SALT LAKE CITY — St. Patrick’s Day might be behind us, but the celebration of Irish culture isn't ending anytime soon as "Riverdance — The 20th Anniversary World Tour" steps into Salt Lake's Eccles Theater next week.
While the production includes roughly 30 dancers — many from Ireland — "Riverdance" features a host of styles ranging from American tap to Russian folk dance.
“I love the style of it because it's so unique,” Kieran Hardiman, an Ireland-born lead dancer in “Riverdance,” told the Deseret News. “Everybody knows about American tap dancing and clogging and even flamenco dancing — they're all worldwide, but not many people know about Irish dancing.”
Running April 3-8, “Riverdance” recounts the journey of the Irish people — from settling Ireland to their departure to the New World and interaction with other cultures, according to Celtic Cafe.
The theatrical performance, with music from Grammy Award-winning composer Bill Whelan, was conceived as an intermission feature in the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest and watched by over 300 million European viewers, according to RTE, an Irish national public service broadcaster. The performance prompted a broad interest in Irish step dance and was even credited with transforming the dance into a worldwide phenomenon.
Hardiman and his friend, Alan Scariff, were among the viewers inspired by the performance, and the two eventually went on to tour with “Riverdance.” According to KSL, following more than a decade of performing around the world, the two men settled in Utah after a weeklong teaching engagement at the now Scariff-Gilleoghan School of Irish Dance in Sandy, owned by Scariff's brother, turned into something more.
“(The Scariff School) became very, very popular," Hardiman said. “We were two male Irish dancers, and obviously we were two dancers from ‘Riverdance’ as well, so (students) knew they were learning from people who have done it all their lives rather than just like an American teacher.”
Hardiman taught at the school from 2011 to 2014 before returning to Ireland to pursue other interests, including once again taking on a lead role in “Riverdance.” But his popularity at the school hasn’t diminished. Janet Farnsworth, who helps manage the school, has secured around 120 tickets to see Hardiman perform next week.
“Kieran is dearly loved by our school, and we are beyond excited to see him dance with ‘Riverdance,’” she said. “He is a true showman and … I think seeing Kieran in the show gives our dancers a personal connection to a huge production.”
The school’s students and staff even recently promoted the show at the 40th annual St. Patrick’s Day parade put on by Salt Lake's Irish community.
“(The Scariff School students) were so happy to help out the Eccles Theater in promoting 'Riverdance,'" Farnsworth said. "They are all eager to get out in the community and show the world what Irish dance is all about.”
Amelia Walker, a former student of Hardiman’s and current teacher at the Scariff School, was part of the procession that, in spite of the rain, involved roughly 60 students parading the streets, holding banners and supporting Hardiman.
Walker was also interested in Irish dance at a young age like Hardiman. Following her clogging classes as a child, she would linger after to look through the window at the ensuing Irish dance class. When her mother finally signed her up for the classes, Walker said she remembers having the dance style instantly “engraved in (her) heart.”
And like Hardiman, “Riverdance” was a large part of getting Walker interested in professional Irish dance.
“‘Riverdance’ was my very first show that I saw to really get me into Irish dancing,” she said. “Whenever I would watch it as a kid … it just made me happy.”Comment on this story
When Hardiman steps into his "Riverdance" role at the Eccles Theater next week, it will be a continuation of his goal to promote Irish culture and entertainment, as the Irish dancer has participated in 12 different shows throughout 40 countries, according to his bio.
“(Irish dance) is our culture, it's our art form," he said. "It's great to spread it around the world and show everyone our culture. ('Riverdance') is a high energy show and it's high tempo — everybody loves it.”
If you go …
What: “Riverdance — The 20th Anniversary World Tour”
When: April 3-8, times vary
Where: Eccles Theater, 131 Main St.
How much: $25-$75