It was twenty-five years ago that a seven-minute interval act at the Eurovision Song Contest captured the imagination of the world and made Irish dancing a contemporary sensation. A quarter of a century later and Riverdance remains as popular as ever, and the producers bring Heartbeat of Home back to London, and the Piccadilly Theatre.
Over the last two decades, Ireland has become a far more modern and international country, and this idea shines through in what director, John McColgan, calls a ‘Dream Voyage’. But while this show takes us across the globe, it always reminds us of its origins, and the all-important sense of rhythm that keeps us close to our roots.
It begins where Riverdance began all those years ago, the sound of those iconic steps ricocheting around the auditorium. For the audience it feels so familiar, but we cannot begin imagine the new territory that Heartbeat of Home will take us to.
The performance is infused with international and multi-cultural choreography, from African beats to Spanish and Latin American, these global traditional styles of dance sit side by side on this London stage. It may feel initially surprising to see flamenco combined with Irish dancing, but the two blend exquisitely and with intense passion, when presented in this way we see how the styles complement and bounce off one another.
Both acts are comprised of smaller scenes, each contributing to a wider narrative of looking outward and beyond, a sense of finding your place in the world prevalent throughout. The entire production is set to a blistering score by Brian Byrne which is energetic and haunting at each end of its scale, and sometimes accompanied by vocalist Lauren Azania, bringing a more musical theatre feel to Heartbeat of Home.
There are moments which engage the audience in a more light-hearted way, a fun bodhrán solo develops in to a full-blown drum/dance battle with one of the principals. The band do a magnificent job of creating a vibrant atmosphere, while one of the highlights has to be Cathal Croke on the uilleann pipes.
With the backdrop of an LCD screen, David Torpey’s animations remain fairly static and scenic in the first act, highlighting the theme of dreams, with the mesmerising Tempest scene the exception. In the second act they spring vibrantly to life, taking us high in to the New York skyline to recreate a famous photograph (also one of the best dance scenes) before taking us deep in to the streets of Argentina, where flamboyant dance with hip hop influences, lead us to an electrifying finale.
John Carey and David Bolger are responsible for the bulk of the choreography, and it tests the ensemble dancers to their limits, but the final effect is stunning. The company is comprised of a mixture of Irish and international dancers, furthering the multi-cultural motif. While the whole company are faultless, Bobby Hodges stands out as an accomplished principal dancer in a magnetic performance.
Heartbeat of Home is an incredibly enjoyable two hours, firstly for the kind of Irish dancing we’ve come to expect from Riverdance, and secondly for the way that has been fused with international dance, and all set to a captivating score. Wherever home might be for you, this show leads you on a journey through different times and cultures, only to remind you where it all began in the first place.