Our review of Riverdance: Live From New York City: Superbit Edition, published December 20th, 2003, is also available.
In Dance and Song…
Riverdance swept the world by storm back in '95/'96, gathering a huge head of steam as a cultural sensation. It was unique in our modern electronic, computerized and heavily popular world in that it was a 'classic' piece of entertainment. Simply 'boring old tap dancing' set to Celtic music and song, many found Riverdance oddly enthralling, strangely appealing, and thoroughly enjoyable.
Live in New York is recorded, oddly enough, from a performance the Riverdance troupe gave in New York City. The performance differs from the first Riverdance set to consumer video (Riverdance: The Show) in one notable cast change, and in the inclusion of a few additional numbers amid the familiar and expected items. Colin Dunne ably replaces Michael Flatley. Jean Butler stays on as the female lead, as does Maria Pages as the flamenco dancer.
Much like Titanic, either you like Riverdance, or you don't. Fortunately for the Irish dancers, however, it never really got as fashionable to bash Riverdance as it has become to scorn the story of star crossed lovers on a ship fated to sink. Before Riverdance, if you said "tap dancing" to most Americans, you wouldn't get the most positive and enthusiastic of responses. After Riverdance, however, many Americans would think of the Irish troupe, and have a favorable memory at that.
The disc is adapted from the previously available VHS version in 1.77:1 anamorphic video, and has never looked better. Colors are crisp, and there are no instances of artifacting or edge bleed. When you've got forty some-odd dancers on stage, that's saying a certain something; the video is nicely done, a joy to behold.
In addition to the video, there are biographies on a host of key players and groups involved in the success of this performance. Colin Dunne, Jean Butler, Maria pages, of course. But also the Riverdance Troupe itself, the Riverdance Orchestra and Singers, Eileen Ivers (the excellent fiddler), Kate McMahon and Morgan Crowley (the female and male soloists), the Moscow Fold Ballet Company, Tarik Winston and Daniel B Wooten Jr (the tappers in the tap off), and Ivan Thomas (the opera singer). There are also two short featurettes (Behind the Scenes, Riverdance: The Story).
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Unfortunately, that's where the good things on this disc end. The sound is horrible. I could spend some time searching my thesaurus for a nicer way to indicate a less than optimal sound transfer, but I feel that adjective is fitting. I actually spent time running test tones on my speakers, and then put in a few reference discs to make sure my system hadn't fritzed out on me or something. Then I dug out my old VHS copy of this same title and put that in. The VHS sound is better than the DVD's, and that indicates something is very, very wrong with this disc.
The few instances of dialogue (the voice-in-the-sky narrator that accompanies the program) are faded behind the music, and thus very hard to discern. The sound actually drops out repeatedly throughout the expanse of the disc. The surrounds are used only for crowd noises during applause, and occasionally something else; but that's about it. Everything about the sound transfer is weak, muddy and very indistinct. Taps are not bold and strong, the orchestra's efforts fade too far into the background, singers' voices don't project. The entire sound field is very unfocused and lacking in strength. Both the 2.0 and 5.1 tracks suffer these problems. It's a real shame that such a wonderful piece received such a crippling sound effort.
Additionally, the disc is a flipper. This forces the viewer to interrupt the concert halfway through to get up and change sides on the DVD, which completely takes one out of the performance. For shame, Columbia/TriStar.
And finally, the chapter stops are poorly conceived. Rather than placing one at each individual dance, song or musical number, the chapter stops are "grouped" together. To find a specific number you might be looking for, you have to chapter stop to its group, then fast scan forward through until you see it. Definitely not the way to have gone about it.
Riverdance is a wonderful production, and I'm sure many look forward to what the dance troupe and its accompanying musicians and singers will be bring the world in the future. But the studio has done them a grave disservice with this uninspired and lacking disc transfer.
Columbia/TriStar is severely reprimanded for this extremely crippled disc. Since the studio has shown signs of going through their early DVD releases to reissue them in better form, the court strongly recommends Riverdance: Live in New York be placed on the reissue list for immediate treatment.
Everyone else is thanked for their wonderful efforts.
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