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Riverdance

Jun 23, 2016

‘Riverdance’ leaps back into Greenville’s Peace Center

Greenville News

Paul Hyde, [email protected] 1:11 a.m. EDT June 23, 2016

In 1994, 7-year-old Lauren Smyth was watching the Eurovision Song Contest on TV with her family at home in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

During the interval, the explosive “Riverdance” made its first-ever appearance onstage.

In a flash, Smyth had found her life’s ambition.

“I decided then and there that this was what I wanted to do,” she said.

Twenty-two years later, Smyth is dancing the leading female role in “Riverdance — The 20th Anniversary World Tour,” opening at the Peace Center on Tuesday for eight performances through Sunday.

The national tour of “Riverdance” has visited Greenville several times in the past two decades, but this incarnation of the popular showcase of Irish dance features new costumes, new sets, new lighting and a new number.

“There’s a fresh, vibrant feel to the show,” said associate director Padraic Moyles. “We have a lot of new energy and talent in the show.”

“Riverdance” is an electrifying blend of dance, music and song.

Opening with a celebration of the life-giving qualities of water and earth, the show echoes the Irish experience of emigration and renewal.

Though it’s probably best know for spotlighting Irish dance, the musical really is a variety show, with six Russian dancers, two American tap dancers and a Flamenco dancer — in addition to the 25 Irish dancers.

The vocal ensemble and musicians bring the cast up to about 40.

The Grammy Award-winning score is by Bill Whelan.

“I’ve been in the show for six years and the music can still give me goosebumps,” Smyth said, speaking by phone during a tour stop in Philadelphia.

Blockbuster hit

Smyth, who alternates with two other women in the principal female role, vividly recalls the first time she saw the original seven-minute version of “Riverdance” in 1994. The show’s brief debut was witnessed by 300 million viewers of the enormously popular Eurovision Song Contest.

“It sent a shock wave around the world and people knew it was going to be something big,” she said.

Something big indeed: In the past 20 years, the full-length “Riverdance” has played 11,000 performances and has been seen live by more than 25 million people in more than 467 venues worldwide in 46 countries across six continents.

What’s to account for the show’s phenomenal popularity?

“There is something about the music, the choreography and dancing that is just magical,” Moyles said, speaking on the phone from Dublin’s Gaiety Theatre, where he was preparing an annual summer production of “Riverdance.”

“I’ve heard the score more than 5,500 times and I still think it’s sensational,” he added.

Moyles performed with the company for about 18 years, spending 16 years as the principal male dancer before retiring just last year.

Moyles points to another reason for the show’s success: diligent professionalism.

“The performers take great pride in their art with an attention to detail that ensures everything is as picture-perfect as possible,” he said.

“The ‘Riverdance’ brand is so well known that everybody walking into the venue has an expectation, and our goal is to exceed those expectations,” he added. “We have a motto: ‘Every night is opening night.’ We want to make every show the best one we’ve ever performed.”

Smyth and Moyles have traveled the world with the show, but both said American audiences are the most enthusiastic.

“I don’t think there’s been one show here where the audience hasn’t been standing at the end,” Smyth said. “What’s not to love about that? It keeps us motivated and in good form.”

For the latest in local arts news and reviews, follow Paul Hyde on Facebook and Twitter: @PaulHyde7.

YOU CAN GO

What: “Riverdance — The 20th Anniversary World Tour”

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday; 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday; 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sunday

Where: Peace Center Concert Hall

Tickets: $25 to $85

Information: 864-467-3000 or www.peacecenter.org