Rhythm of the Dance
Review and Feature by Linda Brongers
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Rhythm of the Dance in Groningen, Leeuwarden and Emmen, Netherlands, March 2001
Recently I had the good luck to see Rhythm of the Dance
three times in a row: The first show was in Groningen,
my backyard. A great venue, with nothing but good seats,
a good crowd and therefore a very good atmosphere. Here they danced their first show after coming back to Europe from touring in Taiwain.

The second was in Leeuwarden. A packed venue with
ceilings as high as the sky, where luckily curtains were hiding the metal walls and the lighting sank the ceiling. Still, it was hard to call this steel aquarium a theatre, but as soon as the audience came in by their thousands the doubts about the place were gone and you could feel the excitement of the crowd sitting on the tip of their chair waiting for things to come.

The third was Emmen, the penultimate performance of their March 2001 Dutch tour. This time the venue was
smaller, seating about 2000. A very friendly place, with
live Irish music in the lounge before/after the show and
during the break, and an even better audience, keen to get involved, cheer and clap along with the music any
time - except for this one lady sitting right in front of me
who apparently felt the need to show that she knew the
words of "She moved through the fair" by squealing right
through it, casting a little local shadow over Bridget Nolan's wonderful performance of this song.

Silence fell when the lights were dimmed and the empty
stage was surrounded by the sounds of an Irish tune.
Suddenly that music stopped and the lights went out
completely. That's when the dancers made their entry
and took their positions for the opening number -
immobile characters frozen in the middle of their
movements on a shady stage. Slowly their energy is being released once they are touched by lead dancer Aisling Holly, dressed in black and silver, who is carefully moving round them. They move faster and faster, and we are treated to this great outburst of energy, the opening sequence, called Rhythm of the Dance.

By this opening number you get drawn into the dance spectacle developing on stage. From the fast and complicated moves of Rhythm of the Dance you are taken through countless rhythm patterns,all danced to with Irish Dancing (ID). You get to realise the power, the strength and flexibility of Irish Dancing, adapting so easily to all sorts of rhythms. Like Irish dancing danced to Jazz, to Flamenco music, and other kinds, with the
Irish steps, adapted of course, and with costumes that accentuate the different styles of music. This is a thoroughbred dance show, it is all about Irish dancing but most of all about what you can do with it.

Every time Aisling Holly was her super self. On the first evening in Groningen she had just been driven down from Denmark, had had two hours of sleep and rehearsals throughout the day, but this energy bomb showed no signs of weakness at all. This is a tornado on stage, with a
passion for hard shoe dance and she IS good at it. The power, the charisma, itís all there. Her dancing simply is outstanding. She appears in most of the dances, not necessarily as the lead but just as easily as part of the team. Knowing that she is the dance captain and does the choreography as well she is so much more than the energy bomb she is on stage. Her stage presence is just something you have to experience yourselves.

Unmistakably hardshoe is Aisling's favourite, let there be no doubt about that. She can tap like no other female dancer can. Unbelievably fast, however always realising that speed isn't everything, that it has to fit into an appealing choreography. But her passion for hard shoe does not stop her from doing "soft" parts like in the new number Celtic Rhythm that has instantly become my favourite.

It starts with Aisling and Jay Kirwan doing a ballet like dance duet, with the three ballet girls dancing in the background, on the risen part of the stage. They are followed by two of the boys doing a very quick routine that is the intro for a part where the girls treat you to a soft shoe part that incorporates an incredible number of high kicks and jumps.

Then Aisling leads the boys back on stage but a sudden switch of rhythm chases the troupe off the stage, leaving Aisling on her own to do a very fast and up-beat hard shoe solo. Back come the boys to dance hard shoe lead by Aisling. When they seem to be finished and aiming to leave the stage, on come the girls and this total whirlwind of dancers is filling the stage. They line up in 3 lines,
separate again, criss-cross the stage leaving the girls in front (V-shape), the boys in the back, and while the girls are dancing up front Aisling leads the boys to the front, mixing with the girls. For a little while they all dance together. Then all too soon the music stops and Celtic Rhythm is over.

Aisling dances Irish dance to Flamenco music with one of the guys with new choreography, and you wouldnít believe how well ID fits into this music. And she and one of the guys even treat us to some acrobatics! Then thereís this one move when at a certain moment she and three girls
put one foot on the shoulder of their dance partners who then pull them forward (seeing that you FEEL it too).

The troupe was outstanding, their timing perfect. This was a team that was working together as a well-oiled machine, the girls elegant where necessary but powerful just as easily. The boys obviously powerful too, but at times they did have to adapt to slower parts. No problem! There was only the jazzy piece which sometimes seemed to present some minor problems.

Whatever style, they were doing a great job and they were all smiling and having fun all the time. I have to compliment them for that and it really does add a lot to the fun of watching. The dancers hardly leave the stage as they also dance to the many songs and music parts. Like "Step it Out", a fast part of the fiddlers with 3 boys/3 girls, or "Lanigan's ball" which is like a musical with wonderful singing and great -fun- dancing. There's plenty of room for fun parts in the show anyway, you never get the idea that the dancers are too much tied down in their creativity, even though obviously in many parts they have
to synchronise perfectly.

Not all of you may know that this show has classical ballet/ballet dancers integrated into it. This is because the show is about overall dancing in Ireland, not just the Irish dance. However, ballet, I guess, would not be what the average ID audience is looking for and youíd have to be careful not to overdose it. There were some doubts last year, but now the ballet parts are shorter and more a part
of the other dances. That way ballet is refreshing and surprising. There was not a single moment that it felt out of place.

A lot of credit has to go to the musicians and the singers too. When Bridget Nolan sings "She moves through the fair" you could hear a needle drop. She has the voice of an angel, unbelievably clear and warm. David Flynn is a powerful singer who can twist the audience round his little finger. I wonder if he really needs a microphone. These two can strike all the right notes! When they are on stage, doing songs like "Lanigan's Ball" or "Colcannon" together with the dancers then it is their show, their musical, and let there be no doubt about that.

There's two girls, Colette Keaveney and Emma OíLeary, that play the violin, flute and whistle. And any instrument they pick up, I guess. They do fast parts on the violin together or with the bodhran player, Eoin McQuinn, who is then sitting between them. One of the girls does a beautiful flute solo. Fast or slow, they play their instruments with great passion. They accompany the dancers on many occasions so throughout we do get live music. With every show they seem more relaxed and self assured on stage developing a great stage presence. The bodhran player, who plays the saxophone too, treats us to
his skills several times, but most of all impresses during Aisling's unique solo, where she dances, hard shoe, to the rhythm of the bodhran. He is sitting in the middle of the stage, Aisling whizzing around the stage and tapping on drums placed left and right. Picture the two of them on stage doing a battle of beats, he playing the bodhran, she poundering the floor. They cannot outdo one another but certainly try to! It is a solo you canít ever forget, original,
fast, amazing. I wonder how many taps she does per second!!!

The set is relatively simple with very good lighting that takes care of the changes in background. That means that your attention will be focussed on whatís going on on stage at all times! Good music, great singers and musicians, great dancers, what more would you want? Good costumes? Well we've got that too. With amazingly speedy costume changes, sometimes new costumes were on within the blink of an eye!

There is not really a storyline in the show but you donít miss that for a second - the speed and variation of the show (the playful parts or the parts which demand military precision, the solo's, duets, songs or instrumental parts) donít allow you any time to think about it! The class and the speed of the show had greatly improved to the two shows I saw last year. But this show is constantly developing and changes and/or new numbers are brought
in regularly. Even between these three shows, with only days between them, the choreography had definitely been sharpened to what seemed to be the edge of what dancers could possibly do. Some changes of position here, some extra moves there, it all added to the excitement of this rhythm display. The patterns seem to be so complicated
that more than once you'll think now they are going to knock into each other. But that never happens as their timing is like clockwork.

These are dancers that are getting more and more tuned in to each other, that are obviously having fun and seem to be getting more confident with every show they do. The various numbers seem to blend into each other seamlessly, you constantly have dancers on the floor, costumes have greatly improved and the choreography,
well, what can I say? To see is to believe.

After the final bows, the rhythm will have taken over and your batteries will be charged, till the next time you can see this great show again. Let's just hope the new ROTD video which is in the making will be ready soon............

If you do get to see Rhythm of the Dance, after the show, donít forget to stop by the merchandise counter, where Aisling will usually sit down right after the show, taking time for the fans and signing autographs.
ROTD cast list

Lyrics for Colcannon

Lyrics for Lanigan's Ball

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