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Flatley’s obvious, odious lord is numbingly dull

The Georgia Straight
Shannon Rupp

Blacks protested Show Boat, Asians objected to Miss Saigon, so why-oh-why haven’t the Irish started a donnybrook over Lord of the Dance? It’s certainly tacky enough to constitute a national insult.

Despite a fellow critics’ claim that PBS is running a tape-loop of Irish tapstravaganzas, I had never seen Lord of the Dance. So I was in for a rude shock on opening night at General Motors Place.

I thought the title referred to choreographer and star Michael Flatley’s estimation of his own talents, but it turns he knows the United Church hymn about the lord of dance (a metaphor for Christ). In the course of this corny plot about good versus evil, Flatley is offed by the bad guys, then resurrected.

 Well, the Christ image is probably appropriate since the thought “Oh, Christ” crossed my mind often in the course of two hours of mind-numbing dumbness. I’m sure which was worse: the cheesy smoke-and-lights special effects or the grab bag of mixed metaphors and ill-considered allusions wrapped in a faux-Celtic shell. (The show is much like the Chicago-born Flatley himself, a talentless American who affects an Irish brogue.)

Lord has less in common with musical theatre than it does with those tedious stadium rock concerts of the late ‘70s. (It manages to be both pretentious and laughable in a way that might be described as Vegas meets progressive rock.) There’s the banal music, distorted through a bad sound system, and the artists who are so far away that you feel as if you’re watching a video on the screens that bookend the stage. And the thing Irish about it is that it’s shite.

 Paramilitary allusions have always been big in some rock circles, and Flatley’s star vehicle is like a little homage to Nazis. As the dancers move a collection of pillars topped with Celtic designs around the stage, it’s like watching the Nuremberg rallies. The black-masked, black-clad bad guys line up like an army of step-dancing storm troopers. And then there’s Flatley’s unnerving habit of punching the air in the unnerving habit of punching the air in a flat-palmed salute that demands someone shout “Sieg heil!”

But I burst out laughing when the chorus line fell into patterns that looked suspiciously like the ones in the opening of “Springtime for Hitler” in the Mel Brooks film The Producer (a satire about a Broadway show designed to be so outrageously bad it’s bound to be a flop – and audiences love it.)

 He makes the women look ridiculous, as he has them skipping and sashaying about the stage, holding their arms over their heads like children learning ballet. There is a bad girl character, and we know she is Evil because of her barely-there dress of red sequins and cascade of dark curls. She keeps waving her arms around in a parody of seduction that looks more like she’s trying to air out the room (which needs to be done after she’s finished).

As a dancer, Flatley is fast – reportedly 28 taps per second – but he has what the dance world euphemistically refers to as “bad lines.” Flatley lacks the relaxed, graceful carriage of the better step dancers (some of whom are in the men’s chorus, where they’re doomed to stay). He arches his back in an odd way that makes him look as if he’s suffering a permanent wedgie. While much is made of how Flately has introduced the arms into the dance form in which upper body remains still, my guess is that it’s more adaptive than creative. Flatley’s physical flaws are most noticeable when he leaves his hands on his hips.

 Only once does Flatley let his dancers shine, and that’s at the end when they form a chorus line and do the domino thing in which dancers pass a movement down the line. It’s the Rockettes, or the swans, or any number of hoofers in any Broadway show, and it’s bloody brilliant – a bit of kinetic with that never fails to be effective in an dance form.

Other than this, Lord of the Dance is relentlessly awful. And expensive. Despite ticket prices of $39.50 to $60, patrons didn’t get so much as a program – although they could buy a glossy, colour souvenir booklet if they forked over another $20.

 

-- Lord of the Dance, at Vancouver’s General Motors Place, June 12, 1997

 

 

19 Jun 1997
p.76