As part of of Riverdance's homecoming return to The Gaiety this summer we caught up with principal dancer Anna Mai Fitzpatrick
In 1994, the TV viewers around the globe were mesmerized by a new and exciting take on traditional Irish dancing. While only the interval act at the 39th Eurovision Song Contest, Riverdance was the clear winner on the night as it brought the audience to their feet and was met with overwhelming praise from viewers across Europe and beyond. Since then, the show has played in 48 countries to over 28 million people and continues to be as fiercely hypnotic as that very first performance in the Point Theatre in Dublin.
Now, as the show returns to The Gaiety Theatre for another summer season, we caught up with principal dancer Anna Mai Fitzpatrick to discuss what to expect from the 25th anniversary tour, why The Gaiety is the ultimate homecoming, and what it feels like to be a part of the Riverdance legacy.
You’ve been a part of the Riverdance family for quite a few years now but take me back to when you first received that call. How was that moment for you, learning that you were cast?
Yeah, I mean the show is a phenomenon, and to be a part of it is an honor. Like it’s every dancer’s dream, you’re grateful to be up there on stage with so much talent. And for me personally, growing up Riverdance was always my goal. I remember my mother saw the Eurovision when Riverdance was the interval act and she was so blown away. She asked me, “You want to go see the show?” so I saw the show and then I remember having this kind of dream moment. I was like four or five years old, I was sitting there and I was so mesmerized. And my mom looked at me and she said, “You’re going to be up there one day.” It’s a full-circle moment to have happened, you know, it’s a dream come true. And I’ll have achieved that for the rest of my life.
And like you said, it’s a family, it’s a team. Everybody here from the crew backstage to the costumes, to the people who work in wardrobe, people working on lighting, to our dance captains, we all have the same goal, you know, all of our goals are aligned. And we all want to give our very best every single night. And that is what keeps the show at such a high level of dancing. And it’s such a phenomenon.
Riverdance celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2019. That tour is continuing now and we’re seeing references to the history of the show, and the dancers that have gone through it. I imagine being a part of that wider community is a beautiful thing, what is that relationship like with casts gone by?
So, the reason that we call it a family is because all of our alumni, we see them quite often. Some of them are our mentors while we’re on tour because they have come from the same background and they’ve had the same journey that we’re on currently. Everybody here knows that this is a legacy. This is something that we’re honored to be in, we want to keep it at the same standards that it’s always been at. We’re in touch with people that have been in the show quite often and they always come back and watch the show. And it’s lovely to see them.
We even have people in the troop that are what we call Riverdance babies, that have parents who were in the show. It’s a very wide community. We all have the same work ethic, the same goals, the same principles and that’s really what makes it so great and makes it work every night.
Our motto is every night is opening night. It’s about putting your best foot forward each night. So our alumni constantly help us and they’re still involved in the show.
The show has been updated a little for this 25th anniversary tour. Does it feel exciting to get changes and be the first company to perform the show like this?
Well, it’s actually really special this summer, because this is the first time we will have put the 25th anniversary show into The Gaiety Theatre, and you know, to perform it in Dublin, on our home soil is just an honor.
The music has been recomposed by Bill Whelan, and we’ve had upgrades made to some of the costumes designed by John Bergen. They’ve remastered the whole show, really, I mean, with the lighting and the projections. Riverdance is known for that timeless music and that hypnotic fierceness, with the smoke and whatever, the show is known for giving the chills, the goosebumps that you get from the very beginning of the show. So we still have all of those special things but we’ve just upgraded them slightly and modernised it a little bit.
It keeps it fun as well for audience members that are going to come and watch the show because they know they’re getting that experience.
Riverdance has played to more than 28 million people in its 25-year history but there’s that thing of the Irish crowd, the home crowd, like you said. What is do you think is the difference? What do you think it is about The Gaiety, in particular, that is just so special?
Well, every person has something that they associate with home, and for Riverdance, as a company and as a feeling, The Gaiety Theatre is home for us. So although it’s absolutely an incredible experience to get to go on tour and to perform, there is that special feeling about saying that you’ve performed in The Gaiety.
It’s a feeling like nothing else, it’s a beautiful theater and we’re lucky enough to get to perform here most summers. And now, after two years away, it’s even more special to be back.
As well as that, a lot of our cast is Irish and they get to have their families come in and watch the show. The audience are also so close and with the shape of the theater, it’s a very intimate experience for the dancers on stage and for the audience members.
The physicality of a job like this, the training that goes into not only getting yourself ready, but keeping yourself there. For you and the rest of the company, what’s the training like, and how much of a commitment is it? It’s a full-time job in itself.
Well, we always say that, it’s like a full-time job looking after our bodies. We want to be at peak performance always so to maintain that and to keep ourselves in that shape, we do look after ourselves. We look at our diet, eating really healthy. We make sure we’re eating at the right time before the show, we make sure we’re hydrated all of the time. And then we also recover really well. So we do like ice baths and we stretch, we warm up, we use all the right equipment. But we work really hard.
Before each tour, we have a rehearsal period, that is tough – we’ve long days and we drill the show. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t be able to be our best onstage. And, it isn’t for everybody, but everybody that’s here wants to work that hard, and wants to put themselves forward and we help each other.
For me and for many people, when we think of Riverdance, we think of the military precision and everyone dancing in perfect unison. But there’s gotta be times when you guys slip up. Can you remember any on-stage mishaps? ,
Oh my God! I can’t believe I’m going to tell you what happened in The Marquee in Cork. So, I came on stage for you know, the big moment when all of the troupe walks on. We’re out there and I turn to the front to face the audience and as soon as I started to move, I fell and hit the ground.
I was informed that while I was on the floor I continued smiling so hopefully I didn’t let it show in my face too much before I jumped right back up and continued dancing.
Catch Riverdance 25th Anniversary at The Gaiety Theatre until 11 September 2022. Find your tickets here.