A row of smiling dancers wearing green and black costumes performing in Riverdance

The Lasting Stamina of Riverdance

Riverdance 25th Anniversary Show is celebrating its silver anniversary and it’s a double whammy — 25 years performing for 25 million fans.

A woman wearing long silks, like wings, holds them up in a shower of gold glitter in Riverdance

Riverdance 25th Anniversary Show

But that was not the original expectation. Riverdance started as a one-time, seven-minute performance. “It came from the Eurovision song contest, which is a big contest in Europe and it’s watched by about 500 million people,” said John McColgan, Director. “Every year there’s an internal act and my wife (Moya Doherty, Producer) was the producer… She contracted Bill Whelan (Composer), Michael Flatley (male lead dancer), Jean Butler (female lead dancer) and choreographers. That was the first appearance of Riverdance and it was a sensation.”

Julian Erskine, who retired last year after serving as Senior Executive Producer since the show’s inception, remembers that first night. “It’s hard to describe just how enormous [the audience reaction] was. Not just in the Eurovision venue, where the entire audience let out a spontaneous roar and jumped to [its] feet, but also across all the Irish radio and TV stations and newspapers where it was the number one topic of discussion.”

Such a buzz was created that when the routine was repeated on Irish television, nearly the entire country watched. With its instant popularity, the creative team quickly planned a full-length performance to play Dublin. “The original hope,” Erskine said, “was for a one-month run.”

That was 1994 and Riverdance continues to play to enthusiastic audiences across the globe.

A man and woman spin, arms wrapped around each other as other dancers look on behind them in Riverdance

Riverdance 25th Anniversary Show

Riverdance has no language barrier,” said McColgan. “I’ve stood in the back of darkened theatres in Mexico and Germany and China and the US and the UK. The response is always the same. People are energized. People come away from it uplifted.”

“Its longevity is due to the performers on stage and the culture that every night is Opening Night,” McColgan continued.

Those dancers are the heart of the show — skilled athletes whose precise execution may be rivaled only by the Rockettes. When asked if that point-perfect unison is achieved by endless hours of rehearsal or great choreographic direction, Erskine assessed it as a bit of both.

“Mostly it’s down to the competitive background of Irish dance. All of our performers are championship-winning dancers and as such, perform with extreme precision and exceptional timing. What seems extraordinary to the audience seems ordinary to the dancers,” he said.

“We manage to get the best dancers in the world,” McColgan said, “and they’re proud to deliver 110% every night.” Which they do. Enjoy.

Riverdance 25th Anniversary Show
May 31-June 4 • Buell Theatre

Article compiled with materials from Riverdance.