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Flash Review, 12-12: Masterfall
Flatley's Follies: This 'Tiger' Only has Eyes for His Story

By Darrah Carr
Copyright 2005 Darrah Carr

UNCASVILLE, Connecticut -- Michael Flatley is a master of many things. A champion flautist. A champion boxer. A champion Irish step dancer. Many agree that he is not merely a master, but really does merit the title "Lord of the Dance," as he called the show he created after starring in "Riverdance." Nevertheless, master storyteller Flatley is not. His latest step dance spectacle, "Celtic Tiger" (coming four years after his supposed retirement), promises to recount all of Irish history in 90 minutes. Druids. Saint Patrick. Vikings. Normans. British. Great Famine. Irish Rebellion. And, finally, the booming Irish economy of the 1990s, which was dubbed the "Celtic Tiger."

As seen November 22 at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, the only thing faster than "Celtic Tiger"'s history lesson was the straight line of dancers pounding out the rhythms. To further hammer his message home, Flatley employs video projections of cathedrals, Norman castles, and burning cottages. He also relies on frequent costume changes (according to his website, the costumes cost $2 to $4 million) to evoke the mood. Given Irish dance's limited expressive vocabulary (no facial expressions or arm gestures), one can understand how Flatley might want to augment the storyline with costumes and scenery. Less understandable, however, is the constant reduction of the narrative to its most literal interpretation. Must the Vikings wear horns in their helmets, carry sails, and pantomime rowing their imaginary boats? Equally unnecessary is the inclusion of scenes such as that featuring women dressed as bees, butterflies, and swans skittering across the stage in front of a video projection of a field of blooming flowers.

In between the lines of dancers and the scenes themselves, Flatley stalks. At times he gestures his hands like a conductor, while in other places, he punches his fists in the air like a boxer. He performs short step dance solos and plays the flute, as if proving his virtuosity and his versatility. Interestingly, it seems that he alone can do many things of note. There is no mention of anyone else. No program given, no announcement made, no press kit available, no explanation of who the other 60 dancers are, let alone the four musicians. Flatley is never paired with another lead, or partner. And no one else has nearly as many solo moments.

After intermission, Flatley's Irish history quickly devolves into his story. We see Flatley as an Aer Lingus pilot, enjoying the attentions of a pretty flight attendant who rubs against his leg. She eventually strips, in front of a fiery projection, and reveals a red, white, and blue bikini. After Flatley performs a short solo, and the platform on which he dances is encircled by a ring of fire (perhaps a subtle reference to his last production, "Feet of Flames"), the bikini clad dancer/former flight attendant brings him a rifle and he proceeds to shoot out a row of footlights at the bottom of the stage. We are suddenly privy to his own fantasy world.

Flatley then leads us on a whirlwind tour of New York City. Images of American pop culture flash aggressively on the screen, while dancers in top hats parade in front of landmarks such as the Statue of Liberty and Times Square. What any of this has to do with Ireland's burgeoning economy, a.k.a. the "Celtic Tiger," is unclear. Whereas "Riverdance," the original version of which Flatley starred in, alludes to the Irish immigrant experience and a triumphant return to the homeland, here Flatley ends with himself, squarely in the middle of a clattering version of "Yankee Doodle Dandy."

At 47, Michael Flatley is still a brilliant step dancer. He should trust that his feet alone have the ability to speak more eloquently of Ireland than any 90 minutes of pantomimed "history" possibly could.

 
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