Riverdance show brings dancers back to familiar terrain

Donegal women who are performing in Riverdance, from left, are, Mide Ni Bhaoill, from Gaoth Dobhair, Ruth McKenna, Donegal Town, and Megan Walsh, from Ardara.

THE world’s stage will come to Dungloe tonight (Saturday) for a first class performance of Riverdance as the finale to one of Donegal’s most prestigious festivals.
Six Donegal dancers – Megan Walsh (Ardara), Deirdre O’Reilly (Donegal Town) Shaun Kelly (Frosses), Gerard Byrne (Donegal Town) Mide Ni Bhaoill (Gaoth Dobhair) and Ruth McKenna (Donegal Town) all from the McNelis/Cunningham/Boyle School of Dancing – will take to the stage with the rest of the Irish dance troupe, lead dancers and musicians to perform on the open air stage to close this year’s Mary from Dungloe Festival. Moville dancer, Peter Wilson, who trained with the Coyle School in Donegal, will also be performing. The special performance will feature all the highlights from the world-famous Riverdance, which began as the interval act at the Eurovision Song Contest in Dublin in 1994, and has since skyrocketed in popularity.
Riverdance’s connection with the county is synonymous as it is produced by Donegal’s own Moya Doherty. Impressively, aside from Dublin, Donegal is the county where the majority of the show’s dancers hail. Excitement is high as tomorrow’s show will be Riverdance’s only second performance in Donegal.
Speaking to the Donegal News this week, Riverdance’s Executive Producer Julian Erskine, said the show will be “incredibly special”.
He said: “We’re very excited about doing this, it’s not often we get to perform in such a fashion outdoors. Usually we are on stage indoors, protected from the elements, so this open air show will be very different for us.
“We have always felt so close to Donegal, and of course we have that connection with Moya Doherty. We have had three lead dancers and 30 dancers from Donegal in the show. Outside of Dublin, the majority of our dancers come from Donegal, so to bring a section of the show to the county will be incredibly special for our dancers and their families.
“I think it’s both harder and better to perform in the place where you are from. Riverdance has been 23 years on the go and one place we are not too often is Ireland, so dancers don’t get to see their families but this is an opportunity for dancers to see their families and for their families to see them perform on the stage,” he said.
“Everyone has fond memories of being in Letterkenny in 2007 for the opening of Aura Leisure Centre and it’ll be wonderful to return.”
He said show-goers will be treated to around half an hour of big Irish dance numbers, with dancers taking to the stage around 10.30pm.
Mr Erskine arrives in Donegal today (Friday) ahead of a last rehearsal tonight.
“I went to school in Sligo and have friends in Ballintra and Falcarragh, so I get to come to the county from time to time to visit friends. Donegal is a long way from Dublin. It’s so tucked away it is a bit of a jewel.”
Also proud to see the show make its way to Donegal is former Riverdance star, Isobel Cunningham. The Ardara woman, who now lives in Glenties, is co-founder of McNelis/Cunningham/Boyle School of Dancing. Having started dancing at the very young age of four, Isobel has carried on her passion through dance instruction.
Poignantly, Isobel took part in the special performance in Letterkenny in 2007 for the opening of Aura Leisure Centre. She has performed in hundreds of venues across Europe, Asia and the UK to name but a few. However, taking to the stage at home, she said, is the “best sense of adrenaline”.
“It’s extra special to perform at home. We’re very pro-Donegal and very proud to be from Donegal,” said Isobel.
“We’re proud to bring it home to Donegal.
“I have performed in arena tours in front of thousands of people, but that is water off a duck’s back compared to when you are at home and you know someone you know is in the audience. It’s something that our Donegal dancers, I have no doubt, will look back on in years to come and treasure. It is pure excitement rather than nerves. It really is adrenaline.”
Fellow Ardara woman, Megan Walsh, is also looking ahead to tomorrow night’s show. Dancing since she was five-years-old, Megan (23) came through the ranks of McNelis/Cunningham/Boyle School of Dancing. After completing her Leaving Certificate in 2013, Megan began her professional career with Celtic Legends, performing as a lead dancer. Megan has also toured with such shows as Irish Celtic, Irish Celtic Generations and Titanic Dance. She joined Riverdance in May 2016, making a dream a reality. Her first tour was in China where she spent 10 weeks. She then performed with the show in Gaiety Theatre in Dublin the following summer, and has also been on a European and American tour with the show.
For Megan, performing at home is a wonderful opportunity.
“It’s amazing to be home and to be performing in Dungloe with everyone I grew up with and trained with. Saturday’s performance will be really exciting.”
There will be little time to rest for Megan, who, after taking Sunday off, will return to the Gaiety Theatre with the show until September 9 before heading on to Killarney.
“After that the show takes a break for a year. In 2020, Riverdance will celebrate its 25th anniversary so it will be exciting to see what’s planned for that,” said Megan.
The Mary from Dungloe Festival will officially conclude on Sunday night when one young woman will be crowned with the title.

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