Celtic Tiger – The Show Must Go On

Directed and Choreography Michael Flatley

Rating: 2 out of 5.

With no ill intent, Americans will love this. Which will probably answer any questions for anyone watching Celtic Tiger. Lord of the Dance, the flashiest of toe-tappers and a bonified Irishman performer, Michael Flatley has an exceptionally acute sense of over-the-top style, panache and gusto when it comes to dance for the masses, and those families who are 100% certain they have Scottish or Irish heritage. Claiming to be his most ambitious piece to date, there is no denial about the bloated excesses of Celtic Tiger – a production which seeks to promote a sense of spiritual awakening and a fight for freedom.

When first hearing Michael Flatley, initial thoughts are of hideous emerald leotards, legs akimbo and Flatley at the head parading topless, for some reason. But it’s oh so much worse than this. Often insulting, more often confusing, Celtic Tiger tackles ballet, salsa, cheerleading and yes, Riverdance, amidst a myriad of tacky, gormless strutting.

From highland clearances, Bloody Sunday (no, seriously) and Al Capone, to Flatley single-handedly defeating the English Redcoats – Celtic Tiger feels like a mid-life crisis on overdrive. Raunchy strip-teases sit in the same category as ‘tributes’ to the Irish struggles and unrest. Marvellous choreography from the industry’s finest professionals, with some world-class string instrumentals and live bands, are upstaged by bikinis and fireworks. Little makes sense in Flatley’s direction of the production, nor does David Malley’s direction of the camerawork.

A particular issue is that it’s too cinematic, there’s an edit every few seconds which distract immeasurably from the snippets of genuine talent, the training, precision, and effort. These dancers are extraordinary, and the framing fails to allow this to be the focus – instead, drawing our eye to what else? Flesh. Flesh, glitter, and banners. Occasionally the camera-crew realise a necessity of Irish stepdance is to allow the audience to witness the mesmeric speed and articulation of footwork, but it’s usually for a moment before cascading back down the neckline of a young dancer.

Throughout ravaging Celtic history, with dashes of obtuse stereotypes, something mind-boggling beautiful happens. Twice, in fact, for as talented as the dancers can be, two vocal performances halt any snorts of derision. Irish singer Paul Harrington performs Four Green Fields, with control and impact which silences the riled-up audience, who have their fieriness doused with Harrington’s glorious rendition, sublimely sung with no distraction. Similarly, Una Gibney’s solo rendition of the Banshee’s Cry, a haunting melody of pitch-perfect tonal proportions is a set which stands out from the rest of the scattered production.

And this is the definitive issue with Celtic Tiger, its ambition is a killer. The production has such a gluttonous need to cover a vast array of genres and methods that it completely misses the mark on what Flatley has always been known for. When taking a moment to reflect, there is an ignition of brilliance. Take the Highland Clearances, the brutality of the redcoats as the flaming buildings unearth dancers, smoked out and wrought with emotion. The tremendous potential is then oversaturated with crocodile tears by a director who sees the faux-emotion, but not the significance.

Repugnantly, this is a five-star extravaganza of variety and movement – reduced to nothing but a pandering mess of cultural appropriation, mickey-mouse history and chauvinistic showboating. Elements of genuine Celtic mythos or haunting aspects of modern Irish history are painted over, glammed up and slapped into the gaping maws of a hungry audience who want their quality technique smothered in Hollywood schlock.

Review originally published for The Reviews Hub: https://www.thereviewshub.com/celtic-tiger-the-shows-must-go-on/

Screen.Dance – Scotland’s Festival of Dance

Originally set to take place in Edinburgh’s magnificently vibrant arts space Summerhall, Screen.Dance, Scotland’s Festival of Dance on Screen, will shift to an online format – presenting a digital programme from Friday 19th – Saturday 20th June. Drawing together dancers, choreographers, artists, film producers and musicians, the event will showcase work across the nation and beyond, forging unity from the local to national and international artists. 

Seeking to create a hybrid of enriched cinema, intersecting movement with image, this festival (unique to Scotland) presents a programme of forty-two short films which from across the globe, with a focus on movement & dance. More than a simple series of curated pieces of choreography, films will hone on the discussions, debates, and conversations on the relationships between filmmaking, dance, activism, and social justice with a programme traversing gender, race, disability and social, economic and political issues.

Hosted by The Works Room Glasgow and the European maPs project from Paris, Screen.Dance will be streaming programmes located in a specific area of their website, with presentations and films beginning from 11 am, Friday 19th June. With support from Film Hub Scotland, the festival will include two world premieres; Navigation by Marlene Millar and Floor Falls by Abby Warrilow, and Jennifer Patterson; a newly commissioned one-minute dance film supported by Creative Scotland.

On the subject of the festival, Screen.Dance Festival Artistic Director Simon Fildes said:

“It’s been so exciting to be able to work with the team at Summerhall, and move the apt genre of Screen.Dance, online. We are incredibly honoured to bring together work from Scotland and the UK, alongside work from countries such as Canada, China, India, and the USA; connecting award-winning artists and audiences to dance and digital...

Alongside films, presentations and discussions, we are delighted to have been able to commission work under the new one minute Screen.Dance commissioning scheme, produced by the company GO/AT, showcasing our commitment to supporting Scottish artists to make high quality work that can be exhibited in a competitive international platform showcase.”

Additionally, Screen.Dance Associate Curator Iliyana Nedkova discussed the programmes representation and variety in genre:

“We are so excited to be continuing to curate and programme work across the Screen.Dance genre – bringing together incredible artists, choreographers, dancers, film-makers and musicians...

 We are proud that the two world premieres this year make up the fact that the programme sees 50:50 gender representation, as we continue to push to bring a mix of artists from across fields into the spotlight.”

For more information, including access to the full programme & films please visit Screen Dance: www.screen.dance

Connect with Screen.dance over social media: Instagram, Facebook & Twitter

Balletboyz Deluxe – Festival Theatre

Bradley 4:18 Choreography by Maxine Doyle

Ripples Choreography by Xie Xin

Returning to Edinburgh after a successful run at the Festival Fringe, BalletBoyz performs their current Deluxe tour, which sees two productions back-to-back. Aiming to demonstrate the all-male troupe’s ability, Deluxe introduces audiences to two different shows from considerably esteemed choreographers. 

Sacrificing their traditional essence of grace, with an image more connecting with that of masculinity, BalletBoyz loses an integral part of their charm with Maxine Doyle’s production Bradley 4:18. Risks are vital, they maintain freshness, and the intent of injecting headbanging, blood-infused brawl of aggression, mayhem and mischief doesn’t fall foul on all fronts, it’s divisive for the audience. Some will feel confusion, others intrigue, but suspicions rise many more will find disappointment. 

Bradley 4:18 is distractingly literal, too physical to feel like authentic movement, instead conjuring the image of rehearsal. The choreography is less dance, more drunk West Side Story. Set in the early hours of the morning, the troupe perform the various situations one can find themselves within, the fights, the stumbles home and the ravenous hunger. It’s all coding, in a performance which seems to be relying on allegorical symbolism for the distinction some have between masculine traits and ballet. The issue is that the piece isn’t as technically capable as they desire, nor is it as rough footed as they want to communicate. 

There couldn’t be a more significant difference between Bradley 4:18 and BalletBoyz’ following piece Ripple. Where the layout of the previous piece had an obvious structure, which grinds against the technique of the dance, Ripple presents parable, tying suggestion to the movement, incorporating storytelling into the emotion. Xie Xin showcases the exceptional ability of the group, hypnotically capturing the fluidity of change through her gorgeous choreography. In the opening short film, she discusses the struggles of dealing with a troupe of male dancers, feeling that the energy levels of a mixture would result in a better dynamic, how the boys prove her wrong. 

Casting their forms into whirlpools, gentle bends of the river and dribbles of sudden, soothing flow – Ripple is a tremendous showcase. Capturing the essence of a base element is a signature profile of choreographed movement; with fire and air being relatively straight forward. Water has a distinction in its state, it’s shifting patterns, and Xin conveys this transformative property into the boys – who in turn, alter their being accordingly to morph into the shapeless mass of water. 

Technically, there is little to fault the BalletBoyz for, indeed their strength and talent are evident in the lifts, twists and peak ability on display. Where they falter, is the communicative ambition of the first piece, which misses the mark on what we associate with the company yet fails to offer a unique diversity to explain this distancing. Ripple, however, is nearly worth the ticket alone with its sensational depth of skill, and expertise to marry raw masculinity with elegance in a touching manner.

For touring information, please visit BalletBoyz at: https://www.balletboyz.com/whatson