It was not the most intuitive hit of a road show, traditional Irish folk dancing, both classical and tweaked into modernity, married to the slightest wisp of an overbaked melodrama based in Irish folk culture. Yet in the hands and flying feet of Michael Flatley, LORD OF THE DANCE sold out performance after performance in major venues in city after city worldwide to the tune of over a billion dollars. Flatley, a man of enormous energy and ambition, conjured it all. Possessing a sense of showmanship with instincts that rarely fail him, the show became a grandiose spectacle of archetypes played out at a fever pitch of both dancing and emotion. What could have easily sunk to embarrassing levels of cheap sentimentality became a revue that is nothing less than thrilling.
The film version celebrates the show’s return to its home base of Dublin, though some clips are of performances in Berlin and London filling out the performance. It eschews taking the audience behind the scenes; a handful of glimpses of rehearsals are all that are given during the film. Still shots over the closing credits are all that Flatley wants to share of how he directs his troupe. He probably doesn’t want to spoil any of the magic by showing how it is made and no on should feel slighted with that decision. Aside from Flatley’s explanation of why the Dublin show is important to him, and a precis of the major undertaking staging the performance is--12 flatbed trucks carrying a state-of-the-art sound and light show, eight hours to set it up, four to break it down--the running time is the show itself, filmed superbly to convey the energy seeing it live. Plus there is the advantage of 21 different camera angles, and being able home in on the footwork that is almost too fast for the eye to see, and the dramatic force of facials expressions with which the dancers amplify their performances.
Much has been written about the technical excellence of the dancing. Suffice to add that the troupe makes it look as effortless as it undoubtedly is not. Flatley himself, a construction worker turned award-winning dancer, seems to be using gravity as a catalyst rather than an impediment to his ebullience. His is a carefree buoyancy, gracefully precise, emotionally charged. When he says before taking the stage that he can’t wait for the performance to start, every move he makes subsequently bespeaks the pure joy he finds in the sheer physicality of movement. Yet this is dance suffused with testosterone in a show that is both ethereal and earthy. Belly buttons will be bared, and a sequined temptress will wreak havoc with a serious sensuality. The pair of blond bombshell fiddlers in mini-spandex don’t really fit into any of the tropes, but they are lovely to look at and infectiously happy to be there.
The through story involves fairies, demons and the fairer sex as both madonna and whore. A jester slathered in sequins pipes upon a flute and all manner of dancers appear, some that do him no good. Enter Flatley to set he world aright again. Never mind. None of it matters beyond giving him and his troupe an excuse to dance beautifully and for Flatley himself to play the hero. The original music by Ronin Hardiman evokes traditional Irish airs, sweet refrains and sultry tropes build into rhythmically complex permutations, rising to a maened frenzy with the dancers spectacularly matching the beats step for step. The light show enhances the energy, with one drawback. The static lights shining from the backdrop flash a little too insistently straight into the retina.
LORD OF THE DANCE 3D is pure exhilaration. Fans of Irish dancing, or of dance in general, won’t be the only ones swept away by this film.