Riverdance 25th Anniversary Show, UK Tour 2021, Liverpool Empire Theatre

Riverdance
Image Source: ATG

Introduction

Here’s my review of the Riverdance 25th Anniversary Show, UK Tour 2021 – it’s dead good.  It’s brilliant.  It’s fantastic and every other complimentary superlative you can think of!  I have waited a long time to see Riverdance live.  This show at Liverpool’s Empire Theatre certainly did not disappoint.

From the very first moment of the show to the very end.  The dancing, music, lighting and singing held the audience spellbound.  The time seemed to fly by and all too quickly it was over.  The only disappointment I have was that unfortunately on this evening, the Flamenco section of the show was cancelled.  I am a huge fan of the Flamenco and was looking forward to it.  However, the rest of the show more than made up for it.

Conceived by Moya Doherty and shaped by John McColgan, the dance performance at the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest resulted in Riverdance – The Show. This opened at Point Theatre, Dublin, in February 1995 with record breaking sales of over 120,000 tickets. It quickly moved to stages in London and around the world, making a household name of Michael Flatly. The show has never gone away, with tours and performances continuing over the years until the present day.

The show opened with the classic Riverdance formation. Precise kicks and movements, awesomely co-ordinated feet.  dry ice creeping from off stage.  Tap heels striking the stage (or each other) faster than the eye could follow with such vigour and vitality. The audience truly marvelled at the moves and wondered how it is physically possible to perform some of the feats we witnessed.

The Riverdance Band

Drums and percussion of all types are managed by Laura Williams, later in the show we witness some fierce bodhran playing.  Laura is joined by Emma McPhilemy on the saxophone, Haley Richardson on the fiddle and Tara Howley on the concertina.  Tara also played some very beautiful uilleann pipes, (the characteristic bagpipe of Ireland).  It was joyous, driving home a beat which defied any members of the audience to keep still.

With innovative and spectacular lighting, projection, stage and costume designs.  There was so much to appreciate.  However. I did have one little worry (call me old fashioned) that the dancer’s dressers seem to be a lot shorter than I remember? This was slightly distracting. Principal dancers Amy-Mae Dolan and Fergus Fitzpatrick flew onto the stage.  Impressively tall and beautiful they were a great match with plenty of chemistry. 

I think for the first time I also realised the undoubtable link between Irish dancing and ballet.  We had very good seats in the stalls and could really appreciate the footwork.  The dancers performed effortless pointe work (up on their toes) alongside the traditional dance moves. They were joined at different times by members of the Riverdance Irish Dance Troup.  These world-class dancers hail mainly from Ireland but also from other parts of the world. Unsurprisingly, most started Irish dancing when they were small.

Strength but Sensitivity

The strength required to perform those elevated grande jete leaps, timed to perfection was truly incredible. Entrechat moves where the dancers jump and cross the legs several times before landing were performed with apparent ease.  It really left you open-mouthed.

The back story charts the displacement of the Irish people and their heritage. We see that dancing is seen now more as entertainment and community and as the Irish people move to other areas of the globe. They take their love of the dance, and all that it represents, with them across the sea.

We hear from the Riverdance Singers, haunting, beautiful voices reminiscent of Clannad and we take a breath before the show moves on.

Wild Rovers

Somehow we end up in Russia – the Riverdance Russian Ensemble storm the stage. The male dancers perform breathtaking jumps, displaying incredible physicality. Open legged leaps at 90 degree angles, no problem at all.  Neither was travelling from one side of the stage to the other performing Russian squat kicks.  The female folk dancers pirouetted like crazed ballerinas on a child’s jewellery box.  How they didn’t fly off the stage I don’t know.

Subsequently, we head off to 1980s Brooklyn, USA. The Trading Taps section is an unexpected treat, unlike any of the other dances in the entirety of the show. We are then introduced to two new African American dancers, Kenji Igus and Tyler Knowlin.  A dance off ensues with three Irish immigrants.   

The challenge dance is enormous fun and ties the roots of these tap dancing Harlem hoofers and the Irish steppers. There are acrobatic flips, amazing jumps, insanely fast tap dancing and break-dancing.

Before long we are back to true Riverdance. A crescendo of tapping, leaping, lifts along with infectious drumming and playing of traditional instruments.  The audience were on the feet enjoying the craic and every moment.

The Liverpool Empire with one of the widest prosceniums (stage opening) in Europe, allows for a great view. Also, the dancers even when in full line up were not squashed and could move freely.

Conclusion

These guys were here to entertain and they did.  The exuberant dancing, undertaken with such precision and control resulted in us mere mortals gawping at them, wondering how they manage it.

Normal service at the Liverpool Empire seems to have resumed. No huge queues, apart from a short wait outside to enter the theatre.  This is understandable as they are checking the NHS app on entry to ensure the audience have received their Covid vaccinations.  We found the ‘at seat’ refreshment ordering system works well.

Do experience this show at least once in your lifetime – in fact, book tickets at the Liverpool Empire today as it’s exhilarating!

Overall Rating – 10/10 – Perfect