Wednesday 19th August
Lord of the Dance filled The Civic on the opening night of their New Zealand season of Dangerous Games. The show has undergone some major changes since its hayday in the mid-1990’s. Embracing new production technology, the show includes an enormous digital backdrop displaying animated scenery with a sci-fi/fantasy theme, pyrotechnics and even some good old-fashioned fireworks at the end.
The show opened with what was essentially an advertisement for the show itself – a video promoting Lord of the Dance’s long run and successful touring history, with a voiceover by Michael Flatley (Creator, Producer, Director & Choreographer). It was an unusual approach, which felt a bit like preaching to the choir, given the handsome ticket price the audience had already shelled out to see the show.
The concept of the show is the classic good (Lord of The Dance) vs. evil (The Dark Lord). The role of Lord of the Dance, performed on opening night by Morgan Comer, is backed up by love interest Saoirse and the dashing (occasionally shirtless) Chieftans. The Dark Lord, performed by either Tom Cunningham or Zoltan Papp (there was no cast list available, and the dancer’s face is obscured by makeup and half a helmet), is supported by Morrighan the Seductress and the Dark Disciples. Other characters include Erin the Goddess (Rachel O’Connor) singing pop songs in the style of Celine Dion, and Little Spirit (gymnast Jess Judge) who may or may not be dreaming the entire battle. Judge displayed a sweet onstage presence, and some well-controlled flexibility, although very little of the gymnastic tumbling she is certainly capable of.
In an attempt to modernise the show, I felt that Lord of the Dance de-emphasised some of its most endearing qualities; traditional music and a strong Irish cultural flavour. The digital backdrop was impressive in size, but the animation was dated and sometimes clumsy – unicorns, rainbows and soaring doves when the ‘goodies’ came on. Much of the imagery created by the Dark Disciples was strongly reminiscent of Michael Jackson’s HIStory phase in terms of costuming, choreography and rhythmic emphasis.
The further from traditional Irish dancing the choreography strayed, the weaker it got. Flatley is known for expanding the repertoire of Irish dance choreography through incorporation of the arms and using more modern music. Sometimes this was successful - the Dark Disciples completely deserved the admiration they drew from the audience – and other times not. Some awkward alignments resulted from what appeared to be attempts by the women to emulate arm positions from classical ballet – sans training.
The cast of Lord of the Dance are hardworking, and the men displayed impressive unison, clean tap rhythms and moments of beautiful speed. Morgan Comer is a charismatic performer with strong technique and some lovely tap tricks up his sleeve. The women’s unison was lacking slightly, but when the ensemble came together for the infamous Act One closing to the tune Lord of the Dance, the audience was soaking up the spectacle.
Although I completely understand the decision to use a tap backing track for volume in a large venue, I was still disappointed not to be able to hear what the dancers were doing onstage. Dangerous Games contains some great choreography, particularly impressive tap rhythms and a driving tempo – but all of this was inaudible due to the pre-recorded tap track drowning out all of the live sound. There are some very talented and hardworking dancers in this cast, and I would have loved to have heard what they could do. It felt a bit like going to watch a great band with the sound turned off.
The glossy, twenty-five dollar programme is filled with photographs of Flatley in rehearsal and onstage with this current cast of dancers. I think everyone was a little disappointed when he didn’t appear onstage, even for a short finale cameo. A video of a trio of Flatleys tapping in both unison and canon reminded me what we’d missed out on – a brilliant, charismatic dancer with the effortless incorporation of the upper body of a master of his genre. He’s also incredibly fast, and has a couple of Guiness World Records for tap speed to prove it.
If you’re a die-hard fan of Flatley’s production style you won’t be disappointed by Dangerous Games, as the standing ovation from the gallery proved. It provides everything you’d expect from a Lord of the Dance show. I think my problem was I expected a little more.