The international sensation known as "Riverdance" has played in 40 countries across 4 continents in more than 350 venues to a worldwide audience surpassing 22 million people. That's astounding when you consider that the two-hour celebration of Irish music, song, and dance began life as a seven-minute intermission entertainment for the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest televised throughout Europe.
After touring America for the past 16 years, "Riverdance" returns to Boston one final time, from April 13 - 15, for five performances at The Opera House. (The Farewell Tour comes to a close on June 17 in Virginia.)
I recently had a chance to speak with Maeve Croke, who's served as the show's Dance Captain for the past five years.
Born in Waterford, Ireland, Maeve began dancing as a child. Like many of her cast members, she has earned her share of stellar dance championships. Plus she has seen her dance career take her everywhere from The Great Wall of China to the Kremlin. She' has also toured in "Lord of the Dance" both in Europe and across the United States.
We had a chance to speak by phone when "Riverdance" was playing in Chicago. Following is a condensed report of our conversation:
BIR: Boston is eager to welcome you and your cast mates back to town. When where you here last?
MC: Four or five years ago I think. I just love Boston. I love, is it Quincy Market? That area down there. There's a great buzz . . . I just want anyone in the Boston area who hasn't seen the show to know that this is the last time that we're going to be there. They should come out and see us. We're excited to get there.
BIR: Your job as Dance Captain puts you in charge of all the dancers in the company while you're on the road. What's an average day like for you?
MC: (With a laugh). It can vary. Basically I just have to make sure the show is the best it can be. We're on a very long tour at the moment, and it's a very hectic tour as well.
BIR: Do you have a standard set of tasks when you arrive at a venue?
MC: When we get there, we usually do what we call troupe checks. We go through any problems we may have had the night before. Or maybe somebody new has come into the show and we try to slot them into the different numbers. I get notes from our stage manager. I can watch the (in-house) videos and just tidy up the things that may go wrong, which doesn't happen very often . . . We warm up together, do a bit of cardio, do our stretches to make sure that we're warmed up enough for the show, and that's basically it.
BIR: Have you had a lot of cast changes to deal with?
MC: We will have a change-over, I think, just after Boston. We'll have two new girls that come into the show and one new male dancer.
BIR: And it's your responsibility to get the new people up to speed?
MC: A lot of the times the dancers will have gone through some kind of rehearsals back in Dublin with our dance director. So they have the basics of the actual steps. It's more getting into the show, getting your bearings on stage and getting your steps, because there are so many people on stage at all times. You have to be in the right spot, where you're supposed to be, you know what I mean.
BIR: You started dancing as a small girl, didn't you.
MC: I was five or six. I started in my regular school as most kids do in Ireland, like as part of your kindergarten. Irish dancing is part of the curriculum there because it's such a huge part of our culture. It's part of our physical education. So I started class there. And then my parents saw I had a keen interest and took me to lessons outside of that, to a private school (The Troy School of Irish Dance). So I would go there maybe three or four times a week and practice after school.
BIR: And then you began to compete.
MC: I started competing at a higher level. I would have been around ten, until I was 16 or 17 . . . I placed second and third in the Munster championships, which are my regionals. And I placed Top Ten in the All Ireland Championships.
BIR: Your career has taken you all over the world. Do you find a great difference in audiences from country to country.
MC: They're very different, based on the location. When we were playing in China, when we first came out, the audience was very, very quiet at the beginning. So we didn't know how to take it. We were a bit like, oh, do they like it? But then towards the end of the first act and into the second, they absolutely loved it . . . Americans are the best audiences, they clap for every number we do.
BIR: What do you think it is that makes "Riverdance" such a hit around the world?
MC: Backstage, when I meet people, the general opinion I get is that there's so much more to "Riverdance" than just the Irish dances. Everyone comes to watch the dancing, but then they're blown away by all the other aspects of dance incorporated into the show. We have the American tap dancers. We have our Spanish dancers as well. People love to see that collaboration between the different types of dance . . . They leave wanting more. And the music. The music is what makes it for me. I never ever get bored with it. It's beautiful, beautiful music.
BIR: Any special, personal memories of dancing in the show as the tour comes to a close?
MC: I suppose for me, it's when my family comes to see me. Because America's so far away to come, and because I've been touring America for such a long time, when I play in Ireland during the summer my family and my friends can come and see me. That just makes me very proud, that they can see that I've put this much work into it. Because as a kid I was always away at weekends, competing. And after school I was always in class, you know. They can see that I put this hard work in and it paid off.
R. J. Donovan is publisher of OnStageBoston.com.