Irish Dance Invasion at the Celtic Cafe

November 1, 2003 marks the premiere of an exciting new Irish dance show:

Irish Dance Invasion

Stephen Scariff, the "Lord of the Dance" who amazed audiences all over the globe with his magnificent dancing and stage presence, and whose style has been described as very similar to Michael Flatley's, has launched his own show, Irish Dance Invasion. The show was choreographed by himself and by Ronan Morgan, featuring music by Máiréad Nesbitt, also well-known from her appearances in Lord of the Dance and Feet of Flames, and Hungary's Composer of the Year for 2002, Tibor Kasza, with stage direction by the internationally acclaimed director Robert Alfoldi.

The show's creators have performed in the show capitals of the world such as Las Vegas, New York's Broadway and London's West End, in prestigous venues such as Theatre Royal Drury Lane, Royal Albert Hall, Radio City Music Hall and Moscow's Kremlin Palace.

Described as the "renaissance" of Irish dance, Irish Dance Invasion premieres on the 1st of November, in the Thalia Theatre in beautiful Budapest, Hungary. The tickets for the show were sold out in a day-and-a-half, which set a new box office record! To cope with the demand, there have been extra performances added on the 2nd of November, the 16th of November, and two on the 26th of December, matinee and evening. The show, produced by Stronan, Ltd., will tour with dates in Dublin just before Christmas, at the Gaiety Theatre, and there will be upcoming performances in Austria, Asia and the U.S.

Mairead Nesbitt will be performing with the show, delighting her legion of fans everywhere. We will be adding to this feature about Irish Dance Invasion over the coming weeks, including photos taken at the premiere, so please check back. In the meantime, thanks to Linda Brongers of the Netherlands, we have an interview with Stephen Scariff:

• • •

Where were you born, and where did you grow up?

I was born and raised in Galway and lived there until the age of fifteen when I joined Lord of the Dance.

Why did you take up Irish dance? Which teacher most influenced your style of dancing?

When I saw that my younger brother was travelling to competitions all over the world, I decided that this was too good to miss out on; so I started at the age of 11 with my aunt Mairead O'Flaherty. I have to thank Mairead for allowing me to develop my own style rather than forcing a style on me. Now that I teach myself, I realise the wisdom behind this method of teaching.

Did you enter many of the competitions?

My competition life was relatively short, as I was a late starter and left for the professional stage at 15. In the four years that I did compete I managed to obtain 1st place in the Connaughts and also the British Nationals, 2nd place in the All Irelands and 3rd in the World Championships.

Which dancer would you call your biggest influence - your role model, so to say?

To be honest, I don't have any one role model. I think I am influenced by all types and styles of dance, and as dance is ever-changing it is hard to limit my answer to just one form or any one individual.

You shared the stage with Michael Flatley in Feet of Flames, and with Colin Dunne and Jean Butler in Dancing on Dangerous Ground. What was it like to dance with them?

I feel privileged to have danced on stage with the biggest stars in the Irish dancing world. Although their styles vary greatly, I have a huge respect for what they have done for Irish dancing and the direction they have taken the dance in.

How did you get into the shows? Did you audition?

I auditioned for Lord of the Dance in 1998, which became the first show I performed in. In 1999 I heard of Jean Butler and Colin Dunne's production Dancing On Dangerous Ground, and after hearing about their plans to take Irish dancing in a totally new direction, I felt that I would like to be a part of the production.

Could you tell us the reasons for leaving Lord of the Dance?

I felt that having danced in the chorus for one year and as lead for two years, I had accomplished everything I could within the company. I really enjoyed my time with the show and feel that I have benefited greatly by sharing the stage with such talented people.

What are your best memories of DODG and LOTD?

My best memory of Dancing on the Dangerous Ground was performing in Radio City Music Hall in New York. It was one of the highlights of my career to perform on such a famous and prestigious stage to an audience who were enraptured with the show from the opening number to the closing curtain. My favourite memory of Lord of the Dance is the first time I played the role of the Lord to 12,000 adoring fans in Paris.

The Feet of Flames world tour was a heavy programme with a lot of performances. What was it like for the dancers?

It was quite exhausting. We had a performance nearly every night, but fortunately we spent several days in each city the show performed in which gave us a chance to catch up on our washing! We performed in front of huge, excited audiences (Budapest being the largest) throughout Europe and later America which helped to keep us on top form.

After you left the shows, you opened a dance school in Budapest. Why Budapest? Were you the first to teach Irish dance there?

I didn't actually open the school in Budapest. Ronan [Morgan] and his wife opened the school in 2000 after the closing of Dangerous Ground. After every tour I returned to Budapest to relax and to recharge my batteries before the next leg. I also gave classes from time to time to relieve Ronan. Ronan was the first person to open an Irish dance school in Hungary, although there were and still are many groups and classes held in the country by enthusiasts.

What do you think of Budapest? Joel Hanna, your colleague in DODG, described this city as an "incredibly charming and stylish city that celebrates its history in an amazing way."

Budapest is one of if not the most beautiful city I have ever visited. I would never have discovered the true potential and beauty of the city if it were not for Ronan and his wife Aliz, who have helped me make it my home.

Are the Hungarians very interested in Irish dance?

I have never experienced anything like the enthusiasm Hungarians have for Irish dancing. For the students to have reached the level that they have in such a short space of time is a credit to their dedication, perseverance and hard work.

You and Ronan Morgan have known each other for some time, both having danced in LOTD and DODG. Had you discussed the idea for a show together before? Who came up with the idea for your new show, Irish Dance Invasion, and when?

Ronan approached me with the idea in September of 2001. Although I was interested in the idea, I knew it would take a lot of planning. Neither of us could afford to invest the time and energy we knew it would take to create the show because of our heavy schedules. It had to wait until last year, when I left the show [LOTD] to devote myself solely to this project and turn the idea into a reality.

You knew Máiréad Nesbitt well from your Lord of the Dance days. She has been very busy after leaving the show, mainly focussing on her musical career. How did Máiréad get involved in your new show?

I think it's fair to say that when Ronan and I heard Máiréad's first solo album, "Raining Up", we knew we somehow had to get her to work on the production! Máiréad's background in classical music as well as traditional Irish music gives her music a depth that can be equalled by very few musicians/composers. After discussing our plans and ideas for the show with Máiréad she quickly became as excited as we were and composed the show's first two numbers in just three days!

Will the new show have live music?

The show will feature a certain amount of live music but will not have a live band positioned on stage throughout the show. The score features traditional and classical violin, flute, saxophone, electric lead and bass guitar, percussion, didgeridu, Indian strings and of course keyboards. As you can see, we have a wide variety of instruments which lead to a rich and varied score.

Is Máiréad going to be playing fiddle herself in the show?

Yes, we are delighted to announce that Máiréad will indeed tour with the show. As you all know, Máiréad is extremely busy promoting her new solo album, but she will grace our stage with her presence all the same so audiences can look forward to seeing her soon.

Could you tell us some more about Tibor Kasza, the Hungarian composer who teamed up with Máiréad for the score of the show?

Tibor has been a huge fan of Irish music for the last number of years. Before working on this project Tibor had already worked on several Irish music productions which impressed us enough to invite him to work on Irish Dance Invasion. As well as being Composer of the Year 2002 here in Hungary, Tibor also sings, writes and composes for the famous European pop group Crystal. Their first two multi-platinum albums contained six number one hits. I think it's fair to say you'll be as impressed as we are with this man's talent.

The score of the show is described as "modern and daring." What would you say makes it so?

Tibor Kasza has a background in many styles of music, as already mentioned. He has his finger on the pulse of modern pop music, and combined with Máiréad's knowledge of classical and traditional music we feel they have produced a style of music never before heard in any Irish dance show. By working in unison, the composers are not limited or restricted to a fixed formula. This has led to them producing some wonderful music for the show.

Please tell us about the show's director, Robert Alfoldi.

Irish Dance Invasion was invited to perform two pieces at the newly opened National Concert Hall in Budapest several months ago. This event was directed by Robert Alfoldi. It was the first time Mr. Alfoldi had seen a performance of this type and he was immediately interested in the show.

In the past Mr. Alfoldi has directed many Shakespearian productions, offering the public a modern interpretation of classics such as Macbeth, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Hamlet, The Tempest and The Taming of the Shrew. He has also directed Bandits and Jeanne d'Arc by Schiller, Cabaret and most recently the opera Faust by Gounot, among many others. As a much sought-after director he will travel to the Czech Republic, France and in the United States within the next year to direct various productions.

Does your new show have a theme or storyline that you can tell us about?

Irish Dance Invasion will portray modern times. We avoid reference to Irish legend and mythology, as we wanted to do a modern story which reflects our day and age. We don't want to give too much away regarding the story, but the theme will be one that affects everybody at some stage in their lives either directly or indirectly.

How large is the company - how many dancers?

We are fortunate to have twelve talented dancers here in Budapest at the moment. They will be complemented by a further eight dancers for the tour. We will hold auditions in the late summer for these positions and promise to keep you all informed on the dates and venues for these auditions. We will be a company of approximately 25 including the dancers, musicians and vocalist.

Where do your dancers come from? Are they all from the Budapest school?

Our current dancers come from Ireland, Hungary and Taiwan. This of course will be more varied once the company is up to full capacity.

What will the show bring us? What can we expect?

It's better to come to the show without fixed expectations. It is not the type of show that can be compared to what has come before.

With Irish Dance Invasion we didn't just choreograph another Irish dance show. We worked with the dance and spent months of planning ways in which we could improve the dance itself to make it a lot more expressive and interesting for the audience.

I will not say any more; you will have to wait and see for yourselves!

Was there anything you missed in the other shows you performed in, that you have now brought into Irish Dance Invasion?

I think that you bring your own personality into your choreography, something that is not possible to do within the confines of someone else's show. There is always some leeway given to dancers in the shows, but never complete freedom.

Dance is such a strong form of expression that we find great satisfaction in producing what comes from deep within ourselves. It is a constant challenge to see how we, as individuals or as a group, can push ourselves with a theme or emotion that we wish to express.

It is also very exciting to know that the audience has reacted in the exact way we intended with the feel of a particular dance. We certainly felt this recently when we gave the first taste of the [new] show to a Hungarian audience. We performed at the Budapest Congress Centre to an audience of 2000 people, and neither Ronan nor I have ever experienced an audience reaction like it.

Will you be dancing the lead?

Yes, I will be dancing one of the lead roles, and Ronan Morgan will be performing the other male lead.

What made you decide to return to the stage after having left last year?

I left Lord of the Dance in November of 2002. Both Ronan and I decided that this was the perfect time to start working on the [new] show. Although I initially left LOTD looking to concentrate on something different for a while, I knew I would not be away from the stage for too long, as I love performing far too much to ever give it up entirely.

This show means I will be returning to the stage sooner rather than later. I really enjoyed being part of the two companies I have worked with, but feel it will be more satisfying to return to the stage with something I have helped create myself.

Are you looking forward to going to be back on tour after more or less settling in Budapest? What do you like most about touring?

Touring is an essential and accepted part of most stage productions. It can be tiring at times, but it also gives you a chance to visit places that you would never even think of visiting. I never imagined that I would visit central or Eastern Europe, and now I realise what I would have missed out on if it were not for touring.

I can't wait to get on the road with Irish Dance Invasion and I think that goes for all of the company. I feel it will be a time of great excitement for the cast members as they will finally get to show the world what they can do and what they have been training all this time for.

What I like most about touring is seeing how people in different countries and continents live, experiencing their culture and especially their cuisine! Life is much more rewarding and fuller thanks to these opportunities.

When you're on tour, how does it feel to be approached afterwards by fans of the shows?

I'm always amazed at how positive and happy people are after watching the shows. It's a great feeling to know that your performance has touched them so deeply. Sometimes I can hardly believe it when I see so many people standing outside in all types of weather just to show their appreciation for our performances. I don't think there is anything as satisfying as making people smile or happy.

It hasn't been that long since you first entered the world of Irish dance shows. Now you can offer others the opportunity to enter this world too. What advice can you give dancers who want to get on stage?

The show world is wonderfully fulfilling and brings many rewards. It requires a huge sacrifice physically and on a personal basis, as it takes you away from family and friends for long periods at a time. It should be entered with all these things in mind. Finding a healthy balance is the most important thing regarding life in a show.

I would recommend this life to anyone interested in it, as it is a huge challenge and that's what life is all about! Work hard and develop your dancing continuously. Dance is moving all the time in different directions so you should never feel that you have cracked it and begin to relax. Take in different forms of dance where possible and acting/drama classes can also be of great benefit to dancers interested in performing on stage.

Living and working in Budapest as you do, do you think there is a distinctive Eastern European influence in your work?

I don't think I have ever listened to a piece of music or watched a dance choreography without being flooded with ideas for a new piece of my own. What you see in the show is not just a three-minute drawing which starts with a circle and finishes with a square. It is a fusion of ideas from Ronan and I - ideas which have come from more or less everything we have witnessed, lived and experienced so far in life.

Dances are a combination of imagination and dreams, and we are sure that some of the dances in the show will have been influenced by our living here in Hungary and will therefore have a different flavour to them!

Hopefully we can all see Irish Dance Invasion soon. Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions, and we hope to see you soon!!

It was my pleasure.

• • •

To contact Irish Dance Invasion, click here.

Interview: Linda Brongers
Editing: Louise Owen
Feature: Bernadette Price
Original Web Design: Alexander Servas

Stephen Scariff
Ronan Morgan
Photo by Colm Henry



© 2003 by