Rhythm of the DancePhotos - West Side Studio

The Riverdance phenomenon is a double-edged sword for traditional Irish dancing. It introduced the dance genre to global audiences and generated massive interest in a particular cultural dance form, but it also set the bar very high for any future Irish themed productions. It has spawned countless offshoots and derivative Irish dance shows of various qualities, many of which have toured throughout Australia and none have come close to replicating Riverdance’s technical precision and dynamism.

In the last few years the Irish dance front has been quiet in Melbourne. But now, along comes a 10 year anniversary tour of Rhythm of the Dance from the National Dance Company of Ireland. The show has travelled the globe extensively and opens with a sentimental video montage of craftspeople hand making dance shoes and skinning drums as a list of countries that Rhythm of the Dance has visited revolves around the screen.

For a production that apparently has so much familiarity, it’s surprisingly lacking in confidence, especially from the young chorus of dancers. The lead male and female dancer, musicians and three Irish tenors are more at ease, although performances are uneven. 

A collection of dance and musical numbers dubiously unite a vague story line about two battling Celtic clans. Mark C. Tynan’s choreography attempts to mix the traditional with the contemporary but teeters between by-the-book steps, half-heartedly sexed up movements and corny jazz ballet flourishes. The overall result is more like a dance school recital than a high-level professional offering.

Since there is very little upper body movement in Irish dancing, much of the focus is on executions of tapping rhythms, fast ankle and foot work and large group formations and patterns. There also needs to be tightly held upper bodies and clean arm lines. Without all this precision and control, it just doesn’t have bite. As a whole, Rhythm of the Dance’s technical dancing was not tight enough on Friday night. Luckily the musical and vocal elements were, on the whole, stronger.

There are a couple of promising sections that take the dance form out of the box. An all male A cappella section feels like a tap dance jam, with the men showing off solos in a playfully competitive way and a duet between the lead female dancer and the boudhran (Irish drum) player involves her dancing on top of a large drum. Both of these numbers begin to explore both new possibilities within the choreographic form and jazz-based influences, but they are only glimmers amidst otherwise middling material.

Sadly, most everything else is predictable and lacking much punch, not helped by a flat, second night casino crowd. Clumsy sound operation and unflattering male costumes (ill-fitting black slacks cling in all the wrong places and blousy, shiny tops create tubby waistlines) also do not help.

Not a single performing artist is mentioned by name in either the show’s glossy program or on its website and no one is introduced in the curtain call. Rhythm of the Dance is another generalized Irish export that relies on paint-by-the-numbers Irish nostalgia and goes through the Irish motions with little interest in individuality or innovation. 

Anyone looking for an Irish fix would be best to stay at home and dig out that old Riverdance video.

Rhythm of the Dance

Venue: The Palms at Crown
Dates: 6 - 16 May 2010
Tickets: $69.50 - $49.50
Bookings: Ticketek 1300 795 012 | 1300 795 012 | www.ticketek.com.au

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