Riverdance’s 20th Anniversary World Tour Offers Much More than Nostalgia


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A scene from Riverdance. Photo by Jack Hartin © Riverdance.

By Steve Sucato

When Riverdance began its first North American tour Bill Clinton was president, there was no such thing as an iPod, iPad or iPhone and Beyoncé was just that woman in Destiny’s Child. Now into its 20th year, few touring dance shows have achieved as much staying power.  A Huntington Featured Performance, Riverdance’s 20th Anniversary World Tour makes a stop in Cleveland, February 13-18 for 8 shows at Playhouse Square’s KeyBank State Theatre.

Seen globally live by over 25 million people and on television by over 3 billion, Riverdance continues to delight and pull in new audience members each year.

Produced by Moya Doherty and directed by John McColgan, Riverdance is more than just Irish dance and music, the show, set to composer Bill Whelan’s Grammy Award-winning score, includes an infusion of international dance and music as well.

“Outside of the Irish dancing we also have Russian, Spanish and American Tap dancers in the show,” says associate director, Padraic Moyles.  “As with most cultures or nations, the Irish found themselves migrating to different parts of the globe. Engaging with new cultures and experiencing their traditions and art forms have helped shape their culture and I feel that is true for so many countries around the world.”

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A scene from Riverdance: Countess Cathleen. Photo by Jack Hartin © Riverdance.

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A scene from Riverdance: Thunderstorm. Photo by Jack Hartin © Riverdance.

The show plays into that evolution of humankind beginning with our earliest ancestors. Through a series of dance and music numbers in the productions’ first half, it shows them coming to terms with the world and with themselves. The production’s second half then takes that journey through modern times, finally concluding with a celebratory return to Riverdance’s Irish roots.

Credited for helping to create an Irish dance craze in the U.S. shortly after its debut, a slew of other shows with Irish dancing in them appeared including several by former Riverdance star and choreographer Michael Flatley. So one can be forgiven thinking they have seen Riverdance when maybe they haven’t.

“I’m often amazed by the number of people who feel they have seen Riverdance [before], but when they describe what they’ve seen, you quickly realize that they are referring to another show,” says Moyles. “I guess in some way that is the power of the brand. But it would be a real shame [for them]not to see the original.”

Even if you have seen Riverdance before, the changes made to show over its past two decades on tour mean there is always something new to see. For this 20th Anniversary World Tour, a new ladies hard shoe Irish dance number was added. “Anna Livia,” choreographed by John Carey, says Moyles has quickly become an audience favorite with its rhythmic blend of footwork and vibrant movement patterns. Also new are updated lighting and projections but perhaps the biggest change comes in the show’s cast of performers says Moyles.

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A scene from Riverdance: Anna Livia. Photo by Rob McDougall © Riverdance.

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A scene from Riverdance. Photo by Jack Hartin © Riverdance.

“This is an entirely different cast and to me, having performed in the show for 18 years, this is the best cast of dancers we have ever had,” he says. “Their commitment to the art form, discipline and dedication bring a new energy and a totally new experience to the audience. To me, this is the best version of the show we have ever had.”

Riverdance’s 20th Anniversary World Tour will be performed:

Tuesday,  Feb. 13 at 7:30 PM
Wednesday, Feb. 14 at 7:30 PM

Thursday, Feb. 15 at 7:30 PM

Friday, Feb. 16 at 7:30 PM
Saturday, Feb. 17 at 1:30 PM & 7:30 PM
Sunday, Feb. 18 at 1:00 PM & 6:30 PM

Playhouse Square’s KeyBank State Theatre, 1519 Euclid Ave., downtown Cleveland. Tickets are $10.00 – 75.00 and available at playhousesquare.org, by phone at 216.241.6000 or in person at the Playhouse Square ticket office. Groups of 15 or more, please call Group Services at 216-640-8600. For more information on the production visit riverdance.com.  

Steve Sucato is a former dancer turned arts writer/critic. He is Chairman Emeritus of the Dance Critics Association and Associate Editor of ExploreDance.com.

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BalletMet’s New ‘Giselle,’ a Fresh Restaging of a Story Ballet Classic


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(Center) BalletMet’s Jessica Brown in “Giselle.” Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.


By Steve Sucato

With the kind of success artistic director Edwaard Liang has had in raising BalletMet’s stature in the dance world, there can be little doubt that other ballet organizations that have been in search of new leadership have come courting him. Luckily for Columbus-area audiences, Liang feels he’s found a home at BalletMet and in Columbus and recently signed a 5-year contract extension.

“Honestly, I got some phone calls, but I feel I have turned a corner personally here,” says Liang.  “I have a great quality of life in Columbus with my partner and I get to balance my career as an artistic director with my career as a choreographer.”

Liang also says while the company has made great strides towards achieving his vision for it, there is still more work to be done.  One area of that vision he has been systematically working on in the past 4-years, is replacing the company’s existing repertory of story ballet classics with brand new productions. Those have included a new production of Cinderella in 2015, Sleeping Beauty in 2016, and in 2017, bringing in his production of Romeo and Juliet originally created for Tulsa Ballet in 2012.  Now joining that list is the world-premiere of Liang’s new production of Giselle, February 9-17 at the Jo Ann Davidson Theatre in downtown Columbus’ Vern Riffe Center.

As with the other story ballet classics Liang has redone, for the most part this new Giselle will maintain its traditional roots. The romantic ballet in two acts set to music by Adolphe Adam, was first performed in Paris in 1841 and tells the story of young peasant girl Giselle who dies of a broken heart after discovering her lover Albrecht is betrothed to another. Afterwards she is summoned from her grave by a group of supernatural women known as “Wilis,” who all have also died of broken hearts and who take revenge on men by dancing them to death. They intend to do the same with Albrecht but Giselle’s eternal love for him eventually frees him from their grasp.

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BalletMet’s Karen Wing in “Giselle.” Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

Perhaps the most famous ballet whose libretto came courtesy of a dance citric, Frenchman Théophile Gautier, the popular ballet is a staple in the repertoire of most every ballet company in the world. It was originally choreographed by Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot, although most present day versions of the ballet derive their choreography from the 19th and early 20th century revivals by Marius Petipa.

While Liang as choreographer is best known for his contemporary ballets, he says he chose not to bring that movement style into his new productions of classic story ballets. Instead, he has gone the path of reusing traditional choreography while adding new choreography and other elements to them to fit his vision for them.

“What I like about BalletMet is we run the gambit. Everything like [Ohad Naharin’s contemporary dance work] Minus 16 to something classical [like Sleeping Beauty],” says Liang. “I feel it is part of my job to have a stable of classic story ballet war horses to go along with our contemporary ballet works.”

So what is different about this Giselle production?

“Where we have gone differently is not so much in the storytelling, but I wanted to have more dancing for the men because the ballet traditionally is so female dominated and so hard for them,” says Liang.

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BalletMet’s Kristie Latham in “Giselle.” Photo by Jenifer Zmuda.

What will be noticeably different will be the ballet’s look.  While it takes place during the same time period of the story, the production’s new deconstructed and minimalist sets “give it a painterly look that is not at all traditional,” says Liang.  Add to that the ballet’s new puritan-like costumes, and you have a production that while is in many ways traditional, has a more modern feel to it.

Another more subtle change comes in the way Liang and BalletMet’s artistic staff are approaching coaching the dancers. “The fine tuning I’m doing is trying to have it so the dancers do less ‘ballet acting’ and more of what you would consider ‘theater acting’,” he says.

That will manifest itself most noticeably in the portrayals of the ballet’s lead characters such as Giselle.

“I want the staging to be clear and the same for each of the Giselle’s but there has to be some flexibility or else the dancers are not going to feel free enough to find themselves in the role,” says Liang. “That’s where I see a lot of Giselle [portrayals] become ‘shticky’; the choreography and the staging is so old world that, while beautiful, may not be for everyone.”

One of three dancers in three different casts to dance the leading role of Giselle along with Caitlin Valentine-Ellis (Feb. 9 & 17) and Grace-Anne Powers (Feb. 10 & 16), will be San Francisco-native and third-year company member, Carly Wheaton (Feb. 11 & 15). Performing her first leading role in a story ballet classic, Wheaton says of the character and her approach to playing her: “in act one Giselle is pure and innocent and has never really felt [romantic] love which devastates her when she gets her heartbroken by Albrecht.  In act two, that heartache is carried over but she becomes a solemn, ethereal being.”

The 24-year-old also says while the choreography for her character’s movements in say the ballet’s famous “Mad scene” is highly structured, she has the freedom in some ways to personalize her portrayal of Giselle.

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BalletMet’s Lisset Santander in “Giselle.” Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

Dancing the role of Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis along with Lisset Santander (Feb. 10 & 16) and Jessica Brown (Feb. 11 & 15), will be BalletMet newcomer Madeline Skelly (Feb. 9 & 17). It’s a role she danced as a member of Houston Ballet.

“A lot of people see Myrtha as a man-hater and I get that because she does kill them,” says Skelly. “Revenge is a part of it, but she does see Giselle’s love for Albrecht and how she is standing up for him and trying to protect him.” That leads, she says, to a moment in the ballet where those feelings of love and forgiveness almost crack her tough façade, but she quickly suppresses those feelings.

Skelly says dancing the role of Myrtha is also physically challenging for her but not in the way most would think. While the rigor and pace of the role’s full-on dancing in the ballet’s second act is hard, Skelly says even more challenging is standing still in a ballet position known as B+ for long periods of time after she has been dancing. “It’s excruciatingly painful.”

The 25-year old Orlando-native in her first year with BalletMet joined the company in August with her husband and Columbus-native William Newton who trained at New Albany Ballet Company.  Newton is one of three dancers performing the lead role of Albrecht, February 10 & 16. Miguel Anaya (Feb. 9 & 17) and Romel Frometa (Feb. 11 & 15) will also perform the role in other casts.

While perhaps not scenically lavish compared to other Giselle productions because of budget constraints, having seen the company in rehearsals of it, the 2-hour ballet has got it where it counts — Great storytelling, world-class dancing and an updated look that make it worth reserving a ticket for.

BalletMet performs Giselle:

Friday, 2/9 8:00 pm
Saturday, 2/10 8:00 pm
Sunday, 2/11 2:00 pm
Thursday, 2/15 7:30 pm
Friday, 2/16 8:00 pm
Saturday, 2/17 8:00 pm

At the Jo Ann Davidson Theatre in the Vern Riffe Center, 77 S. High Street, Columbus. Tickets are $29-74 and are available at balletmet.org, ticketmaster.com or by calling 614.469.0939

Steve Sucato is a former dancer turned arts writer/critic. He is Chairman Emeritus of the Dance Critics Association and Associate Editor of ExploreDance.com.

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Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s Julia Erickson on Her Farewell Announcement and Why the “Stage Is Like One Big Playground”


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Erickson as Odile. Photo by Rich Sofranko, Courtesy PBT.

By Steve Sucato

Elton John, Neil Diamond and the band Rush—2018 just got underway and it already feels like the year of the beloved star retiring. Joining that list today is one of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s longest tenured principal dancers, Julia Erickson. The 38-year-old Seattle native trained at the Pacific Northwest Ballet School and spent two years with Texas Ballet Theater before joining PBT in 2001. Starting in 2010, she was the co-owner of Barre, a line of nutrition bars for dancers, until the company’s hiatus in 2015. She was also the 2014 recipient of the BRAZZY Award for outstanding female dancer, chosen by Pittsburgh’s dance writers. The audience and critics’ favorite will close out her 17-year career with PBT in October. Pointe spoke with Erickson about her career and what’s next.

You appear to be at the top of your game, so why retire now?

I am not full-on retiring, just leaving PBT in the capacity I’m in. I plan to dance more. Guesting with [Santa Monica-based] Barak Ballet this summer was an eye-opening experience. I was able to discover that nowadays there are a lot more opportunities out there to dance that are not necessarily available to someone dancing under contract in a resident company.

So this is more of a career move?

I’ve had an amazing career at PBT dancing some amazing roles with a great group of artists. I feel so fortunate but I am at a juncture in my career where I feel I need to take a leap and see what else is out there. I want more, even if it is not in dance.

Click here to read more.

This article appeared first on Pointe Magazine’s website on February 1, 2018. Copyright Steve Sucato.

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