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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Review: ‘Riverdance’ still kicking after 20 years

Oct. 23, 2015 Updated Fri., Oct. 23, 2015 at 6:04 p.m.

It’s all about the dancing.

It is “Riverdance,” after all, which for two decades has been bringing the beat of traditional Irish step-dancing to audiences around the world.

Here’s what it’s not: A musical. Or a ballet. There’s no storyline, really, no plot. There are themes, but they’re just an excuse to display some fancy footwork. Really, “Riverdance” is a collection of vignettes, and once you realize that, it is easier to enjoy the show.

Because it is enjoyable. It’s lively and entertaining – and perfectly family friendly.

Act One begins with a single spotlight on a single singer, with stars projected on the screen behind her. She gives way to a soloist on the low whistle, a flutelike instrument that’s instantly familiar to anyone who has ever listened to Celtic music. Soon the dancers take the stage, with their characteristic intricate footwork and well-executed high- stepping.

Jason O’Neill, the lead male dancer, comes on stage and shows what’s possible with this art form. He seems to fly across the stage, his long legs propelling him faster than seems possible. The native of Belfast, Northern Ireland, is turning 30 during the “Riverdance” run in Spokane, but you’d be hard-pressed to tell. He is an impressive dancer.

As is his female counterpart, Maggie Darlington. The Californian brings a natural grace to her several solo numbers. When she and O’Neill dance together, it’s a lovely scene.

The first act seems to center more on Irish traditions of long ago, but it certainly carries that 1990s New Age vibe that was popular when “Riverdance” was created. I did feel once or twice that I’d walked into an Enya video.

The highlight of the night comes in the second act, as the theme shifts to North America, following Irish immigrants who fled the potato famine at home to make new lives across the ocean. Soon we meet two African-American tap dancers, JL Williams and DeWitt Fleming Jr., hoofing it to a jazz tune played on a single clarinet. O’Neill, two other male dancers and violinist Pat Mangan come on stage for the number “Trading Taps.” It’s an old-school dance-off that is energetic and fun. All of the dancers are clearly at the top of their game, and having a good time, too.

Much of the second act features more contemporary dance styles and music. The new number, “Anna Livia,” features the strong female ensemble, led by Darlington, and is foot-stomping Irish dancing at its best.

Interwoven through the show are dance styles from other cultures, namely Russia and the Spanish flamenco. They were all lovely to watch. The flamenco soloist, Rocio Montoya, was exquisite with her fluid moves and stomping feet. The Russian troupe, with their high kicks and spins, are fun to watch. While these numbers seem out of place in an Irish dance show, I can’t knock them for their execution. They all danced well.

“Riverdance” was born from a 7-minute routine performed on television 21 years ago. Since then, the show has circled the globe multiple times, won numerous awards, spawned television specials and been performed before more than 25 million people. This latest iteration of the cast, in the midst of a 20th anniversary tour, does that legacy proud.

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