Take Me to the River

Like marching bands, the Ice Capades, the Rockettes, and Oz's Munchkins, Riverdance has stolen the hearts of Americans. Perhaps the canny Irish feel the pulse of American taste. They know we prefer fake food and paintings by numbers, and when we win the lottery, we're heading not for the Holy Land, but for Disneyland.

Riverdance producers concocted a marketing extravaganza within our range of values, with an endlessly refillable pot o' gold at its end. The $15 souvenir programs alone could produce $45,000 during the 10-day run, beginning on Friday, May 21, at Arizona State University's Wells Fargo Arena in Tempe.

Of the touring troupes, it's the original company from Dublin, the Lee Company, that's to perform here. (There are also the Logan and Liffey companies, and the unaffiliated Son of Riverdance, Lord of the Dance.) Depending on how you see it, these shows either impoverish or enrich traditional Irish folk dance with infusions of disco, ballet and breakdancing. Generously blessed by the Blarney Stone, they give us what we want--spectacle.

Composer Bill Whelan, who won a Grammy for the show's album, producer Moya Doherty and director John McColgan are the show's creators. Curiously, the promoters list a composer, but do not identify a choreographer. This is RiverDANCE, not RiverMUSIC.

Indeed, the joy of Riverdance is in watching its elite dancers. Someone with a choreographic background must be moving the production's masses around and flogging the 70 dancers into a single organism. The frisky dancers' training often reaches back into early childhood, by parents who were champions before them. Dozens of Riverdance denizens are related to each other and have danced with and competed against their castmates for years.

Get past the smoke machines, the jive sets, the repetitive choreography and the relentless pace. Keep your eyes on the bouncing feet. You'll be mesmerized by the virtuosity and stamina of these dancers, and that's where you'll find a wee bit o' the real deal.

--Merilyn Jackson

Riverdance is scheduled for performance at 8 p.m. Friday, May 21; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, May 22; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday, May 23; 8 p.m. Tuesday, May 25; and 8 p.m. Wednesday, May 26, at Wells Fargo Arena, Sixth Street and Stadium Drive in Tempe. Tickets range from $12.50 to $65. 480-965-3434 (Gammage), 480-503-5555 (Dillard's).

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Merilyn Jackson