 25th Anniversary show different from the original? The latest press release explains:
“Composer Bill Whelan has rerecorded his mesmerising soundtrack while producer Moya Doherty and director John McColgan have completely reimagined the ground-breaking show with innovative and spectacular lighting, projection, stage and costume designs and many of the cast for this rescheduled tour are so young that they were not even born [in 1995, when the show first opened]!”
As a self-proclaimed Riverdance enthusiast, who watched Riverdance – The Show in person a few decades ago (and repeatedly viewed the VHS tape as a child), I’d sum this up by saying the show largely remains the same. The new costume designs and the pretty digital set projections by High Res are thoughtful updates; and they don’t detract from the original choreography, performance and spirit of the show.
Is digital scenery the way forward? The Rockettes similarly zhuzhed up their Christmas Spectacular show at Radio City Musical Hall by introducing projections in 2019. And video projections also played a key role in staging, as in Another Kind of Blue’s tech-savvy Flirt with Reality dance show.
See our 1-minute Riverdance review video.
Riverdance – The New 25th Anniversary Show Review
Sitting in a theatre seat for the first time since ZooNation’s Message in a Bottle 18+ months ago, next to a Dance Dispatches Social Club member, I excitedly await the show. Despite knowing some of the cultural references that go hand-in-hand with Riverdance, she doesn’t quite know what to expect. And I’m thrilled for her.
The historical highlight reel of Riverdancers and their musicians from the past quarter century unleashes a wave of nostalgia. A haunting melody steals out into the theatre, setting a mildly eerie atmosphere – and the dancers slowly enter, partially obscured by dry-ice-induced fog.
During the cast’s first number, stomps ripple through the ensemble, an amuse-bouche of their meticulous synchronicity which emerges full-throttle in the famous finale. I notice a fierceness in the performers, particularly the females, that I don’t remember – and I giddily spot Morgan Bullock, who skyrocketed into fame with her Irish dancing to current songs on Tiktok, in the Liffey cast. This was particularly exciting, as an Asian American, who practiced Irish dance for three years in a predominantly white community.
Fun fact: Riverdance names their casts after Irish rivers, and there are currently three.
Leading lady Amy-Mae Dolan gives a diaphanous performance from start to finish, while counterpart Bobby Hodges hits stride in the second act, coming into his own as he and his crew playfully battle New York City tap dancers Kenji Igus and Tyler Knowlin in modern-day Brooklyn. Hodges hits the right poses and nails signature moves, like the hitch-kick-heel-click combo with an upright spine; but he proves much more endearing in the friendly ribbing with the tappers.
Immigration and the multicultural exchange of ideas are important show themes. But even if you don’t know exactly scenes flit between past and present as you pop into a firelit gypsy camp with a flamenco dancer, watching a septet of joyous Russian folk dancers and eventually heading back to NYC [in a ‘barrio’ – the set told me so] for another round of flamenco-slash-Irish dance… It’s all good fun – adding more variety into the high-calibre dance show.
Unfortunately, the New Wimbledon Stage theatre with a proscenium width of just 34 feet, seemed to stunt some of the excitement – with dancers blending into the scenery behind them and looking cramped when they formed a full line. Travelling steps must have also been stunted to fit the space, but the dancers will have more breathing room at the Eventim Apollo in London (63 feet wide) and even more in the US. (The stage in Boston’s Wang Theatre in Boston stretches 80 feet.)
Riverdance is a riveting Irish dance show that propelled the cultural dance style to enormous popularity. The way the choreographers have assembled basic hop-2-3s and leap-2-3s, interspersed with fancier tricks, and set them on a large corps was ground-breaking more than two decades ago. And the current performers’ precision and coordination rival a Swiss watch.
A quarter of a century later, Riverdance is still extraordinary. The anniversary show felt like a long overdue reunion – and left the audience laughing, happily clapping in almost-unison, unconsciously accelerating the rhythm – just like normal times. Viva Riverdance, which will undoubtedly stand the test of time.
Book Your Riverdance – The New 25th Anniversary Show Tickets
If you’re inspired to see Riverdance, too, you’ve got plenty of chances to catch the famous Irish dance show.
The 25th Anniversary Riverdance tour is running its way through the UK, concluding at the Brighton Centre in December. But come 2022, they’re heading back to North America.
You can find more information about either tour here: https://riverdance.com/tours.
All information correct and up to date at time of publication.
Have you seen Riverdance – The Show or the 25th anniversary Riverdance show? If so, what was your favourite act? Or have you seen any other Irish dance shows, like Lord of the Dance or Celtic Tiger?