In a week or so, Appellate Judge Rob Lineberger's toes might stop tapping.
A true celebration of Ireland presented through song, dance, and storytelling.
It was a peaceful weekday evening. My wife and I were tired from a few days of hard work, and my toddler was a little droopy. "Hmm," I thought to myself, "seems like a good evening for a bit of Irish music."
In went Rhythm of the Dance, and we settled in for a dose of culture, or at least an opportunity to zonk out for an hour. The opening darkness and simulated thunder were a bit freaky, but in moments, the vibe kicked in. I felt movement and noticed that my son was swaying his head from side to side in time, slapping his knees in joy. Soon, we were all doing an impromptu jig in the middle of the living room floor, brought alive by the centuries-old strains of Irish folk music. The evidence is simple and clear; I can't give this disc higher praise than to say it had my worn-out family dancing in the living room.
The songs are:
Rhythm of the Dance begins with some traditional, unassuming Irish tunes. "Dualamon" is an easygoing vocal piece with an infectious chorus. "Tell Me Ma" brings us into pub song territory, upping the camp factor with a simulated bar (and barmaids). Even if you aren't intimately familiar with these opening songs, they're identifiably Irish and will get you feeling comfortable with the style of the performance.
"Celtic Rhythm" marks a transition into more dreamlike and experimental music. Traditional Irish hooks form the backbone for an eclectic mix of Latin-ish, techno-y music. "Awakening" sticks with the dreamlike theme, haunting and quiet.
"Kavanagh's Reels" breaks us out of the dream, getting down to business with a thriving instrumental piece that features an accordion, two fiddles, drums, a banjo, and a woodwind. The dancers get a break; it is just us and the musicians.
Oh, haven't I mentioned the dancers? Rhythm of the Dance is an ambitious production. In addition to live music performed by traditionally minded Irish artists, the stage is awash in a flurry of dancers. The women are all tall, and they all have long straight ponytails, but otherwise they have remarkable individuality. The guys wear flowing shirts and vests, and look like they are having a great time. Many of the songs are accompanied by the thunderous taps of the dancers' feet pounding in unison.
We return to tradition with "Molly," my Irish Molly. The dancers are back in long Kelly green and gold dresses, the guys in their best traditional vests. This number was so traditionally Irish that it seems conservative in comparison to some of the peppier tunes. You may find yourself wishing for the peppiness after hearing "The Great Hunger," a tragic song about the millions who died in the potato famine. It is a sobering bit of historical downtime, rounding out the performance with a note of reality.
We get pumping again with a reel session and carry on through a couple more feisty pieces. But the musicians and dancers really seem to come alive with "Celebrating Rhythms," a kinetic, offbeat number that pulses with creative rhythms. The performers have always given the impression of having fun, but they really seem to get into this one. As their enthusiasm and the music build, the number distinguishes itself as the highlight of the disc. The infusion of non-Irish tempos gives "Celebrating Rhythms" a contemporary edge.
It isn't all downhill from here, though it does get more subdued. "She Moved Through the Fair" is a plaintive vocal piece, followed by an atmospheric, new-agey meditation number. The melancholy intensifies with "Collier's Reels," a song that evokes the yearning at the core of the Irish heart. (This song will be familiar to Highlander fans; it accented some of Duncan's most poignant moments.)
Perkiness returns with "Gawlay Chassers," which is lively but not as compelling as some of the former tunes. "Celtic Warriors" is accented by bold lighting, but again the piece didn't seem as invigorating as some of the earlier numbers. Fortunately, the performance closes with a bang. "The Journey's End" is a simple, infectious number that begins with an extended curtain call, letting each group of dancers and musicians shine for a moment. Then, it is as though everyone involved says "Okay, now that we got that out of the way, let's get down to business." The entire ensemble jumps right back into action, making a statement that the Irish don't take a break, and they work together. It is a rousing conclusion that gets the crowd cheering.
So much for the content; how is the presentation? Not so rosy in that department, unfortunately. Music is a big part of this disc, and a clean stereo track would have been a boon. This AC3 track is quite harsh, with overemphasized sibilants and static. There are frequent dropouts and volume fluctuations, rendering some of the quieter songs less than soothing. The sound quality didn't suffer as bad listening through my JBL studio series mains, but headphones brought all of the harshness and audio artifacts front and center.
Visuals don't suffer as bad. For a video capture of a live performance, Rhythm of the Dance is remarkably kinetic, with shifting perspectives, closeups and wide shots, and other means of providing visual interest. Periodic video clips and graphics add a touch of color. The video quality is not in and of itself impressive, but there aren't glaring video glitches to detract from the performance.
One further quibble, though it may not be much of an issue: The website claims that Rhythm of the Dance is a two-hour performance, but the DVD is 95 minutes. Are we missing any of the good stuff?
This live-action spectacle of music, dancing, song, and special effects has sold more than three million tickets worldwide. The blend of contemporary aesthetics with ages-old Irish rhythms is an effective one that will get your feet tapping. The DVD has an annoying audio track that will detract from the audiophile's experience, but if you are looking for a fun family night disc, this one may fit the bill. The Irish have had a hard enough time of it, this court will not mete out more punishment. Court is adjourned.
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