IF YOU GO:
What: “Lord of the Dance”
When: 7:30 p.m. next Thursday
Where: Powers Auditorium, 260 W. Federal St., Youngstown
Tickets: $39 and $49; call 330-74-0264, or go to youngstownsymphony.com
By GUY D’ASTOLFO
The passing of time seems to only solidify the reign of “Lord of the Dance.”
The spectacular Irish dance show, now in its 15th year of touring, continues to be met by enthusiastic audiences worldwide. It comes to Youngstown’s Powers Auditorium next Thursday.
The show was conceived and choreographed by Michael Flatley, the American-born Irish dance champion who is credited with creating a wave of Celtic-dance mania that refuses to subside. Flatley danced one of the leads when the show was launched and now serves as artistic director. There are two “LOTD” troupes, one touring the United States and the other in Europe.
Connolly occupies the co-lead role of “Lord of the Dance” — the same one that Flatley originated — in the U.S. troupe.
He’s got a good theory as to why the music and dance of Ireland endures throughout the world. It has to do with the tenacious pride the Irish have in their culture.
On St. Patrick’s Day, that pride becomes apparent to all.
“Ireland is the only country that has a holiday that every other country celebrates,” said Connolly in an interview with The Vindicator. “[The country’s worldwide cultural influence] comes from a long time ago. When trouble in Ireland meant they had to get out, wherever they went, the Irish were so immersed in their own culture — music, dance, football — and it was so strong that it overpowered anything going on in the area.”
Although Irish dance is a visible part of the culture today, that wasn’t always the case.
“Irish dance wasn’t huge until Riverdance came out,” said Connolly. “It made [Irish dance] more fun and sexy, and more people enjoyed it. Since then, it’s influence has soared.” Connolly himself is testament to the power of the Celtic homeland on foreign shores. He was born in New Zealand, but his Irish parents raised him and his six siblings as though they were on the Emerald Island.
Connolly began Irish dancing as a tot and moved to Ireland at age 17 to pursue it professionally. He moved in with friends of his father’s, working by day and dancing by night. “When I talked to people in Ireland, I realized that we were brought up the same way, with Irish music and dance,” he said.
Connolly started with “Lord of the Dance” about a decade ago, dancing a co-lead role in the show’s four-year Las Vegas run before joining the tour. He also has performed in Flatley’s Celtic Tiger show, fulfilling one of his dreams to perform alongside the dance legend.
Two of his siblings are also in his touring troupe: sister, Siobhan Connolly, who has the co-lead role of Saoirse, and his brother, Martin, who is part of the cast.
“Lord of the Dance” hasn’t changed much since it started, with the exception of updated costumes and maybe a few new steps here and there. The story is a classic tale of good versus evil, based on Irish folklore, with a love story intertwined through it. In addition to the Lord of the Dance and Saoirse, there are two “evil” lead roles: the Dark Lord and Morrighan.
The tour is a rigorous one, said Connolly, hitting about 50 cities nationwide in two months. It is being greeted by sold-out shows and cheering audiences, he said.
Those who miss the “Lord of the Dance” tour — or those who simply can’t get enough of it — will get a unique opportunity this year to see it in movie theaters. “Lord of the Dance 3-D” will be released nationwide March 11 for a special one-week run that will end on St. Patrick’s Day.
Connolly does not appear in the film, but his sister, Siobhan, does.