BBC Video // 1997 // 102 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Brendan Babish (Retired) // March 5th, 2008
The legendary show and its fleet-footed superstars return!
I'll admit it, I don't know much about Riverdance. Like the stereotypical red-blooded American male, I generally don't care much for dancing. So before watching Riverdance: Live From Radio City Music Hall my entire knowledge of this Irish tap-dancing troupe came from commercials and vague memories of Michael Flatley on television (and apparently Flatley, the "Lord of the Dance," left Riverdance in the mid-1990s, so I can't vouch for whether these clips were actually Riverdance-related). That said, I have encountered people who are huge Riverdance fans, and their fevered testimonials to the show's greatness made me worry that, if I were actually were forced to watch the show, I might also turn into a fanatical fan of the Irish dance. Frankly, that just doesn't jibe with my self-image.
So when I received Riverdance: Live From Radio City Music Hall in the mail I was both curious to see what all the fuss was about and a bit trepid. From the first few moments of the show, my trepidation increased. As I'm sure all Riverdance fans know, these folks can dance. As the young women and men lined up and tapped along with the traditional Irish music with an impressively restrained energy, I couldn't help but get transfixed. But then it quickly became apparent that, no matter how impressive the dancing was, there is a flaw in this presentation that prevented me from entirely enjoying the show.
Unfortunately, Riverdance: Live From Radio City Music Hall suffers from a common affliction affecting modern musical films: the frequent cutting and close-ups ruin the dance sequences. These frequent cuts not only inhibit the audiences' ability to appreciate the great stamina and concentration needed to execute an intricate series of dance moves, but also make it more difficult to admire the expert choreography. In Riverdance there are several impressive long shots that appear for a few seconds -- just long enough to get an idea of the grandeur and difficulty of these dances -- and then director John McColgan makes the inexplicable decision to cut to one of the performer's motionless torso, or perhaps a pair of frantically tapping boots.
Which brings us to my second grievance against the film: the close-ups. While a couple of glimpses of shoes and perhaps even motionless torsos might be appropriate, the number shown in this film really undermines how impressive these performers really are.
Watching Riverdance: Live From Radio City Music Hall, I was reminded of a recent visit to Las Vegas. I was talking to my hotel concierge about buying tickets for Cirque de Soleil's Love and thinking about splurging for some seats up close to the stage. However, the concierge assured me that the cheaper bleacher seats were better, as you could see the entire production from on high. Watching Riverdance, I'm not sure if the DVD wouldn't be vastly improved with only one stationary camera in the rafters, or at the very least, longer shots of longer duration.
Although the direction of the DVD is likely to disappoint fans,
Riverdance: Live From Radio City Music Hall does come with a second disc
bursting with extras. "Riverdance: The Documentary -- 10 Years" is an
interesting look at the birth of the show, and how it has evolved over the past
decade (the show often changes depending on the size of the venue). The second
documentary, "Riverdance in China," shows that Irish tap dancing is
not only for Occidentals. In fact, it is interesting to see how well received
the show is such a foreign culture. The last documentary, "Riverdance on
Peppermill," features Jean Butler -- one of the founding members and choreographers of Riverdance -- who talks about the evolution of the act and shows off some nifty dance moves.
Two other strengths of the DVD set: beautiful orchestration presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound and a classy cardboard, book-like case. Fans of Riverdance might be disappointed in this film's ability to recreate the show in their living room, and I think casual fans would be fine giving this set a pass, but devotees -- assuming they don't already have this set in a previous DVD incarnation -- will probably find enough here to justify a purchase.
Review content copyright © 2008 Brendan Babish; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 102 Minutes
Release Year: 1997
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Riverdance: The Documentary--10 Years
* Riverdance in China Documentary
* Riverdance on the BBC's Peppermill
* Official Site