Farewell to a phenomenon

"Riverdance," the first Irish dance show ever, will bid fans farewell after 16 years of highly-fueled, hard-shoe footwork that has torn up stages worldwide.

During a limited Orange County engagement, "The Riverdance Farewell Tour" will play this weekend at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts.

The North American farewell tour, produced by Moya Doherty, will play 160 shows in 75 venues over 22 weeks. The production features international talent including some of Ireland's best-known designers and performers.

"Riverdance" draws on Irish tradition. But, while bringing the best of Irish step dancing to our doorstep, other cultural dance styles, including flamenco and tap, are incorporated in the concluding production.

The exhibition of music, song and dance is supported by the haunting compositions of Bill Whelan, who was honored with the 1997 Grammy Award for Best Musical Show Album for his "Riverdance" record. In addition, John McColgan, who played a key role in the evolution of "Riverdance," directs an international cast.

Over the years, the illustrious line of Irish step dancers has grown in tandem with the show's array of followers.

The original seven-minute version of "Riverdance" was first performed at the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest and transmitted to an estimated 300 million viewers worldwide.

Viewers were hooked. Before long, fans around the world were demanding a full stage-show spectacular.

"Riverdance" made its world premiere in February 1995 at the Point Theatre in Dublin, where it opened to unanimous critical acclaim. The sold-out five-week run was merely a taste of future success the phenomenon would endure.

Since 1995, "Riverdance" has been performed more than 10,000 times, and has been seen by more than 22 million people in more than 350 venues throughout 40 countries across four continents. But while "Riverdance's" enduring success is stunning, the formula is simple.

Audiences are drawn to the overwhelming excitement of shoes slamming to the floor as climatic music lures them in. Enthusiasts live for that dynamic "a capella" section where the troupe forms the famous line, dancing in perfect unison.

Now, add a little Irish culture to the mix.

Until the first premiere of "Riverdance," professional Irish step dancing was near inaccessible to the general public. Once released into the mainstream, audiences flocked to see this novel art form.

Now, tours and multimedia reproduction have provided an outlet for avid theater goers around the world to experience the best of what the Irish culture and its step dancing have to offer.

Throughout the years, "Riverdance" has truly transcended generations, capturing the imagination of audiences across all ages and cultures. Hopefully, the rising youth will continue to spread the global legacy, so Irish step dancing and its music may live on in years to come.

If You Go

What: "Riverdance"

Where: Segerstrom Hall, Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa.

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday, and at 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. on Sunday.

For tickets and other information: Call (714) 556-2787 or go to http://www.scfta.org.

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