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Dance Review

The Fleet of Feet Return With 'Riverdance'

April 13, 1998|LEWIS SEGAL | TIMES DANCE CRITIC

Dance as the incarnation of cultural heritage loomed large on local stages this week with the return of "Riverdance (The Show)" to the Pantages Theatre while "Bring in 'Da Noise, Bring in 'Da Funk" continued at the Ahmanson and Italy's Balletto di Toscana brought "Mediterranea" to the Orange County Performing Arts Center.

All these plotless, full-evening cavalcades took a long view of heritage, showing how the distant or mythic past shapes contemporary identity. However, "Riverdance"--easily the biggest and broadest of the three--often squandered its talented performers on hard-sell kitsch. In an Act 2 depiction of the American melting pot, for instance, a skillful group identified as the Moscow Folk Ballet reduced centuries of Eastern European tradition to flashy gymnastic tricks. Yes, authentic Russian companies perform similar stunts, but always in some context and as the climax to genuine dancing--not in place of it.

With Colin Dunne back as the show's lead male, phenomenal speed and intricacy distinguished the solos--though Dunne looked winded at times on Saturday after his recent vacation and seemed no more engaged than before in the duets. Eileen Martin, however, suited him in height and attack more than his former partner, Jean Butler. And even if Martin couldn't float above the stage (and above the show) as Butler did, she managed to magnify and project her fastest footwork so that you saw every step with exceptional clarity.

As in 1996, Maria Pages embodied flamenco fire and Tarik Winston tap bravura. Sound design for the new engagement allowed you to hear more of the dancers' percussive steps than previously, though the amplification still proved painful in volume and weirdly disembodied--as if the singers were merely lip-syncing. However, "Riverdance (The T-Shirt)" definitely improved: It was on sale in eight colors and nearly as many designs as the examples of Celtic overkill on stage.

* "Riverdance" continues through May 17 at the Pantages Theatre, 6233 Hollywood Blvd. Tuesday-Saturday evenings at 8 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday afternoons at 2 p.m.; Sunday evenings at 7:30 p.m. $46-$71. (213) 365-3560.

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