BY SEÁN P. FEENY
A YOUNG Irish dancer from Donegal is currently performing with Riverdance at the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin after making his debut with the famous show in April.
There has always been a very strong connection between Donegal and Riverdance, which has been seen by over 23 million people world-wide, with the county’s best dancing talent featuring in the famous line-up and centre stage.
21-year-old Shaun Kelly from the village of Frosses is now carrying the flag for the county on the show. The Donegal connection began when Lorna Bradley and Gaoth Dobhair’s Breandán de Gallaí featured in the very first performance of Riverdance during the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest in Dublin.
Breandán went on to perform as principal dancer for seven years all around the globe, including its early years on Broadway.
Other male dancers from the county would later join, including the Gallaghers from Carrick – George Bernard (who later became a stage manager with the show), Barry John and of course Michael Pat who also became one of the show’s best known principal dancers, performing in over 1200 shows as lead, and their sister Catherine.
The Gallaghers weren’t the only family two join Riverdance, there was also Mark and Claire McCole from Portnoo who went on to enjoy great success on Sky’s Got To Dance with their own dance troupe, Mystic Force, last year.
Then there was also Marty Dowds from Newtowncunningham who joined Riverdance in 1997 after winning the World Championships and spent over a decade with the Boyne touring company, also becoming principal dancer, performing all over North America.
“From Breandán [de Gallaí] and Lorna Bradley in the first company, right through to today with Shaun [Kelly] joining the troupe, Donegal has been more than well-represented over the last 18 years with many fine dancers too numerous to list here gracing Riverdance stages round the world,” said Julian Erskine, Senior Executive Producer.
Shaun couldn’t have had better teachers to be prepare him for a career at Riverdance than the tutors at Scoil Rince McNelis Cunningham in Donegal Town.
His teachers, Claire and Paula McNelis and Isobel Cunningham were all members of the show for many years, while Claire and Paula’s sister Yvonne, still fills in on occasion.
The son of Dan and Bernie Kelly actually didn’t start Irish dancing until he was 14 years. “By that age a lot of dancers already have nearly ten years behind them,” he laughed.
But the talent was obviously there and the day after he celebrated his 18th birthday, Shaun joined Ragús, another very successful Irish music and dance show, managed by a fellow Donegal native, Ronan Brennan from Meenacross, Dungloe.
Shaun said: “I got to tour Holland and Belgium with the show and it was such an amazing experience at that age and I was so well taken care of.”
The young Frosses man went on to start an accountancy at Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, but in 2010 decided to take a sabbatical to work as an Irish dancer.
He completed two seasons at Busch Gardens, Virginia dancing in the show Celtic Fyre, six shows a day, so he was well used to tight schedules.
Shaun had already auditioned for Riverdance and made the ‘approved list’ and all he was waiting for was ‘that call’, which came last January.
He said: “I couldn’t believe it when I got a call from the show asking me to join them for their tour of Australia and New Zealand and I ended up dancing in the show with Deirdre [O’Reilly] from Donegal Town who also went to Scoil Rince McNelis Cunningham.”
After getting the call up in January, Shaun immediately made his way down to Dublin for two weeks of intense rehearsals before going on tour.
“I knew bits and pieces of the show, but after those two weeks I had learned it all. It was really a dream come true – as an Irish dancer, Riverdance is where you want to be.”
From making his debut with Riverdance in Australia Shaun is delighted to continue dancing with the show at the Gaiety Theatre this summer.
“Would you believe this is actually the first time that I am performing in Ireland as a professional. My parents came down on opening night, but it’s still hard to believe when you spot people you know in the audience,” he laughed.
Shaun definitely hopes to continue dancing with Riverdance for a long time and, who knows, maybe he will follow in the footsteps of Breandán, Michael Pat and Marty.
Riverdance, composed by Bill Whelan, produced by Moya Doherty and directed by John McColgan is back in Ireland for its ninth consecutive summer season at The Gaiety Theatre, Dublin, performing there until September 2.