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Irish Riverdance on 26-city tour in China

(China Daily)

11:23, January 11, 2013

The Irish Riverdance embarks on a 26-city tour in China. (China Daily)

They've got thunder in their soles

The world's happiest feet - and the happy people attached to them - are back in China for the latest tour of Riverdance. The fresh-faced joy of this dance troupe is as contagious as the powerful rhythms it produces, and may be just as responsible for its cross-cultural appeal.

That joy, of course, is sometimes tempered by the story behind Riverdance, a narrative of Irish culture that sweeps from the primeval and pagan to the fabled immigration to America. Early scenes of the show extol nature as primitive ancestors experience the world as a place of power and come to terms with it.

Reel Around the Sun, one of the show's original choreographies by dance legend Michael Flatley, is both haunting and exuberant as it fuses joy and the strength of the human spirit.

The Irish migration is the story of America the melting pot, and composer Bill Whelan seems to relish the chance to stir it. Whelan, who wrote the original score for Riverdance's 1995 debut at the Eurovision Song Contest in Dublin, has long kept the show fresh by blending in bits from other cultures that have interacted with Ireland's.

Tappers Benjamin Mapp and Kelly Isaac, two Americans in this touring company, kept ticket holders on the edge of their seats on the tour's opening weekend - first with a friendly competition with each other and then some "show me what you got" with the traditional hot-steppers from the Auld Sod. (That's the affectionate term Irish folk everywhere use to refer to the land of their birth.)

Spaniard Rocio Montoya, who clearly knows that a woman in a fabuloso red dress has a head start wooing the audience, brings the house down with a flamenco solo and then an exhibition dance with the ensemble cast.

Another audience favorite, musical director Niamh Ni Charra, has wowed Riverdance audiences for eight years roaming the stage with her irrepressible fiddle.

The Killarney native has embraced a mix of cultures by performing with such headliners as The Chieftans and recently recorded an album titled The Basque Irish Connection.

On the Riverdance stage, she challenges drummer Mark Alfred into several lively give-and-take exchanges that keep the crowd chucking - and red-palmed from clapping along.

That sort of friendly interplay, in fact, is key to the show's energy. The producers have recruited top Irish dancers who have often competed against each other in international contests, and brought them together in a non-competitive environment.

But even from the cheap seats, you can see a gleam in the eyes of performers like principal dancer James Grennan, who's been hot-footing it on stage since he was 10.

"You think you belong on the stage with me?" they seem to be asking each other with good-natured grins. "Watch this!"

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