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 act 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. Fourteen years later, Bill Whelan was back doing the intermission piece for another Eurovision Song Contest in Dublin, with a piece that launched the Irish dancing revolution: Riverdance. 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".
Riverdance was first performed during the seven-minute interval of the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest at the Point Theatre in Dublin on 30 April 1994. The performance earned a standing ovation from the packed theatre of 3,000 people. Due to the act's success, Riverdance was invited to perform at the prestigious Royal Variety Performance at Dominion Theatre, London in the presence of Prince Charles on 28 November 1994. The act was introduced on stage by Sir Terry Wogan. Both performances 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.
At Congratulations: 50 Years of the Eurovision Song Contest and Eurovision Song Contest's Greatest Hits events, the seven-minute performance was named as one of the most popular interval acts in the history of the contest.
An audio recording of "Riverdance" entered the Irish Singles Chart at number one 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 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 performance 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 performance, while many of the dance troupe featured in the Eurovision performance also appeared in the show.
On 8 May 1995, Riverdance performed at the Royal Gala 50th Anniversary of VE Day celebrations at the special invitation of Prince Charles. This attracted a television audience of 20 million.
A video release of Riverdance occurred in the United Kingdom 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 sell out 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.
Michael Flatley left the show reportedly over creative disputes with the producers before the show's second run in London. With newly appointed lead dancer Colin Dunne at the helm, Riverdance returned to the prestigious Royal Variety Performance at Dominion Theatre, London in the presence of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip on 20 November 1995. Starring Dunne and future lead dancer Breandán de Gallaí, Riverdance performed Dunne's choreographed piece Trading Taps. Dunne went on to perform in subsequent productions alongside Jean Butler before both left the show in 1998.
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 June 1998, the show's executive producer, Julian Erskine, 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.
In 2000, the show moved to Broadway's Gershwin Theatre for a year, and featured dance leads Pat Roddy and Eileen Martin, and singers Brian Kennedy and Tsidii Le Loka. Colin Dunne briefly returned to Riverdance to perform his original choreographed piece Trading Taps at the 2002 One World Jam in Radio City Music Hall.
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 New York (1996) and Live from Geneva (2002) DVDs). Each production company is named after an Irish river: Liffey, Lee, Lagan, Avoca, Shannon, Boyne, Corrib, Foyle, Moy and Bann.
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; it was performed by the Ulster Orchestra conducted by Jac van Steen.
Dance numbers and songs performed
| 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
| Riverdance: Live From Beijing (2010)|
Padraic Moyles & Aislinn Ryan
- "Ceolas Profile: Planxty". Ceolas.org. Retrieved 1 June 2015.
- O'Toole, Leagues (2006). The Humours of Planxty. Ireland: Hodder & Stoughton. p. 296–299. ISBN 03-4083-796-9.
- "Riverdance at the Eurovision Song Contest 30 April 1994, Dublin #Riverdance20". YouTube.com. 29 April 2014. Retrieved 1 June 2015.
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- "Eurovision’s Greatest Hits: Riverdance To Perform". Eurovoix.com. 22 March 2015. Retrieved 1 June 2015.
- "From worst to Riverdance: A comprehensive ranking of Ireland's Eurovision interval acts". NewsTalk.com. 22 May 2015. Retrieved 1 June 2015.
- Brinn, David (9 August 2011). "Sailing with the ‘Riverdance’ of life". JPost.com. Retrieved 1 June 2015.
- "Riverdance for Rwanda". CelticCafe.com. Retrieved 7 March 2012.
- "MR riverdance steps up a gear". Independent.ie. 25 March 2013. Retrieved 21 July 2013.
- "Michael Flatley's very last dance". Independent.ie. 26 June 1998. Retrieved 21 July 2013.
- "Riverdance (Trading Taps) at the Royal Variety Performance 20 November 1995". YouTube.com. 10 June 2014. Retrieved 1 June 2015.
- "Colin Dunne joins Riverdance for One World Jam in Radio City Music Hall". Riverdance.com. 1 July 2002. Retrieved 1 June 2015.
- "Issue: Riverdance's faux pas". TheFreeLibrary.com. Retrieved 1 June 2015.
- "Broadway Opening Night 2000". Riverdance.com. 17 March 2000. Retrieved 1 June 2015.
- "Walter Sundance Freeman and Colin Dunne at Radio City Music Hall". YouTube.com. 10 October 2012. Retrieved 1 June 2015.
- "FAQ". Riverdance.com. Retrieved 1 June 2015.
- "Prom 51: Free Prom – Dvořák, Grieg, Bax & Bill Whelan". BBC.co.uk. Retrieved 1 June 2015.