Riverdancers in step with audiences across entire nation
Updated: 2012-02-20 08:06
By Chen Nan (China Daily)
Exuberant performers go through their paces in the Irish step-dancing extravaganza Riverdance at a performance in Beijing in February 2010. Vice-President Xi Jinping will see the show while in Ireland. Zhang Wei / for China Daily
BEIJING - Julian Erskine, the Irish senior executive producer of the musical sensation Riverdance, knows he's done a good job if people dance out of the theater after a performance.
That was how he felt when he came to China with Riverdance.
"We love the reaction of the Chinese people. It was such an interesting and special experience to be performing in the Great Hall of the People, the National Center for Performing Arts and many other great venues," the producer said in an e-mail interview with China Daily.
"We had an amazing moment on the tour when we were out for a walk in Shenzhen and came across a group of Chinese people trying to do Riverdance steps in a park. That made us feel really famous."
The team performed in Ireland for the state visit of former premier Zhu Rongji. They were subsequently invited to perform in Beijing and Shanghai in 2003.
When the sequined dancers of the musical Riverdance performed in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing in 2003, they didn't merely usher in the biggest international production ever to hit China.
"I think it's because Riverdance is the original Irish dance show. We were the first and every other show is a copy of us. I think that really shows on stage, and the audience can spot the difference," said Erskine.
According to Jurek Zhang, general manager of Beijing Joyway Culture & Media Co Ltd, which manages the Riverdance tour in China, the popular musical Riverdance has been presented in China five times.
In 2009, the show was even part of China Central Television's Spring Festival Gala, watched by an audience of millions across the country.
"The show has been staged more than 150 times, and more than 300,000 Chinese people have watched it," said Zhang. At the end of 2012, Riverdance will have an eight-week tour in China.
Zhang noted that the arrival of the production illustrated China's growing maturity as a cultural market, aided by the increasingly open rules of recent years that have allowed more international artists and troupes to perform.
"We are glad to see that the Chinese audiences are excited to watch Riverdance. We've found that Riverdance has become a phenomenon among both ordinary audiences and professional dance troupes in China," said Zhang.
"Now that the show has been to China many times, Chinese audiences feel connected to the show."
The connection is also shared by the Riverdance team.
"Especially since we recorded our last DVD in Beijing and included three Chinese musicians in the show, we now feel very much at home in China," said Erskine. "Wouldn't it be great if we could one day assemble a full Chinese cast for the show? It's not that impossible."
A spectacular theater show of traditional Irish music and dancing, Riverdance serves up two and one-half hours of thrills, movement and rhythm.
According to the musical's producer, who started working on Riverdance in August 1994, it all began in 1994 with the Eurovision Song Contest, a popular annual competition in which singers from different European nations perform.
Television viewers pick the winner. The full show opened in February 1995 and has been seen by more than 22 million people since.
"We knew it was a big hit in Ireland at the start, but I suppose the first time we really knew it was special was when we went to London and the audiences and critics alike raved about the show," said Erskine.
He noted that step dancing, performed in the Riverdance show, has been part of Irish village celebrations, such as weddings and festivals, for centuries. It enjoyed a revival in the 1930s, when enthusiasts laid down some rules about how the dance should be done. Dancers wear hard shoes to beat out the rhythm on the ground. The upper body and arms don't move. All the movement of the dance comes from the legs and feet.
Riverdance was the first show to line up 30 or more dancers in a row and have them step dancing in perfect rhythm.
"It was not generally popular until the success of Riverdance, but after that, everyone wanted to learn!" he said.
(China Daily 02/20/2012 page3)