Lord of the Dance is the most successful dance company in the history of the world. I know this is because their latest show Dangerous Games began by them telling me so.
At curtain up, the audience was subjected to an excruciating trailer on a massive screen, which formed the entire backdrop of the State Theatre. More suited to an Amway convention than a theatrical production, this self-congratulatory twaddle set the scene for an evening with all the subtlety of Las Vegas strip show.
Once we had sat through the (mercifully brief) rhetoric of Olympian proportions (‘We didn’t come this far to finish second’), the verbal puffery evaporated but the massive screen continued to dominate the stage, suffocating the dancers with painfully over-saturated images of – I kid you not – unicorns, waterfalls, butterflies and rainbows, each of them apparently coloured by a child with a newly acquired box of glow-in-the-dark highlighters.
When the mood required the achingly saccharine backdrop (alert: these dancers are goodies) was replaced with thickly villainous forest fires or dark storm clouds (alert: in case you have never seen a little boy at play, this is a baddie).
The overcooked visuals extended to the costumes. Bling was to be expected but the medieval hoods and the split to the waist harem pants were frankly ridiculous. One had to be impressed by the capacity of the men to dance in robot or Stormtrooper costumes but it didn’t make them particularly effective. The women, topped with Barbie doll hairstyles that threatened to overbalance them, were turned into plastic dolls.
Sensory overload was aggravated by too-loud piped music, distorting the pretty Irish tunes.
It was all a great pity because somewhere in there – if only you could find them – were some extremely talented dancers. Michael Flatley turned traditional Irish dancing into spectacle on the back of genuine skill and the footwork that made him famous as Lord of the Dance has been passed onto his troupe. They perform with military discipline and astounding speed. If you can block out the staging and concentrate solely on the feet, it really is worth watching.
Flatley himself is creator, choreographer and artistic director but he has ceded the role of Lord of the Dance to young bucks. Opening night’s Lord, Morgan Comer, has the requisite matinee idol looks and nonchalant charm to top off his amazing footwork but I did tire of him revving the audience up like a high school cheerleader.
We get to see Flatley perform on the big screen and that is the one occasion in the show when it is used well – a clever and amusing triptych which celebrates the master in a brilliant piece of choreographic editing – with nary a unicorn in sight.
Despite – or perhaps because of – the plastic smiles that appeared to have become permanently fixed on every one of the 30 dancers, the evening failed to capture the spirit and lightness of what should be a joyous folk art form. The dancers stepped and tapped impressively, duelling violinists bowed apace and soloists belted out their numbers but there was no emotional range or heart beneath the gymnastics.
Lord of the Dance is a well-known package and lovers of the spectacle will need no encouragement to see it. Those who wonder what they are missing out on need not worry.
Rating: 2 stars out of 5
Lord of the Dance
Arts Centre Melbourne 1 – 4 October
Canberra Theatre 6- 11 October
Concert Hall, QPAC 13 – 16 October
Jupiters Hotel Gold Coast, 17 – 18 October
Capitol Sydney 20-25 October