Tiger Ready to Roar
Years of speculation and months of secrecy have
finally ended with the announcement in late April of the title, theme, and opening
date and location of Michael Flatley's new Irish dance show, which will formally
open on July 12th, 2005, in the Strahov Stadion in Prague in the Czech Republic.
But for the legions of patient and dedicated fans, the long wait ends when the
show previews on July 9th at the Puskás Stadion in Budapest, Hungary.
is, of course, the scene of one of Michael's greatest stage triumphs to date,
the extraordinary performance on Wednesday, 19th July 2000 during the European
tour of Feet of Flames. Celtic Tiger will preview at the same venue, a vast sports
arena whose 69,000-seat grandstand will again be augmented with additional seats
in the field. Then called the Népstadion (People's Stadium), it was renamed
in 2002 for Hungary's greatest football star, Puskás Ferenc. Located on
the Pest side of the Danube (the eastern half of Budapest), the Puskás
Stadion is the largest performance venue in Hungary and one of the largest in
Michael's renown in Hungary began when he not only brought
his tour to Budapest in 2000, the first staging of any Irish dance show in Eastern
Europe, but filled the stadium for a sold-out show with only three weeks' advance
notice. The enthusiastic crowd, given as 100,000 people, was the largest audience
ever assembled for a live dance performance. Selected numbers from the performance
were included in the Gold video, the only commercial footage released to date
from this historic tour.
In the Irish dance universe, Budapest has gone
from a frontier outpost to a thriving centre of the Irish cultural renaissance.
Stephen Scariff, who danced the role of the Dark Lord opposite Michael in the
2000-01 Feet of Flames tours, subsequently settled in Budapest and, with Ronan
Morgan, opened its first Irish dance school. His own Irish dance stage show, Irish
Dance Invasion, was mounted in 2003 with a cast that included Hungarian as well
as Irish dancers. "I have never experienced anything like the enthusiasm
Hungarians have for Irish dancing," he declared at the time. His students
captured 51 first place trophies in the European Irish Dancing Championships in
Frankfurt last December.
Since then, the Celtic glamour has continued to
spread as vigourously east of the Danube as everywhere else in the world. Budapest
boasts numerous Irish pubs, plenty of Irish beer and a thriving Celtic musical
scene, while as far afield as Moscow, Igor Denisov founded Russia's first Irish
dance school, Iridan, in 2000. His immediate inspiration, again, was Michael -
like his first students, he had initially taught himself to dance by watching
videos of Michael's shows, and the students entranced the master during personal
visits in 2002 and 2003. With the new show, the flowers on these distant branches
return in triumph to the original roots: the cast of Celtic Tiger reputedly includes
dancers from Moscow and China, as well as none other than the Hungarian dancer
Zoltán Papp, well-known to Celtic Café devotees for his magnificent
work in Dance of Desire.
Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright
see the Celtic Tiger . . . the true spirit of the people themselves. And how many
times they've overcome adversity and came back from defeat."
the show's long and secretive development, Michael remained reticent about the
specific theme and storyline of the show, offering only hints. "This new
show will be totally different to anything that's out there now - and that's not
just talk, it has to be different, hugely different, to compete." (This from
the man who has always approached competition with the straightforward strategy
of winning by simply being better than anyone else out there.) "This will
be something I think will make many older people in Ireland very proud. . . .
It's something I've always wanted to do, something I need to do."
made it clear from the outset that the absolute commitment to perfection remains
undiminished. "We set the bar high with Riverdance and Lord of the Dance,
but I believe I can push the bar higher, and that's what this is about."
The show was described from the outset as "controversial in both the subject
matter and the dance moves . . . It will take [the audience] on a journey like
none other they've experienced."
With a few details finally released
in the Hungarian press, it appears the journey is that of the Irish struggle.
"The story really chronicles the journey of the Celts . . . it takes you
from the arrival of Christianity, through the Norman invasion . . . the Vikings,
coming back from the destruction that was caused; the Famine in 1840, and the
British occupation; and then the struggle for independence. And finally having
to leave and go to the New World, which was America, and starting at the very
bottom. All the signs said 'No Irish Wanted'. Everywhere. And they had to rise
to become the John F. Kennedys of America. So again they came from nothing."
phrase "Celtic Tiger" is highly evocative. In the early 1990s, the economic
vitality of five Asian countries had earned them the nickname "The Five Tigers";
shortly afterwards, Ireland entered a period of vigourous economic growth and
energetic development, and was soon dubbed the "Emerald Tiger" or the
"Celtic Tiger". A new sense of optimism and pride flourished, as Irish
business, sports and culture all moved into global prominence. For generations,
many of Ireland's best and brightest had emigrated to other countries in search
of opportunity: now emigrés began to return home. And in 1994, Ireland
hosted the Eurovision Song Contest (and won for the third time in a row), and
an expatriate son brought an overlooked traditional Irish art form into a sudden
and unparalleled world spotlight.
"We are Ireland in the eyes of those
audiences. From Beijing to Berlin to Moscow to Melbourne, we are the only Ireland
that many of them may ever see or experience. I wouldn't undertake this if I felt
I couldn't uphold that - it's my job, it's my duty, but more than that, it's my
In the Forest of the Night
of Irish show dancing took Michael some 25 years to develop and seven minutes
to sell to the world in 1994. Lord of the Dance, by Michael's own account, was
conceived in detail in one long sleepless night, becoming a reality after six
hours of visualisation and six weeks of realisation. Economic constraints forced
the show into the cheapest available rehearsal studio and out onto the public
stage in the shortest possible time. Not only did the show remain a work in progress
for months, but one of its enduring strengths after thousands of performances
lies in its constant state of evolution, as sets and costumes change, performers
rotate in and out of roles bringing different nuances of interpretation, and numbers
are revised or re-thought. Riverdance passed through a similar process of evolution,
although it settled into a final form within its first two years.
Celtic Tiger has been given a very long time indeed to develop out of the public
eye - a process somewhat reminiscent of Michael's literary idol, James Joyce,
whose final novel, Finnegan's Wake, was simply referred to as "Work In Progress"
for over 15 years while Joyce dared his friends and associates to guess what the
actual title of the finished work would be. The show has been given a rare opportunity,
time to develop and refine the work before it ever appears before a world audience
that will inevitably be sharply divided between a small body of critical and cynical
reviewers, unmoved by the enthusiasm of the rest of the audience.
were thicker than usual in the air in early May 2004, hard on the heels of the
Riverdance 10th anniversary party Michael hosted at the Hairy Lemon pub in Dublin.
The official announcement came in July of the same year, when he gathered a picked
group of dancers and returned to the SFX City Theatre in Dublin, the same theatre
where Lord of the Dance rehearsals were held when that show was in development.
The suits were discarded for sweats, and even the fragile, much-taped 'lucky shoes'
were removed from their glass museum case amongst Michael's trophies: "I'm
going in there right now. I'm going back to where it all started, with this old
pair of shoes that are like Jimi Hendrix's Stratocaster; they make a sound no
other shoes can make."
Although auditions for the show's cast were
held in London in August, and additional performers were later drawn from as far
afield as Moscow and China, the best of Michael's world champions were assembled
in Dublin in the summer of 2004 for the developmental stage - returning to their
troupes later, under strict written pledges of secrecy. No announcement has been
made of the final cast, and it is not known whether the opening curtain will reveal
other familiar faces besides Michael's.
Some familiar names and faces have
been seen, however: brief rehearsal clips shown on Hungarian television reveal
Marie Duffy putting member of the new troupe through their paces with the same
unrelenting energy and focus, to the sound of new musical numbers that promise
to be as memorable as before - Ronan Hardiman's genius likewise remains undimmed.
Most of all, Michael will return to his place in centre stage, both dancing and
playing flute (although presumably not at the same time). As the show enters its
final phase of rehearsals, glimpses backstage discover Michael performing new
moves with all his old mastery.
What Immortal Hand or Eye
is not about me missing the limelight - I get enough of that doing everything
else; this is not about the money - God knows I have enough; and this is not about
the ego - despite what people might say."
Of course, Michael retired
from dancing permanently on 29 July 2001, at the end of a tour that, with only
21 performances, still ranked amongst the top 10 in box-office gross in the USA
that year. He was done with performing; he wanted to go out at the top of his
game, he said. He had a host of other plans, projects, interests and responsibilities:
business deals, creative projects, burgeoning philanthropic interests, the rehabilitation
of Castlehyde. The leather costumes and spotlights would be left behind for a
leather-upholstered chair and three-piece tailored suits.
Did anyone really
believe that he was done? Did he believe it himself? This was the indefatigable
showman who had transformed an overlooked traditional art form, launched an entire
new branch of the entertainment industry, and founded a vibrant new genre of dance
theatre. At the same time, the total body of his life's work remained relatively
small, while his imagination seemed unflagging.
Through the intervening
years, amidst an ongoing game of conceptual cat-and-mouse with the tabloids, came
tantalising glimpses of a continuing ferment of ideas for new shows. Michael's
physical comeback was covered in detail by the UK press, as he freely shared the
particulars of his exercise programme, his diet, his weight, and his workout schedule,
dodging details of the reasons for his hard work while freely admitting to the
cost. "I have been training full time for the past few months," he told
Ireland on Sunday in May of 2004, "so you make up your own mind as to why
I'm working so hard." He accepted again the bargain of his touring days,
trading off physical pain ("a lot of pain") for the ability to continue
with the dancing that has always been his passion. "Man, was it hard to kick
above my head again, but . . . muscle memory is a great thing."
he was physically exhausted by the end of that "final" tour in 2001,
Michael had not suffered any of the devastating and permanently crippling injuries
whose spectres haunt the career of every professional dancer. As for his age -
at the time of his global breakthrough, he was already defying time and entropy
as well as gravity. The accumulated years of rehearsal and performance have brought
a depth and sophistication to his work that younger dancers can aspire to but
cannot successfully duplicate.
Michael had described the 2001 tour, particularly
the performance at Madison Square Gardens in New York City, as an unsurpassable
triumph, a true peak from which it seemed impossible to go anywhere but down.
But Michael's career has been an ongoing exercise in first insisting that nothing
is impossible, and then demonstrating it. "I always promised myself I would
go out on top," - but he seems determined to continue to top himself.
is a funny word for people like me," he told the Irish Independent in September
of 2004. "I think my feet are faster than they ever were. Once I'm back there
on the boards, I can feel that firepower."
On Hungarian TV, he talks
enthusiastically about the show and the dancers, and glows with excitement at
the prospect of dancing again. In Budapest and elsewhere in Europe, the excitement
is growing; after his 2000 performance, Michael promised to return, and now against
the odds the promise will be kept. He loves the city, and the stage; he has a
show to present and a story to tell. The audience is gathering: the fans who have
waited through the years, hoping for the opportunity to see him dance live again,
augmented by a new generation who have seen only videos. Beyond the preview in
Budapest and the official European premiere in Prague, no formal dates have been
announced yet, although fans on every continent are hoping for a tour that will
bring him to where they will be able to see him dance one more time. They have
never stopped watching for him, waiting in hopes of his return, patiently willing
to be less than entirely convinced that he was really retired for good.
came out of a bar in Ireland," he told an interviewer late in December of
2001. "It was a magnificent night, the sky white with stars . . . I danced,
with no music, until I dropped. I felt like a million dollars, but was crying
at the end . . . Just missing it. Just missing everything about it. The dancers.
"I would like to think I will perform again."
of copy and paste of Louise' incredibly terrific write-up!)
here to read the full text of the press release for Celtic Tiger from Unicorn
UK Independent, 17 December, 2001.
Sunday World, 22 September 2002.
Ireland on Sunday, 2 May 2004.
on Sunday, 30 May 2004.
UK Daily Mail, 12 July 2004.
25 September 2004.
(Note from Bernadette: I'll
work on the link for the full text of the release, format etc. This is just a
quick copy and paste of Louise's brilliant work.)
Also, I need to get in
Daniel's links for Budapest, Celtic.hu, etc.
following from the original press release... can be deleted or reworked.)
FLATLEY'S CELTIC TIGER
9th July 2005
European preview of Michael Flatley's new show, Celtic Tiger, will be staged on
July 9th 2005 at The Nèpstadion in Budapest.
Celtic Tiger is Michael
Flatley's powerful new dance production which fuses the spirit of Ireland with
the dramatic use of dance and music. In his new masterpiece Michael Flatley pushes
the boundaries to advance Irish Dance as a dynamic art form.
Tiger portrays the oppression of a people and the tiger symbolizes the awakening
of their Spirit and their struggle for freedom." Michael Flatley said.
Tiger is my finest work to date. Budapest is one of my favourite cities in the
world and I can think of no greater place to preview my new show."
are available from now on Ticket Express national network.
for the European Premier in Prague go on sale on Monday, 2nd May.
Original Web Design: Alexander