Everyone’s likely heard of Riverdance. But what do people really know about it?
Riverdance actually started as an interval act during the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest held in Dublin, Ireland. That year, Ireland was hoping to win the contest for the third time.
Ireland was also experiencing a lot of highs at the time.
They were hosting the contest for the sixth time. The Irish national football team finished in the quarterfinals of the World Cup 1990. Their economy was booming. The peace talks with the North were optimistic. The Irish organizers for the contest wanted to put out all stops.
The Riverdance interval act was inspired by the interval act performed during the Eurovision Song Contest.
Composed by Bill Whelan and Donal Lunny, the act called “Timedance” incorporated traditional Baroque-influenced music and ballet dancing. For the act, they tapped the services of Bill Whelan again. And this time, he wanted to go back to their Irish roots.
Fiddles, drums, and haunting vocals were part of his score composition and the only dance accompaniment he could think for it was traditional Irish dancing.
They tapped the vocal ensemble, Anuna, and the RTE Concert Orchestra for the musical part of the act. Anuna performed the opening vocals and when their vocals faded, the RTE Concert Orchestra took over with Whelan’s upbeat and distinctly Irish sounding score.
As for the dance itself, the steps were choreographed by Michael Flatley and Jean Butler, two Irish dancing world champions. The performance started with Butler alone on stage when the music started to play. The drums began and Flatley enters the stage to “battle” with the drummers.
While the dance had traditional roots, they were given a modern update.
Traditional Irish dancing involved keeping the upper body straight with their arms on the sides and dancing in place. Giving it a modern twist gives the dancer permission to move around the stage with their arms in the air or on their hips.
The whole act was meant to show off and not just be a filler while the votes are counted.
And it worked. They got a standing ovation from the audience. It was talked about all over the world, almost shadowing Ireland’s third Eurovision Song Contest win.
Nine months later, a full show of Riverdance debuted at Point Theatre in Dublin. The show ran for five weeks (all shows were sold out) and still featured Butler, Flatley and the original dance troupe from Eurovision.
When the five-week run was over, they continued to perform the dance through invitation with the presence of the Royal Family.
They did a second run of Riverdance at The Apollo. And they brought Riverdance to the US for the first time. Since then, the dance has been performed in 450 venues all over the world and watched by more than 25 million people.
In this video, Irish dancers Nicola Byrne and Alan Kenefick led the dancers.
Nicola Byrne first joined the Riverdance in 1999 and became the lead dancer from 2006 to 2009. Alan Kenefick is a world champion Irish dancer from Cork. He’s wanted to perform in Riverdance since he watched it during the Eurovision Song Contest. His favorite part of the show is still the part where he trades taps with the other dancers.
Watch the video below to see what has captivated audiences around the world.
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