Orange County this weekend
By PAUL HODGINS / THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
After 16 years of wild popularity, Orange County will get a chance to say goodbye when Riverdance plays the Segerstrom Center for the Arts 28 -30 October.
We talked to someone who has been Riverdance since the very beginning.
Dance captain Niamh O’Connor, has been performing since the age of four. She auditioned for Riverdance when she was still in high school and was part of the ensemble for the show’s 1995 Dublin full-length premiere. She holds the record for most Riverdance appearances.
First off, how have you managed to perform in this high-energy show for so long? What’s your secret?
Niamh O’Connor: At first, we didn’t know much about (the rigors of) touring and doing eight shows a week and the whole physicality of it. We just put our shoes on and danced! It takes a toll on your body. I’ve had shin splints and repetitive-motion injuries and stuff. I started to learn more about my muscle groups and conditioning and yoga and icing after the show to take the lactic acid out of the muscles. We’ve got a physiotherapist and a massage therapist on the tour with us. You have to keep up with your flexibility. Also, you know, the usual: keeping to a good diet and looking after yourself and getting good rest. But it’s been a long and gradual learning process. I’ve been very fortunate and not had any serious injuries.
What about vacations?
O’Connor: Well, for the first year we were just chockablock sold out. I didn’t want to take time off because I might have missed something! But our tours are shorter now. You have a little more down time, so you don’t need a (mid-tour) vacation.
Tell us about how you got to be a part of Riverdance.
O’Connor: It became famous because it was part of the Eurovision song contest in 1994. I knew about it. I was very upset (not to audition) because I was in my final year of high school and couldn’t. Then they realized they needed more dancers (for the 1995 Dublin premiere). I got a call to audition for Michael Flatley (the show’s choreographer). I got my shoes and went to the rehearsal space, where he watched me. It was so nerve-racking. They only brought three extra dancers on, and I was one of them. I was 18 when I auditioned and turned 19 the year it opened.
How did your parents feel about you going straight from high school into dancing for a living?
O’Connor: My mom used to dance and my grandmom too, and my parents are very proud of Irish dancing. I had competed at the world champion level. I was always very dedicated to it. When the opportunity came about, my parents were a little surprised. They always thought I’d go on to college. My dad was a bit skeptical when I told him. But he finally accepted it and said, “OK, why not, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
How is Riverdance different from traditional Irish dancing?
O’Connor: The steps that we do in Riverdance aren’t so different, but what’s challenging is the speed that we do them. They’re much faster. And I’d never danced in formation before; I was always a soloist. Dancing as a synchronized team was very difficult for us at the beginning. And I had to learn to act – to deliver to an audience and smile. Traditionally, (Irish dancing) is very serious and it’s all about the steps.
Has Riverdance changed over the years? Is the version we’re seeing in O.C., the same as the original?
O’Connor: The concept is exactly the same. But this one is slightly smaller than the original production. And (the content) has changed a bit. There was a period of trial and error to see that the audience liked and what worked, what didn’t; we got rid of some parts that slowed it down. You’re seeing, I think, a more theatrical version of the show now. What hasn’t changed is the energy, the power.
What will you do after Riverdance?
O’Connor: Family is the first thing that will be on my list. (O’Connor and her husband, a fellow “Riverdance” performer, have no kids and split their down time between Dublin and New York, his home town). We may set up a little school as well here in the U.S. Irish dancing is still huge in America. I’m sure I could keep busy teaching what I know for the rest of my life.
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