You may hear lively sounds echoing from the Cork Opera House this week: the Rhythm of the Dance troupe, with director/ producer Kieran Cavanagh, choreographer Doireann Carney, and composer Carl Hession are rehearsing for their new show, which kicks off its international tour on Sunday. From Cork, they will journey across the UK and Europe, as far as Russia.
The ravenous worldwide appetite for Irish dance and music is not abating. Since Riverdance amazed the Eurovision audience in 1994, a demand was born. Rhythm of the Dance, now in its 15th year, has performed to 5m people and is booked wherever it goes.
“It was a complete accident that I started it,” says Cavanagh. “I was asked by the head of music at RTÉ to put together a dance troupe to work with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra, for a tour back in 1998. That was such a success that the agency which handled us in the States asked if we could bring back the troupe for another tour. I put together 20 dancers and a band, and off we went. Rhythm of the Dance was born from that. It was a happy accident that worked.”
Cavanagh’s international experience made it more of a certainty. A man who headed off to America at the age of 28 and refused to return until he had booked Johnny Cash to play in Ireland knows what he’s doing. Rhythm of the Dance, a colourful epic, relives the history of the Irish Celts and marries contemporary and ancient, preserving the traditional, while utilising modern formats.
Hession, one of traditional Irish music’s finest accompanists, composers and arrangers, has written pieces for the new show, which will premiere on Sunday night. Aficionados will already know Hession’s albums, The Galway Suite, Echoes of Ireland, and Ceol Inné Ceol Inniu.
“We went very much for the traditional, with dancers, musicians, singing, very purist. We always had elements of sean nos. My vision was to keep it traditional, keep it unlike Riverdance, or Lord of the Dance, because we were all working the same circuit and we had to survive. And we have done.
“But we cultivated our own market then, got our own profile and image globally, and now we get booked back all the time,” Hession says.
The tour history speaks for itself: five times to China, 15 to Scandinavia, Russia, the US every year. Most memorable? “I think, maybe, the Kremlin Palace Theatre in Moscow — or maybe China at the Millennium.”
Such a schedule is extremely demanding on the show’s performers. “It’s like a football team — they come into the show around the age of 19, 20 and usually go out around the 26 mark, because that’s about all the legs can take. In our 90-minute show, there are 72 minutes of dance and that’s a lot of dance.”
The touring, too, is demanding on performers, who constantly live out of suitcases, change cities, lodgings. Cavanagh’s biggest concern is logistics.
“Getting everybody from A to B and on to C, everybody’s welfare, politics, world affairs. I always keep an eye on the news.” Fortunately, he says, he has a great team to back him up. “You need that when something goes wrong in Beijing or Siberia.”
Rhythm of the Dance is at Cork Opera House on Sunday
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