Saturday 10 December 2016

Riverdance framed: 20 years, 46 countries, 25m people, 60 marriages - and 80 babies

John McColgan - one of the architects of the Riverdance phenomenon and an enthusiastic amateur photographer - went backstage with his camera to capture the drama of the show from a very personal perspective when it wowed the Marquee in Cork

Published 28/06/2015 | 02:30

Jason O Neil in mid air.
Jason O Neil in mid air.
Pat Mamgan fiddle virtuosa.
Pre show stretching..
Caira Sexton and Bobby Hodges leads and lifetime friends.
Irish leads, Russians and Rocio outside the Marquee Cork. A first for Riverdance.
Leading man and dance captain Brendan Dorris pre show rotations.
Leads acknowledge 3000 people in the marquee.
Emma Warren pre show happy at the marquee. Leading lady..
Back stage elevation. Elevation tour.
Katrina Meske pre show stretch.
Cast selfies with 10 times world dance champion John Lonigan from Cork.
Rocio Moytoya in Firedance

It is 21 years since producer Moya Doherty unveiled Riverdance with Bill Whelan's iconic music as the interval act at the Eurovision Song contest at the Point Theatre in Dublin in April 1994 before a live audience of 4,000 and watched by 300 million television viewers. At its conclusion, the audience, led by then-President Mary Robinson, jumped to their feet in a standing ovation that lasted almost four minutes.

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Less than a year later, in February 1995, Riverdance the Show opened, again at The Point Theatre. It was a nerve-racking occasion: so many hopes and dreams. Would an audience respond to a full two-hour show? Could we capture and recreate the magic of that first Eurovision seven minutes? The audience response was overwhelming. We had a hit and the first runs of the show in Dublin and London sold out.

Within three years we had three companies on tour around the world, each one called after an Irish river. First the Liffey, followed by the Lee company and then the Lagan.

In the past 20 years Riverdance has toured the world many times over, played 46 countries and been seen live by 25 million people.

For the first four years I was constantly on the road. I have stood at the back of darkened theatres around the world with our executive producer Julian Erskine, and the reaction is always the same.

The show transcends cultural barriers. A question constantly asked of me is what is the universal appeal of the show? It is not a simple question to answer but I believe it is the passion, immense skill and commitment of the performers, combined with a great pride in who they are and what they represent, their culture and their country. The audience feel that pride and commitment on an elemental level. And 20 years later, that Grammy award-winning score by Bill Whelan and our talented performers and crew deliver the magic every night. Their mantra: 'Every night is opening night'. Moya, Bill and I are very proud of Riverdance.

The show has evolved and grown over the years. Some of our present-day performers weren't even born when Riverdance started. Our dancers now are fully professional. Their body shapes have changed, they train like the top athletes they are.

They also have a lot of fun, they love what they do and we love them. They refer to themselves as the Riverdance family, a family which has seen over 60 marriages and eighty babies (so far!). Recently I have been taking my hobby, photography, more seriously. Under the mentorship of award-winning photographer Peter Gordon, I have been learning new skills. I have had an exhibition of my work, 'Howth Horizons', at the House Restaurant.

I was then asked to do an access-all-areas photographic coverage of Riverdance at the Marquee in Cork. It was with some trepidation I took on this project as over the years we have had some of the finest photographers in the business take many stunning images of the show.

So, I had to do something different, to capture the mood and the special backstage atmosphere of this company who would be relaxed with me and be themselves.

I hope I have captured something of the special nature of these talented performers.

The five shows at The Marquee in Cork were a sell-out, the weather was great and the craic mighty. In the milestones of great venues and great audiences, the Marquee and the Cork audience would be hard to beat.

Riverdance is at the Gaiety until August 30

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