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This article was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on December 15,

1999. All rights reserved.

Good Boy/Bad Boy of Lord of the Dance

Growing up in Limmerick, Ireland, Cian Nolan was

always

known as a good boy. He started studying traditional step dancing

at age three in his parents’ dancing school, and soon he was winning

colored ribbons and silver cups all around Ireland. By 19, he had

succeeded in going professional, touring Europe with the Chieftains

as part of the music group’s dancing duo.

But Cian Nolan is a good boy no more. Now, as a top soloist in the

blockbuster stage show "Lord of the Dance," Nolan is featured

in the role of bad guy Don Dorcha, the dancer who represents the

mythic

presence of evil of earth, battling the show’s fair forces of good.

"I get to be the bad guy, and I don’t mean bad in a nice way,"

says Nolan in a phone interview, a spark of fun coloring his lilting

Irish brogue. He says dancing for the dark side is a good way to vent

frustration. "It’s good to be bad once in a while."

Since its creation three years ago, "Lord of the Dance" has

become an international phenomenon with hundreds of performances in

cities across the United States, Australia, Africa, and Europe. The

international hit, currently touring two complete troupes, each with

a cast of 40 dancers and musicians, has been called brilliant,

captivating,

and sexy. The show features 100 minutes of dazzling physical

performance

derived from a chaste traditional dance form that most non-specialist

audiences would find unmitigatedly boring.

Previously seen only at the state’s larger performing venues, such

as Prudential Hall at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, Newark,

and the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, "Lord of the Dance"

makes make a two-day stop in Trenton for performances at the Sovereign

Arena on Friday and Saturday, December 17 and 18.

Nolan, now 24, has been with the show from the beginning, some 3-1/2

years ago. Typical of the troupe’s members, he is rigorously trained

in Irish step dancing and auditioned for Michael Flatley in person.

Less typical is the fact that he is the troupe’s dance captain,

responsible

for keeping the performers up to par at every performance.

Cian’s older brother, Daire Nolan, is also a dance professional. A

veteran of "Riverdance," and now heading toward his 30th

birthday,

he is on tour with the "Lord of the Dance" in Europe. The

brothers’ older sister was once a dancer, too, but settled down to

marriage and motherhood some years back.

Last year both "Lord of the Dance" troupes were filmed

performing

together in "Feet of Flames" in London’s Hyde Park, an event

that also marked Michael Flatley’s last performance in the role of

the Lord of the Dance. Featuring a troupe of 100 dancers, it was the

biggest, most spectacular dance show ever staged in the U.K., and

became a best-selling video.

Nolan says traditional Irish step dancing is older than memory itself.

"Step dancing started back in old times, when there was no such

thing as a dance hall in any villages in Ireland. They used to gather

at the crossroads with a couple of musicians and dance."

Back in the early 1800s, Ireland created a Gaelic League

to safeguard the knowledge of its ancient arts and keep them from

ever being lost.

Once the ancient dance form was adopted by the league and adapted

for competition, rules for performance became strictly codified.

"Rules

demanded that hands remain by the side; there could be no facial

expression

and no pelvic movement," Nolan explains. In fact virtually no

movement was allowed except that from the knees down. Less strict

was the Irish seanos folk dance, usually performed, Nolan says,

"by an elderly gentleman from the country. It was more of a happy

dance."

This was the status quo until dance phenomenon Michael Flatley came

along.

Throughout the ’70s and ’80s, Flatley was a competitive step dancer.

But in 1994, he presented a seven-minute virtuoso dance display he

called "Riverdance," in which, out of necessity, he used his

arms and upper body to counterbalance his weight. "It all started

that night, and changed the whole thing forever," says Nolan.

From there Flatley made his new Irish dance a global passion,

banishing

its strict, traditional forms and chaste costumes and re-igniting

it with skin-tight leather costumes, rock-concert lighting and

pyrotechnics,

and dramatic story lines based on a fusion of Celtic symbolism and

New Age mysticism.

Although no longer the central figure of the performance, Flatley

continues to choreograph and oversee his productions.

"Michael encourages us to integrate tap, jazz, and ballet —

everything we know — into the show," says Nolan. "We’re

fit and we’re trained. Most of us can get 26 taps per second —

although Michael himself holds the record at 36 taps per second."

The show has also brought worldwide attention to composer Ronan

Hardiman,

a native of Dublin. His score for "Lord of the Dance" became

the No. 1 record on Billboard’s World Music chart. The son of the

director general of the Irish Broadcasting Network, Hardiman was the

only one of four siblings to avoid academia. He worked as a teller

at the Bank of Ireland for 12 years before leaving to shop his

original

compositions around Dublin’s music, television, and film industries.

Success came to Hardiman quickly with a commission to write music

for Ireland’s "Nine O’Clock News." Introduced to Michael

Flatley,

he had 15 days notice before his music was used to accompany a Flatley

performance at the Royal Albert Hall. He composed the "Lord of

the Dance" score in 10 weeks. Hardiman’s first solo album,

"Solas,"

released this year, offers songs with a Celtic and a contemporary

edge, with multi-layered vocals synthesized with electronic piano

and percussion rhythms.

"The Lord of the Dance" story, based on old Celtic myth, opens

with a stage full of Druids meeting under lighted torches. The Druids

wake up a small, sleeping spirit who wakes up her Lord of the Dance.

The show also features a solo singer, portraying the Celtic goddess

Erin. And there’s a partner for Don Dorcha, too: a bad girl named

Morrighan.

Nolan says the dance show’s theme is reminiscent of the musical

"West

Side Story," with its stylized danced battle between the Jets

and the Sharks. "Here, it’s a feet-fest instead of fist-fest,"

he says.

— Nicole Plett

Lord of the Dance, Sovereign Bank Arena, 640 South

Broad Street, Trenton, 609-520-8383. Tickets at the arena box office,

609-656-3222 or online at www.ticketmaster.com. $35.75 & $47.75.

Friday, December 17, 8 p.m., and Saturday, December 18, 7:30

p.m.


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