Emerald Isle celebrated in Rhythm of the Dance

The rich history of Ireland is celebrated in Rhythm of the Dance

The rich history of Ireland is celebrated in Rhythm of the Dance - Credit: Archant

Top dancers, a traditional Irish band and the handsome Young Irish Tenors, the rich history of Ireland is celebrated in Rhythm of the Dance. Producer Kieran Cavanagh tells SIMON PARKIN more about what's in store.

A truly global phenomena Rhythm of the Dance, winning acclaim and sell-out audiences from American to Russia and China, The National Dance Company of Ireland are bringing their resplendent, rousing new stage production, Rhythm of the Dance.

The live show, which comes to Lowestoft and Hunstanton next week, is a celebration the rich history of Ireland and the art of Irish dance, from the disciplined Celtic Step to the sensual, ancient Sean Nos dance style.

Featuring some 30 dancers, a traditional Irish band, and the handsome Young Irish Tenors, the show highlights the traditional music and dance of the Emerald Isle.

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How did Rhythm of the Dance come about?

Back in 1998, I got a call from Cathal McCabe, head of music at Ireland's national TV and radio channels RTE asking me to put a dance troupe together to accompany the National Concert Orchestra to America for a three week tour. The tour was such a success that we then toured Scandinavia without the orchestra as it was much too expensive to move the National Concert Orchestra around and now, here we are all those years later still touring the world for 40 weeks of the year every year.

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What can the audience expect when they go to see Rhythm of the Dance and how is it different to a show like Riverdance?

The audience can expect to visit Ireland for two hours. They will leave the theatre feeling that they have been on a trip around Ireland and they will have a strong impression of our culture and our music. Irish music is loved all over the world as is our dance now. I think what sets Rhythm of the Dance apart from Riverdance is that we tend to be a bit more traditional and purist and we rely less on the technical support than other shows do like pyro and large lighting rigs, although we do carry quite a lavish production.

Your dancers work incredibly hard through the show. How do they keep up that pace?

Well, it is pretty frantic to watch. Having said that, our cast have been dancing and training since they were four years old and they are incredibly fit and have to take care of their body and their diet. Before each day's performance, we have a dance captain in the show who will have a drill with the dancers prior to the performance where they get to warm up their muscles and exercise. The rest comes naturally to them.

Tell about the band who perform in the show…

All our musicians play live on stage and that to me is very important. I have always prided myself on continuing to carry a big band around the world to play our music live to the audience. We have an array of instruments like the Uileann pipes, which is a wonderful instrument. The musician uses one arm to pump wind into the pipes via a bellows. They must then use both hands and fingers to play the notes, so I always admire someone who can master the pipes. We also have a harpist, flautist, fiddle, accordion, bodhran drum, whistles, and banjo so there is a vast array of musical instruments in the show and it is not unusual for one musician to play several instruments.

Young Irish Tenors are also featured in the show?

About four years ago now, I introduced the tenors into the show and they were an instant hit. Of course, they give our dancers a much needed breather and time to change costumes as we have about 25 costume changes in the show which is a lot, especially sometimes when the dancers have literally just seconds to make that change.

You have now played in 44 countries across four continents. Tell us about your experiences of touring…

It never ceases to amaze me how many countries we have actually toured and some of them are non-English speaking territories like Russia, where we generally start a tour as far over as Siberia and then work our way back to Moscow over a five week period of one-nighters going from town to town overnight by train. It's pretty amazing and the people come out and fill the theatres and sometimes bring Celtic song books and literature with them to show to us. One of the biggest highlights for me was when we were invited to perform in Shenchen City in China for the Millennium New Years Eve TV special. We had an eight minute slot and the show was broadcast to a billion viewers in Asia. Can you imagine being able to reach that huge audience in one TV show?

Where do you recruit your dancers? Does the National Dance Company have its own dance academy or do you advertise to find dancers?

Our choreographer runs our dance studio and our school. We have children as young as four years old enrolling and next year we are excited to invite children and young teenagers from Russia to Ireland for a week to learn Irish dance at our academy. We are also planning to open five dance academies in Russia and we are in the planning stages at this moment and we are very excited about that. We have a big following in Russia and Rhythm of the Dance is a household name there.

So what does the future hold for Rhythm of the Dance?

Irish dance continues to be hugely popular all over the world and I believe that Rhythm of the Dance will be around for many years to come. We remain true to the art form and keep making the show interesting and entertaining for the audience. That's the most important factor. I would hope we have many good years of touring ahead of us.

Rhythm of the Dance, Marina Theatre, Lowestoft, July 10, 7.30pm, £24.75 (£22.75 cons), 01502 533200, www.marinatheatre.co.uk/Princess Theatre, Hunstanton, July 15, 7.30pm, £25-£23, 01485 532252, www.princesshunstanton.co.uk


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