Spirit of the Dance

Produced and Composed by David King
Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford, and touring

Production photo

In 1994 the Eurovision song contest took place in Ireland and an almost unknown troupe of dancers called ‘Riverdance’ was commissioned to provide a little light entertainment while the votes were counted. Little did anyone expect that their phenomenal Irish dancing would catch the imagination of the public and totally eclipse the song contest. Then a man called David King had a dream – why not follow on the success of Riverdance and create a new and vibrant show, taking in dance styles from every corner of the globe and so, insistent on following his dream, he borrowed money, mortgaged his house, and, after a tremendous amount of work and organisation, eventually, in 1996, stood at the back of the auditorium at the Hippodrome Theatre in Bristol on opening night sweating and worrying.

The show was a sensation – Spirit of the Dance was born, and there are now ten multi-award winning troupes constantly touring around the world, three hundred and fifty dancers in all.

There are no stars in this show, all the credits in the programme are for the creative team and even the special guests, Ireland’s three tenors, are not named. The star is the show itself, and what a tremendous show it is.

Beginning in a dreamy style with masked figures and floaty costumes, a white clad ballerina is lifted aloft and the Spirit awakes - with a bang, as the dancers enter, speeding across the stage as if propelled by a force stronger than themselves - smiles fixed firmly in place, body and arms rigid, feet drumming to the insistent rhythms of the music and legs flicking in all directions. To quote Terry Wogan “the feet ‘goin’ like bejabbers’, and so they are.

One dance follows another with breathtaking speed and precision and every one entails a change of costume. Not restricted to the one style, the variety in the show is endless, from skirt swishing flamboyant flamenco and Latin rhythms, to hillbilly ‘Happy Hoe Down’, a very unusual Can-Can, and a Highland Fling performed with such enthusiasm and energy that it was perfectly obvious (thank goodness) that they were not true Scots under the kilts.

The tenors began with the well-known traditional Irish ballads – “Danny Boy” and “When Irish Eyes are Smiling”, but it is in the Italian songs that they excelled, again the well-known and loved “Nessun Dorma” and “O Sole Mio” where they slipped out of their sophisticated images to change into “Just One Cornetto!”. It is a pity that the sound system was so over amplified (a fault in many productions) that their voices were rather distorted. I should like to hear them perform without microphones to appreciate the true quality.

Their final number was in the style of the legendary Bob Fosse performed (as in the show Chicago) with bowler hats and white gloves, and which concluded with a seated high speed hand clapping routine. No rest for these amazingly hard working and highly drilled dancers – not a foot or hand out of place throughout.

There is plenty of humour in the show too, with some of the performers chatting to the audience. I have however one criticism – it was over too soon – I could have watched all night!

Reviewer: Sheila Connor

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