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Theatre / Riverdance

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Riverdance is an Irish dancing stage show first performed in 1995. It grew out of a 7-minute interval act performed in the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest and has become the most famous Irish dancing stage show, to the point where Irish dancing is now sometimes referred to as Riverdancing.

The show has no clearly defined storyline, but broadly speaking the first act deals with various themes from Irish mythology and the second act covers the Great Famine of the 1840s and the Irish diaspora. In keeping with the international themes of the second half of the show, other dance styles are incorporated, including flamenco, tap and Russian folk ballet.

An animated film inspired by the show, Riverdance: The Animated Adventure was announced in 2020, set to star Pierce Brosnan as a stepdancing Irish Elk.


Riverdance contains examples of:

  • Adventurous Irish Violins: Not surprisingly, this features prominently in their musical score.
  • Bad Export for You : The original Michael Flatley show has seen five numbers cut down for the American VHS release, reducing the show from 95 minutes to some 75 minutes. This includes a flamenco number by Maria Pages, a tap numbers by three African-American dancers, and a flute solo by Flatley himself.
  • Celtic Mythology: a major theme in the first half of the show, which includes references to Cu Chulainn, the Countess Cathleen and various other mythological characters and themes
  • Elemental Embodiment: arguably both the flamenco dancer in 'Firedance' and the Riverwoman in the title number could be seen as this.
  • Fanservice: Both male, in the 'Warlords' dance, and female, in the 'Breakout' dance. This caused a certain amount of controversy and is suggested to have led to Flatley breaking away with Lord of the Dance - and the fact that the outfits for 'Breakout' went from 'sports bras and athletic shorts/leggings' to 'bikinis' on Lord of the Dance suggests that there might be something to this claim.
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  • Home Sweet Home: 'Homecoming/Home and the Heartland' towards the end of the show
  • In Harmony with Nature: implied in the first half of the show, with several dances and songs about the elements and seasons
  • Let's Have A Céilí: The opening of Act Two. Overlaps with Mood Dissonance below.
  • Mood Dissonance: The opening of the second act, which starts with what appears to be a big festival or celebration. Then it's revealed that many of the people present are about to leave Ireland for good. (The celebrations were called an “American wake”, since it was expected their families would never see them again in life.) It's implied that this is because of the Great Irish Famine
  • Mother Nature: the Riverwoman may be this
  • The Power of Love: 'The Heart's Cry' is all about this
  • Protest Song: 'Heal Their Hearts/Freedom'
  • The Rival / Follow the Leader: Michael Flatley left the show and created Lord of the Dance.
    • In fact there were several Riverdance and Lord of the Dance-inspired Irish dance shows in the late 1990s/early 2000s, including Dancing on Dangerous Ground, Spirit of the Dance, To Dance on the Moon, Gaelforce, etc.
    • The creative team behind the show recently put together their follow up, Heartbeat of Home. It's very similar, but does expand on the international aspects of the first show, involving a more diverse cast and influences from contemporary, Flamenco, and African dance.
    • Celtic Woman is essentially taking the Riverdance formula and successfully applying it to songs. Several of the group's members are previous members of Anúna which worked with Riverdance as a musical chorus.
  • Scenery Porn: some of the backdrops head into this territory
  • Screwed by the Lawyers : Legal troubles between the producers and Michael Flatley meant that we'll probably never see a DVD release of the original show. Keep Circulating the Tapes may be in effect here.
  • Two-Act Structure: The first act is based around themes of Celtic mythology, the seasons and the elements. The second act deals with the Great Irish Famine, the Irish diaspora and interactions with other cultures before ending with a symbolic homecoming.
  • Uncommon Time: Bill Whelan seems to like this. 'Marta's Dance' is in 15/16 and part of 'Riverdance' alternates between different time signatures almost every bar - which makes it interesting to dance to!


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