by mark kennedy ap drama writer
The folks behind "Riverdance" have a new thundering Irish dance show poised to tour North America, but don't dare call it "Riverdance II."
"Heartbeat of Home" integrates the Emerald Isle's signature high-stepping with the tango, the flamenco, Cuban salsa and even hip-hop, reflecting the growing multiculturalism of Ireland since "Riverdance" debuted two decades ago.
"We felt that together with the fusion of other cultures, we could broaden out the base and embrace and display what 20 years have done to Irish music and dance," said producer Moya Doherty.
The new show kicks off at the Ed Mirvish Theatre in Toronto next month, where it runs from Jan. 21-March 2. Then it makes stops in Chicago's Oriental Theatre from March 4-16, Detroit's Fisher Theatre from March 18-23 and Boston's Wang Theater from March 25-April 6.
The show features about 30 dancers and a 10-piece band playing a score written by Golden Globe-nominated composer Brian Byrne, who created the score for the film "Albert Nobbs." Lyrics and the narrative are by novelist Joseph O'Connor.
The first part of the show is built around a sea voyage of people leaving one country for another. The second half features the mixing of cultures in this new land.
"In some ways it mirrors the journey of Ireland in the past two decades," Doherty said by phone from Dublin. "We were a monoculture in 1994 almost. And we have become quite multicultural. So in many ways what we were also attempting to parallel was the journey that Ireland has taken over the past 20 years."
John McColgan, who directs the new show as he did with "Riverdance," said "Heartbeat of Home" "reflects a modern world" and modernizes Irish step dancing by "opening it up to other cultures and inviting other cultures to dance with us."
The show made its debut this fall in Dublin and has already been a hit in Beijing and Shanghai. It featured some dancers who were babies when "Riverdance" elevated a provincial dance to a professional art form.
"Riverdance" first premiered on the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest as a seven-minute segment and opened at Dublin's Point Theatre on Feb. 9, 1995, at a time of renewed Irish optimism and pride surrounding the onset of the booming "Celtic Tiger" economy.
It has since been seen by an estimated 25 million people in 40 countries, from Red Square to the Great Wall of China. It made its American debut in 1996 at Radio City Music Hall in New York City, and packed a Broadway theater for 18 months in 2000-2001. "Riverdance" will celebrate its 20th year in 2014 with a new UK and European tour.
"The international language of dance is probably one of the reasons for its phenomenal success," said Doherty. "And, hey, it's fun. It's entertainment."
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