IT was 25 years ago tomorrow that a true showbusiness phenomenon made its debut on a stage in Dublin. Riverdance: The Show had its world premiere in the Point Theatre in the Irish capital on February 9, 1995, in the presence of Ireland’s president, Mary Robinson.

It has since gone on to play at more than 450 venues in more than 40 countries around the world, and on every continent except Antarctica. More than 25 million people worldwide have seen one or another version of the show and almost 2000 dancers and musicians have taken part in it.

It is simply the most successful dance-based show in the world on stage at the moment, with a 25th anniversary tour up and running, starting back in its original home city this weekend.


WHEN Ireland notched a home win in the Eurovision Song Contest in 1993 – Niamh Kavanagh won it with the song In Your Eyes – the country secured the right to host the 1994 contest.

Hardly anyone remembers that Ireland won it again with Paul Harrington and Charlie McGettigan singing Rock ’n’ Roll Kids but almost everyone who watched the show will remember the interval act – Riverdance. And there were 300 million people globally who watched that extraordinary, innovative performance. Or perhaps not that innovative, for when Ireland hosted Eurovision in 1981, during the interval the folk band Planxty played a tune called Timedance composed by Bill Whelan and Donal Lunny, while dancers acted out an Irish ballet.

Whelan was asked to write music for the interval show in 1994, and thought back to Timedance. He came up with a new fresh score, very much Irish traditional music with a modern take, and he called it Riverdance.

The show’s overall producer, John McColgan, and his wife Moya Doherty took the exceptional risk of tearing up the Irish dancing rule book. Doherty was put in charge of the interval show and she wanted to do something to reflect the changes in Irish society. Doherty said they would put the dancers in black short skirts, with no embroidery and no ringlets in the dancers’ hair – an absolute must in Irish dancing – and have the choral group Anuna singing.

She also knew of the work of American-born Michael Flatley, the former world Irish dance champion and a world-class flute player. Flatley and Mavis Ascott did much of the choreography while Flatley, who had danced with The Chieftains, was the male solo lead alongside his fellow American Jean Butler, a champion Irish dancer who also contributed to the choreography.

The seven-minute show received a standing ovation from the audience and the reaction globally was such that McColgan and Doherty decided they would expand Riverdance to a full-length theatrical production.

They mortgaged their house to raise money and, with Flatley, Butler and much of the original cast, they planned the opening in Dublin. It opened to huge critical acclaim and is still running 25 years later.

Now a millionaire many times over, McColgan would later admit to the risk they had taken, saying they needed the show to open to 50-60% audiences.

In its first run, the audience figure was 100% and it made enough money to finance the first tours to England and the USA.


THEY vary, sometimes from show to show, and different dances have come and gone over the years, but the iconic Riverdance section always features.

The latest shows start with Reel Around the Sun and The Heart’s Cry, followed by The Countess Cathleen and a lone piper playing a haunting lament on the Uilllean pipes.

Thunderstorm and Firedance – flamenco influenced – are followed by Russian-inspired Shivna, then more music and finally Riverdance itself to finish Act One.

Act Two includes American Wake, Lift the Wings and the sensational Trading Taps, a homage to tap dance. Macedonian Morning, followed by a Latin dance section and more haunting Irish dance scenes and music lead up to a fabulous finale.


McCOLGAN recently told the Irish world: “Right now, we are working on a very big feature film, a Riverdance animation. Bill Whelan is reworking the score and Pierce Brosnan is narrating. It is a £30 million production in association with a French company.”

The couple have been very successful with their television production company Tyrone, which has been going for 30 years.

Last year they produced a sort of sequel to Riverdance, Heartbreak of Home, very much a dance-based show, which sold out its six week London run.

It may be revived, but at the moment all concentration is on the 25th anniversary Riverdance show.


HERE’S what the producers say: “Twenty-five years on from the first time Riverdance the Show premiered at the Point Theatre Dublin, composer Bill Whelan has re-recorded his mesmerising soundtrack while producer Moya Doherty and director John McColgan have completely reimagined the ground-breaking show with innovative and spectacular lighting, projection and stage designs with new costume designs by Joan Bergin, to create the Riverdance 25th Anniversary Show.”

It will be at the Playhouse in Edinburgh from April 24-26 and Glasgow’s King’s Theatre from May 4-6. Its many Scottish fans will no doubt queue to see the latest Riverdance.