Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Lord of the Dance - Opera House, Manchester

Lord of the Dance
Creator/Choreography: Michael Flatley
Composer: Ronald Hardiman
Dance Director: Marie Duffy
Reviewer: Laura Asbury

“My dream has been spread far and wide. The unthinkable has been achieved.” These are the forceful, evangelical, narcissistic utterances of the egotistical Lord Flatley himself, quoted in last night’s program next to his smarmy, self-loving mug shot.

Undeniably, the Lord’s critically acclaimed, award winning 1996 production, is a spectacular theatrical enterprise that continues to attract international audiences and this week’s explosion onto Manchester’s Opera house stage will undoubtedly witness a repeat of the show’s usual, somewhat tirelessly predictable enthusiastic reception. However, don’t be lured in by the box office records if you haven’t yet experienced the enterprise firsthand; the show’s curious mix of traditional Irish folklore coupled with its pantomimic delivery, star studded costumes, blonde wigs to convey flowing Irish locks, gaudily luminous lights and low budget pyrotechnics, the production is reminiscent of a Blackpool Pleasure Beach cabaret, at best.

There is distinct lack of coherent narrative with no attempts made to amalgamate the music and dance; scenes episodically shoved back-to-back - variety show style, to the shameful extent that it could be re-marketed as ‘Ireland’s got talent’! To both my horror and sheer amusement: the musicians (two fiddlers dressed in tight sequined dresses and knee high leather boots), despite given their three minutes in the spotlight, failed to perform live and merely mimed a histrionic arm flailing, lip pouting farce along to a backing track. The miming was especially noted when the violinist, who was too preoccupied with gyrating her hips and winking at the blokes on the front row, consequently forgot to come back in at the correct sync time… and miraculously her melodic line continued! A forgivable theatrical faux pas maybe, but in the context of other too frequent distasteful moments, a tad cringing to say the least.

Although Sir Flatley himself no longer takes to the spotlight, he plays an integral role directing his talented army of dancers to ensure unsurpassable standards of military precision and technical dexterity throughout the electrifying tap sequences. The unison en-masse sections are rhythmically impressive due to complexity and variety and they are furthermore, faultlessly executed with flamboyant brilliance and charming stage presence. During one fleeting moment, the girls appear in classical Celtic pinafores and we appreciate their lyrical beauty, the harmonious music and virtuous innocence of the traditionally feminine dance.

Shockingly incongruous to this, mid-number and more importantly - without warning, the music strikes a dirty electro chord as the lights diminish into a passionate red wash and the girls, literally, strip off their pinafores to reveal sequined, primark-esque bra tops and hot pants, the furious foot tapping still continuing! A sullied image of cheap Irish exoticism, the show often evoked a Vegas show-girl/drag queen quality with its hyper sending up of gender stereotypes resulting in a lavishly camp, soap opera style narrative.

Credit where credit’s due however, the production does exactly what it says on the tin by spoon feeding these high energy moments with gusto force. Good Vs Evil is the general message, triumph of course conquering adversity against all odds. The Lord trained his virile lead male dancer well, although he failed to communicate the level of charismatic arrogance Flatley delivered when in the role. Unable to credit individuals due to not one member of the cast credited in the program, was somewhat indicative of Flatley’s diva-esque desire to hog the glory and massage his own choreographic ego.

Overall, a shoddy, cashing in, emotionless, superficial depiction of Irish heritage, Lord of the Dance, in it’s true parodic style, is in fact the living pantomimic embodiment of Riverdance’s ugly sister. The clever thing is, and hats off to the Lord for spotting a hungry niche in the mainstream market, the doting audience simply can’t get enough of the rhythmical tapping extravaganza that we all secretly love, or in my case, love to hate.

runs at the Opera House until Sunday 27th September.
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