The Best of Riverdance
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Experience the Riverdance journey from its extraordinary beginnings at the Point Theatre, Dublin, with original stars Michael Flatley and Jean Butler, through its phenomenal success in Radio City Music Hall, New York to its latest live recording in Geneva.
The DVD debut of Michael Flatley's performance in Riverdance (or at least part of it) is one of the highlights of The Best of Riverdance, a generous survey of the Irish hard-shoe sensation that has riveted live audiences and PBS viewers for a decade. Beginning with the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest performance that led to the full-length stage show, the program compiles a number of highlights from the show's history, taken mostly from three sources. There's the original 1995 televised show starring the flamboyant, record-setting tapper Flatley and his partner, Jean Butler. There's the 1997 New York City concert, with Colin Dunne opposite Butler. And finally there's the 2003 performance from Geneva headlined by Brendán de Gallaí and Joanne Doyle. Because elements of the show and numerous performers have changed over the years, each performance has its own character, and The Best of Riverdance even takes the unusual step of blending segments of various shows into a single number. For example, "Riverdance" switches back and forth among the three shows and the three sets of leads. "Lift the Wings" begins with two verses of the solo voice of Áine Uí Cheallaigh, then segues into segments from the ensemble-sung version from New York and Geneva. Because the solo rendition was one of the biggest losses of later generations of the show, it's nice to have at least part of it on DVD. Likewise, because Flatley's complete Riverdance performance is not yet available on DVD, fans will be glad to have at least a few numbers here. Other later-generation numbers included are "American Wake" and "Trading Taps," and the DVD menu screens very clear note which performer or combination of performers is performing.
Brand new in this nearly two-hour program are occasional introductions by Jean Butler, which help explain some of the ambiguous stage action. Bonus features are a new one-hour documentary about the history of the show, 16 minutes of high-speed backstage footage, and an eight-minute performance from the 2003 Special Olympics. Some viewers may find the introductions or the performance switches jarring to the flow, and The Best of Riverdance is surely not a substitute for the complete performances of the show, but it is a nice compilation, and offers some footage that you can't see anywhere else. --David Horiuchi
- 18 of the all-time best performances
- Riverdance: The 10 Years: all-new 65-minute documentary
- Riverdance: Behind the Scenes: never-before-seen footage of the backstage crew in action
- Performance at the Special Olympics opening ceremony
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I came away believing several things. First, Riverdance was a very special creation, groundbreaking in many ways and worthy of its fame. Second, it was/is a mistake to have multiple troupes with varied abilities. There are some singers and dancers who are definitely not the caliber of the first troupe. The bell-like purity of voice of the first female lead singer simply has been lost in some later renditions, and several male dancers' high kicks are a travesty compared to, say, Michael Flatley's.
Which brings me to the male lead dancers. I have the video tape of the original Dublin performance (I wish it currently was available as a USA-compatible DVD). Here was the man who danced that first Riverdance performance, who was the chief choreographer for the expanded Riverdance - The Show, and who was the lead dancer. He danced with a joy that was special and unique; he was uplifted by the ovations. He is the man who holds the Guinness World Record for taps in one second. His high kicks are phenomenal. His ability was at a whole level not attained by the other male lead dancers in the DVD, who (if the DVD title is to be believed) are the best dancers. Don't get me wrong: they are very good - or even excellent - dancers; however, compared to Michael Flatley they are second string. Further, in some instances the expression on their faces (especially the one that replaced Michael Flatley) was more "I showed you" than exuberant joy over the dance itself.
I confess I don't like the pas de deux that was added to The Show. It is a lovely pas de deux - don't get me wrong - but just doesn't seem to fit in with the rest of the dances. The Irish, Flamenco, and American-tap dances (and the Russian folk-style number) all have a certain "feel" that is totally different from (and disrupted by) the pas de deux.
I am glad I purchased the DVD. I'd never seen even a clip of the original dance performed at that international venue; it was great to see the origins of this wonderful show. It was also great to see Michael and Jean react to the ovation at that performance: it is hard to imagine now, with the show a world-wide phenomenon, that this was the first time a huge audience gave a standing ovation to "Irish clog dancing" - so it is hard to grasp the amazement and joy they felt. Also, I finally heard the meaning of each dance, which was not explained on the video of the Dublin performance. Jean Butler's explanations are clear and concise, and allowed me to watch each segment at a deeper level, starting to understand the meaning while still appreciating the beauty, art, hard work, and talent.
As a documentary - which is what it is - I recommend it.
The only saving graces were that the finale doesn't have the jumping around, spliced business at the end, it includes Davy Spillane's "Caoineadh Chú Chulainn", and the tappers are great.
A shame really, because this could have been a great DVD. We ended up ordering Riverdance - The Show (1995) from Amazon UK, so we could see the show in a smooth, seamless production. We do wish they would make a DVD of the 1995 version. Or re-do this one. We simply can't recommend it.
Some pan the video edits within the Riverdance story to highlight the different principal dancers, but I appreciated it and am captured by the stories of Ireland, the power of the dance, the costumes, the band and the choir; all excellent in a foot-stomping presentation that is candy for the eyes and ears.
And still I am torn ... I don't whether you should first watch the documentary or the show ... both are fascinating. Yeah, the producers are filthy rich. They should be. They 'risked it all' into an unknown, which stands a fair chance of touring until the end of Earth time, capturing new generations. Thank you, Ireland!!