Celtic thunder storms through Philadelphia

Caitlin-Marie Ward

Riverdance, the show that has thrilled audiences of all ages for over a decade, bid farewell to Philadelphia on April 5 at the Academy of Music.

Over the years, the show has not lost any of its appeal or excitement.

The intoxicating rhythms of the unique music combine elements of traditional Irish music with modernity, reaching down to the core of its listeners.

Perhaps most impressive is the intricate footwork performed by the dancers. It is this immense talent and energy that has captivated people for over 10 years.

From the moment the lights in the theater dim, the audience is swept off into a magical journey.

In the first act, the various dances and songs performed symbolize the gratitude and awe early Irish men and women felt for the forces of nature: sun, water, fire and earth.

In the opening number, “Reel Around the Sun,” the stage is bathed in yellow and orange light before fading to a cool and soothing blue for the Riverdance singers’ performance of “The Heart’s Cry.”

A crowd favorite, “Thuderstorm,” an all male a cappella performance, pays tribute to the potential brutality and power of nature.

In this dance, all the dancers wore hard shoes with heels and tips made of fiberglass, as they lept around stage in near perfect synchronicity.

With each stomp and click, the dancers asserted their authority on the stage and enervated the audience with their unique percussion sounds.

The second act depicts a different Ireland, one that is stooped in war and famine where communities are broken down.

Yet, through song and dance, the Riverdance performers portray the resilience of the Irish people and their ability to hope and forge new relationships in a changing world.

Nowhere is this sense of triumph more visible than in the finale, where the complex dance formations, quick footwork and upbeat music sweep up the audience.

As impressive and distinctive as the complex footwork, high kicks, soaring jumps and rhythmic beats are the music of Riverdance composed by Bill Whelan.

The music was honored with a Grammy in 1997 for Best Musical Show Album.

The Riverdance album is a certified platinum record in the United States, Ireland and Australia.

The music is so invigorating and intoxicating that it takes on an identity all its own, from its exciting sequences to its more somber and contemplative.

Visuals are almost rendered unnecessary by this powerfully unique fusion of contemporary and traditional sounds of Ireland.

Some songs are light-hearted and invigorating, such as “The Countess Cathleen,” while others like the Riverdance Irish Piper’s Caoineadh Chú Chulainn (translated to “lament”) are soulful, even mournful.

Regardless of its tempo or mood, each track is emotional, infectious and powerful.

Riverdance began in Dublin in 1995.

It was actually a spinoff from a seven-minute intermission performance during the Eurovision Song Contest in 1994, an international song competition that is broadcast on television in Europe.

Perhaps the most famous Irish dancer in all of history, Michael Flatley, opened for the show in Dublin. He also choreographed most of the show. His original choreography is still largely intact in performances today.

The female lead was Jean Butler who also helped choreograph some of the dances. The show ran for five weeks and was a sell-out.

In 1996, Riverdance came to the United States. They performed in New York City at Radio City Music Hall, and, not surprisingly, captured the hearts of yet another audience. Riverdance even made it to Broadway in 2000.

One of the most extraordinary dances, the finale “Heartland,” showcased the unity, technique and energy of the Riverdance dancers.

Riverdance is currently completing its tour that includes major U.S. cities, England and the Far East and will return to its home in Dublin in 2010.

As one of the most legendary shows of all time, it will be greatly missed all over the world.