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Riverdance is a theatrical show consisting mainly of traditional Irish music and dance. Featuring Irish dancing champions Jean Butler and Michael Flatley, and with a score composed by Limerick native Bill Whelan, it originated as an interval performance during the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest. Shortly afterwards husband and wife production team John McColgan and Moya Doherty expanded it into a stage show, which opened in Dublin on 9 February 1995.
Riverdance is rooted in a three-part suite of baroque-influenced traditional music called Timedance composed, recorded and performed for the 1981 Eurovision Song Contest, which was hosted by Ireland. At the time Bill Whelan and Dónal Lunny composed the music, augmenting the Irish folk band Planxty with a rock rhythm section of electric bass and drums and a four-piece horn section. The piece was performed, with accompanying ballet dancers, during the interval of the contest, and later released as a Planxty single. In a book about Planxty (The Humours of Planxty, by Leagues O'Toole), Whelan says "It was no mistake of mine to call it Riverdance because it connected absolutely to Timedance".:296–299
Riverdance was first performed during the 7-minute interval of the Eurovision Song Contest 1994 at the Point Theatre, Dublin on 30 April 1994. It received a standing ovation. Later that year, the BBC commissioned a repeat performance of the act for the 1994 Royal Variety Show, when it was introduced on stage by Sir Terry Wogan. At Congratulations: 50 Years of the Eurovision Song Contest it was named as one of the most popular interval acts in the history of the contest.
This first performance featured Irish Dancing Champions Jean Butler and Michael Flatley, the RTÉ Concert Orchestra and the Celtic choral group Anúna with a score written by Bill Whelan. Most of the show's choreography was done by Flatley.
An audio recording of "Riverdance" entered the Irish singles charts at #1 on 5 May 1994, and remained there throughout the summer (keeping Wet Wet Wet's phenomenally successful "Love Is All Around" off the top), eventually totalling a record 18 weeks at #1. In response to the Rwandan Genocide of May/June 1994, a video of the Eurovision interval performance was then released by the Irish broadcaster Radio Telefís Éireann under the title "Riverdance for Rwanda" with all proceeds going to the Rwanda Appeal Disasters Joint Appeal Committee.
The success of the Eurovision spot led husband and wife production team John McColgan and Moya Doherty to consider how to develop the piece. They decided to produce and direct a stage show, expanding the Eurovision piece and Bill Whelan's composition. In November 1994 tickets were sold in Dublin for the first full-length performance of Riverdance, which opened at the Point Theatre on 9 February 1995. The show ran for five weeks and was a sell-out with ticket sales of over 120,000. It starred the original lead dancers from the Eurovision spot. Many of the dance troupe featured in the Eurovision performance also appeared in the show and went on to dance principal roles in later productions.
A video release of Riverdance occurred in the UK on 5 June 1995 which immediately debuted at #2 before rising to #1 the following week. For a total of seven months the Riverdance UK video remained in the charts and became the all time highest selling music video in the UK.
During the second half of 1995 Riverdance performed a four-week season at The Apollo at Hammersmith before returning to the Point Theatre Dublin for another six-week sellout season before again returning to The Apollo at Hammersmith for another six-week season which again was a sell out. Riverdance also performed at Royal College of Music, London in the presence of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother; Queen Elizabeth II; and Princess Margaret on 17 July 1995.
After successful runs in other cities in Europe, Riverdance travelled to New York City to perform at the legendary Radio City Music Hall in March 1996. This was the first time the show had been performed in America. To the relief of the producers, the show was a success with 14 March 1996 marking the start of an eight-week sell out season at Radio City Music Hall. The Music Hall's merchandise sales record at the time was smashed during the first performance of Riverdance. Anúna left the show in September of that year.
Riverdance went on to more sell-out tours at King's Hall, Belfast, Northern Ireland, and The Green Glens Arena, Millstreet, Co. Cork, Ireland, plus a huge three and a half month return to The Apollo in Hammersmith with astounding advance ticket sales of over five million pounds. The season was extended to run from May 1996 to January 1997. The end of 1996 saw the 400th show performed with a total audience of 1.3 million people in that time. The Lee and Liffey companies were also born with the Lee commencing a US tour at Radio City Music Hall on 2 October 1996 while the Liffey company remained touring the UK.
In 2000 the show moved to Broadway for a year at the Gershwin Theatre with an all-new show, featuring dance leads Pat Roddy and Eileen Martin and singers Brian Kennedy and Tsidii Le Loka.
Michael Flatley left the show reportedly over creative disputes with the producers before the show's second run in London. Irish dancer Colin Dunne stepped into the role of lead dancer and went on to perform in subsequent productions before leaving the show in 1998.
In June 1998, the show's executive producer created controversy by revealing that in some of the synchronized group dances, the footstep sounds were pre-recorded to enhance the impression of unified choreography.
Riverdance began a farewell tour after fifteen years of performing and touring the world. During the tour the show played in Bradford, Ipswich, Southend-on-Sea, Blackpool, Bristol, Manchester, Oxford, London, Southampton, Nottingham and Derry as well as other venues in Europe and the Far East and as of 2011 continues in Australia.
Riverdance continues to be performed all over the world, in a diminished format and in smaller venues. Current productions are geared towards smaller theatres, whereas past productions have been performed in large theatres and arenas. Sets have therefore been simplified and some numbers contain fewer performers than in past productions (such as those seen on the Live from Radio City and Live from Arena Geneva DVDs). For example, current touring productions of the show have 20 dancers in the finale, "Heartland", whereas 24 were used in the original Dublin show and 32 were used in the arena shows. Each production company is named after an Irish river: Lee, Lagan, Avoca, Shannon, Boyne, Corrib, Foyle, Moy and Bann. The currently performing company is the Liffey company performing the Riverdance 20th Anniversary Tour throughout the UK and Switzerland (in December 2014), with upcoming tours through China (December 2014 – February 2015) and Germany (March 2015).
Bill Whelan created a Symphonic Suite from his original score, which had its United Kingdom premiere at a matinee performance of the 2014 BBC Proms on 25 August 2014 at the Royal Albert Hall and was performed by the Ulster Orchestra conducted by Jac van Steen. The performance of the suite lasts approximately 25 minutes and will be available for listening via internet on the BBC Radio iPlayer until September 24.
|Riverdance: The Show (1995)|
Michael Flatley & Jean Butler
|Riverdance: Live From New York City (1996)|
Colin Dunne & Jean Butler
|Riverdance: Live From Geneva (2002)|
Breandán de Gallaí & Joanne Doyle