Concert Reviews

RIVERDANCE RECAP (Playhouse Square; 03.03.23)

Riverdance’s initial performance, Timedance premiered in 1994 during an interval at the Eurovision Song Contest at Point Theatre in Dublin. Irish step dancing and Celtic music influenced the creation of “Riverdance” which is currently celebrating its 25th Anniversary. The once seven-minute performance has been transformed into a two-hour multi-dimensional theatrical show.

“Riverdance: The Show” was produced by husband-and-wife team, Moya Doherty and John McColgan along with composer Bill Whelan. The show initially starred the legendary Michael Flatley and Jean Butler and consisted of several members of the original Eurovision dance troupe. Flatley even choreographed several of the dance numbers that are still used today!

The “25th Anniversary Riverdance Show” that recently stopped in Cleveland featured Male Irish Dance Principle: a Cleveland native, Brandon Asazawa. He performed many of the numbers choreographed by Flatley. Asazawa has said that performing Irish dancing for his family and friends fulfills his childhood dreams. Being part of Riverdance has allowed him to travel all over the world. He said, “Cleveland will always be home to me.”

The performer, who is also a Cleveland Cavs fan, said. “I tell everyone I meet on the tour that I’m from Cleveland; it’s become something that defines who I am.” {See CleveRock’s interview for an in-depth conversation with Asawaza).

Anyone who has seen the show likely had preconceived notions of what was ahead, but this show was anything but predictable!

The Riverdance stage was impressive in design. Smoke appeared within various parts of the stage both across the floor and from select portions from above and was well integrated with the lighting.

The lighting was choreographed perfectly with the dancers, with both front and backlit blends to create a 3D effect. The rear of the stage was a large flat screen that showed scenery and videos from beautiful locations in both Ireland and the United States as the story unfolded.

The sound system was crystal clear and, of course, the music was amazing. Every instrument was clear, and the musicians were not only excellent, but they also joined in some of the dance routines. Haley Richardson (described as a virtuosic musician) played several solos as she danced across the stage. Musical director Mark Alfred, who studied at the Royal Irish Academy of Performing Arts College, doubled as a percussionist in the performance. He was the heart of the rhythm that everyone performed to. He also performed a solo, an impeccably timed drum act.

The costumes were designed with beautiful fabrics of jewel tones still simple enough for the dancers to perform with precision movements. The troupe danced individually and yet moved as one with their rhythmic step timing.; transforming and incorporating their traditional Irish dancing into mesmerizing footwork (that one wouldn’t think was physically possible) and gravity-defying jumps.


“Reel Around the Sun” began with a backdrop of some of the Troupe. They began with slow movements and then the footsteps became more demanding but their body movements were rhythmic. The audience was immediately captivated by their footwork and the various drumming sounds they made.

“The Heart’s Cry” introduced the Riverdance Singers. This Celtic song began with a delicate soprano solo that was beyond beautiful. The song was supported beautifully by the harmonic choir. The emotion could be felt in the song, even by those unfamiliar with the lyrics.

“The Countess Cathleen” featured Irish Dance Principal Maggie Darlington, as well as the Troupe and Folk Dance Troupe.

Darlington began dancing with the Claddaugh School of Irish Dance in California and won four North American Championships among many others competitions. Her performance was very energetic and she truly leads the troupe with her commanding presence and gracefulness.

“The Thunderstorm” showcased the brilliant talents of Asazawa. The audience cheered with excitement as he entered the stage. He has many family, fans, and followers in the Cleveland area, and they all enjoyed cheering him on throughout the show. His performance was strong and powerful; yet light, quick, and graceful. Asawaza can leap with ease and yet land with precision as his feet are already moving with purpose.

“Trading Taps” was another delightful element of the show. Lamont Brown and Dharmesh Pate depicted the American tappers. The dance was a competitive but humorous call and response of the American Vs Irish tap dance. Each team showcased its best footwork and challenged the other to top it if they could. Their mutual love of tapping was integral to socializing in their new world.

“The Russian Dervish” demonstrated quick, endless pirouettes and high turning leaps with quicker movements as the music tempo increased in the typical Russian style. It was quite impressive.

“The Finale” was greatly anticipated. The stage was set with musicians and percussion while each troupe performed a short vignette as well as the solo dancers and Principal Dancers. The Company performed in step in a final dance that was an energetic display of movement, loud precise footwork, dramatic lighting, and Irish music.

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