Dancer works his legs in 'Riverdance'

Some of us relax at the end of the work day with a glass of iced tea.

Padraic Moyles prefers a bucket of ice.

Moyles stars in "Riverdance," the original Irish dance phenomenon that first swept through the world in the mid-1990s and sparked many copycat productions. The show is now on "The Riverdance Farewell Tour" of the region before making entrées in new regions like India, Moyles said. It's making a stop at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts this weekend.

"We're trying to hit all the cities we've ever been to, and lots that we've never been to," he said.

The show's management has opted to eschew the increasingly common practice of creating multiple companies for a production in order to have a simultaneous presence on several different continents.

"'Riverdance' could have pumped out four or five different shows, but that would dilute the talent," Moyles said. "They decided they would rather keep the integrity. Rather than have five companies, the most we'll ever have is three companies. It also helps the dancers to know that; it helps us in the job that we're doing."


'Sharper, stronger and thinner'

Moyles said the show's technology, lighting and costumes have evolved since 1995, although certain core numbers have always stayed the same. The quality of dancers also has improved, he said.

"They're sharper, stronger and thinner than they've ever been before, because there's a lot more demand from them," he said. "We're bringing in new talent all the time, and it keeps the people who are there that much longer."

Moyles said the new talent also forces more experienced dancers to focus on continuous improvement, for fear of going "down the ladder."

"That wasn't a factor in the beginning of the show," Moyles said, but the company now strives to be the world-class dancers that the entire world expects to see with their purchase of an admission ticket.


Making waves

Moyles said the first half of the show is based on myth and legend, while the second half is about travel and discovery, evoking the idea of Ireland leaving British rule for a better life — appropriate, perhaps, for a company that now travels to former British colonies and protectorates, among other former colonial states.

The show has become an unofficial cultural ambassador for Ireland around the world, and still has vast territories to delve into.

"Riverdance" has only been in China for the past two years, but could theoretically spend several years there alone; the country has well over 100 cities housing one million or more residents.

The company recently traveled to South America twice in one year.

"That was the first time ever for us," Moyles said. "Usually we wouldn't visit the same place in the same year, but we were there for almost two months. To be honest with you, I loved it — I absolutely loved it."

While not onstage, the company members were able to partake in tourist activities like safaris as well as dance workshops and outreach programs in Soweto, a low-income area of Johannesburg formed from former black townships that became a flash point in the anti-apartheid movement.

"We met so many dancers there who started because they saw 'Riverdance,'" Moyles said. "The last time I was there, we had over 200 students who flew in from all over South Africa. We also had a smaller competition-style group. I taught them a number from the show. For a lot of kids who are looking to audition in the next three or four years, it's great to be able to use a number from the show."

Moyles said he is astounded by the number of young people who tell him that they started Irish dance lessons when they were four years old after seeing "Riverdance," as well as those who have gone on to join the company after growing up never knowing a world without "Riverdance."

"We have people who started when they were 8 or 9, and here they are in the show now, in their early 20s," Moyles said. "They understand what it is to be in 'Riverdance.'"


A demanding schedule

Moyles' typical day includes healthy meals, a pop into the gym and several hours of preparation at the theater — including sit-ups, Pilates, yoga and massage — before getting into hair and makeup.

"Once the music starts for the show, that's the easy part, because you're getting feedback from the audience," Moyles said.

After the show closes, all of the dancers dump their legs into buckets of ice, along with stretching and eating again.

The company typically receives roughly a one-month break at Christmastime. The first week, Moyles said, he just rests and recuperates. Another component of his time off is researching and learning more about sports psychology, Moyles said. The following three weeks, he focuses on a part of his body that he chooses to strengthen.

"It can be tough to work out your legs a lot in season, when you're on tour," he said. "So off-season, you try to make yourself bigger and better and stronger."


Worth the effort

Originally from Dublin, Moyles' family moved to New York when he was in grade school. He continued studying Irish dance, despite getting made fun of for his costumes and "odd" choice of activity, he said.

"My mother and I were talking about this two nights ago," Moyles said. "Had we not moved from Ireland to the United States, I would have given up Irish dancing. My mum wouldn't let me quit when we were living in the U.S. I firmly believe that I would have quit if we had not moved."

Moyles is married to fellow "Riverdance" company member Niamh O'Connor, the only dancer still on tour who was a member of the original company in 1995; she has performed well over 5,000 performances with the show.

O'Connor is the show's dance captain, so Moyles said she also serves as his boss on many occasions.

"I don't think either of us would be able to do this as long as we have if we didn't have this kind of support," he said. "She only wants me to do the best I can at the end of the day. Throughout 'Riverdance' we have had close to 50 weddings, and it's continuing to grow. We have probably one or two engagements every year."

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