Lord of the Merchandising

I remember seeing Riverdance live at some point during my childhood in America, and at the time, I can recall that I was amazed by it. Here was a group of talented and enthusiastic dancers, performing incredible feats right before my eyes. So, as you can imagine, when I discovered that I could get my hands on a free double pass to Lord of the Dance, I was just a teeny bit ecstatic.

I should really remember to have lower expectations in life.

lord of the danceLord of the Dance delivered on everything that the typical audience might want; spectacle, talent, pyrotechnics, and music that gets you tapping your own feet. However, I soon discovered that what lay behind this flimsy surface was nothing more than a marketing ploy to get more money so the show could tour for many more years.  Don’t get me wrong, I understand that it’s incredibly rare to tour one show for a long, long time and for audiences to be captivated by something so misunderstood as dance. But seriously, come on. I wanted a show that I could enjoy in the moment, not something that I knew I could see again and again if my heart desired.

Alas, the infamous Michael Flateley’s Lord of the Dance wasn’t poised to deliver such a show. It presented itself as a spectacle and not a show with substance, and unfortunately for me, I find it difficult to sit through such events.

I had a picture in my mind that Flateley would showcase something about his Irish heritage that might resonate with my own, just like it did when I was a kid with Riverdance. Putting aside, for now, the fact that as a kid you’re usually wowed by just about anything with sparkles on it, I truly believe that Flateley has gone from a hard working, talented dancer to a money making machine, and he doesn’t seem to feel that there’s anything wrong with that. As long as the show continues to sell out, it doesn’t matter that we learn nothing of what dancing actually means to the Irish culture or to the other cultures the show dips its toes into, after all, at the end of the day, as long as the dancers get paid and we can say we spent an evening out on the town, everyone should be happy, right?

Completely wrong! Almost as wrong as the opening scene of Lord of the Dance, where we are shown on a huge projection, a trailer for the show itself. As if we didn’t already know what show we were seeing and as if we didn’t already know that we wanted to buy tickets. I couldn’t get past this not-so-humble beginning, and then when the curtains opened on our dancers, it just got worse. From the over-the-top sexualisation of women and men alike (although to no one’s surprise, the women were more sexualised), to the seriously lacking “story” (it pains me to write that word here) of good versus evil that we had absolutely no investment in from the get-go, to the fact that none of the footsteps we were hearing were actually live but instead were all pre-recorded.

And if you didn’t already know that dance, music, and partying was a part of Irish culture, well, you sure won’t know it after seeing Lord of the Dance. Being able to move my feet as a young child of Irish descent was a necessity that I felt in my blood from day one, and it’s a tradition that lives strong in all peoples of Irish descent – the need to express oneself in a way that only an Irishman can. With Flateley’s production, however, there was no culture inherent in its design and absolutely no notion of where the history comes from and why it still exists in Irish culture.

lotd tshirtI became very keen for the interval to arrive so that I could enjoy a cold beer and get the sour taste of pompousness out of my mouth, however as soon as the lights went on we were told by an announcer that the interval would be 20 minutes long and that we should make sure to go buy some Lord of the Dance merchandise. The whole theatre laughed uproariously at this, and why shouldn’t we have done so? It was a stupidly obvious marketing stunt, and one that even the older crowd, who were clearly much more engrossed in the show than I was, weren’t going to fall for.

I’ve said a lot of terrible things so far, so let’s make a few things clear here. The dancers on stage were very talented and they deserve much more credit than I could ever give them. And, as much as I hate to admit it, the Ken doll look-alike who held the title of Lord of the Dance (made obvious by a huge belt that had the words “Lord of the Dance” written in what was most likely real diamonds) and acted like a narcissistic maniac, was seriously gifted. I am very aware that I have been spiteful with my words but in all reality, there is no way I’d be capable of being a great dancer, let alone one as quick, nimble and graceful as the ones on stage.

But even with this acknowledgement, I still have to stand firm and say that Lord of the Dance is all about making money and is, shamefully, not about promoting an Irish or a dance heritage, nor is it even about providing an entertaining evening. It’s just about who gets paid and when, and although I can appreciate that everyone involved should be paid, I cannot appreciate the fact that we have to be told at every turn and maneuver that that is what the show is about.

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