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Published: Wednesday, 3/19/2003

`Riverdance' continues to delight


Riveting and winsome, Riverdance opened at the Stranahan Theater last night to the thunderous cheers it has drawn from thousands of audiences for eight years.

With high-energy dancers, skilled musicians, an angelic choir, and an elegant set, it can't help but delight all ages.

Two well-paced hours mix a variety of dance (it's much more than just Irish step dance) with beautiful instrumentals and gorgeous vocal harmonies. The nine-piece band is well situated at the center rear of the stage on tiers above the dancers. A huge screen is lowered and raised in front of the band, sometimes displaying a luminous moon or an abstract pattern.

Much of Riverdance moves with a steady flow of testosterone. It was, after all, partly choreographed by the great Irish-American dancer Michael Flatley, whose showmanship and brilliant footwork helped propel it to fame.

Dancing the principal role in this touring production, one of several worldwide, is Michael Patrick Gallagher, 26. Lithe and flawless, he re-creates the role he performed when Riverdance was in Toledo three years ago.

His longtime female lead, Tara Barry, didn't dance last night because of an injury. Her shoes were filled by Ciara Kennedy, who performed well but wanted for fluidity.

Riverdance's understated plot begins with evocative folklore of the Emerald Isle. There are political overtones, such as an octet of men in black tapping militaristically and saying, “We will not be beaten down.”

In striking contrast to the stiff upper-bodies of step dance are the exquisite Flamenco dances, in which Rosa Manzano Jimenez's hands and arms flutter like wild birds.

And in the second act, when, under a new moon, the Irish experience life in the New World, there's a high-octane showdown between step and tap dancers. A trio of black dancers with bodies as loose as cooked noodles add a dash of hip-hop and even a moonwalk. In comparison, the rigid Irish lads they face off with, seem downright uptight. Guaranteed to be a favorite.

The show has six more performances through Sunday.

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