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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
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
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,
and sexy. The show features 100 minutes of dazzling physical
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,
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
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
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.
demanded that hands remain by the side; there could be no facial
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
This was the status quo until dance phenomenon Michael Flatley came
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,
its strict, traditional forms and chaste costumes and re-igniting
it with skin-tight leather costumes, rock-concert lighting and
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
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
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
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,
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
Nolan says the dance show’s theme is reminiscent of the musical
Side Story," with its stylized danced battle between the Jets
and the Sharks. "Here, it’s a feet-fest instead of fist-fest,"
— Nicole Plett
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
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