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Review, 12-12: Masterfall
Flatley's Follies: This 'Tiger' Only has Eyes for His Story
Copyright 2005 Darrah Carr
-- 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.
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.