‘More than just girls with their arms by their sides doing a jig’

Michael McDonagh spoke to Duncan Heather than man behind Emerald Storm, a new Irish dance spectacular the he wants to take on Riverdance

The show Emerald Storm is set in Celtic Otherworld, a mythological Heaven. When sinister elements threaten this paradise the Queen of the Otherworld calls upon the mortal, Emerald Storm, to save the mythical land from destruction.

Its producers promise the show features the “immense power and thunderous rhythms of Irish dance brought soaring into the 21st century”. Their twist on traditional Irish dancing also makes space for Salsa, Jazz and Ballroom as well as alive singing and instrumentals – so something for everybody.

So is Emerald Storm going to be the next Riverdance?

“Financially I’d like it to be. I hope so. My wife worked for Spirit of the Dance for a long time and she is the link to Irish dancing that we have and she is the choreographer of the show, so we are very aware of how popular that genre is and how impacting those shows are, and there are lots of them, and they are very successful.

“So what we have tried to do is tip the hat to that genre and to those shows such as Riverdance, Spirit Of The Dance and Rhythm Of The Dance but also we have made it more urban.

“Ours is a little bit more modern with the style of dance as there is some street dancing in there and some ballroom and various things that are within the show that means we have loosened up the Irish tap a little bit.

Duncan Heather man behind Emerald Storm dance show

“As opposed to just girls in tights with arms down by their sides our style of dress is more modern. Our show also includes songs like Shenandoah and Whiskey in the Jar to keep the interest of the audience.”

The video you posted of the song Shenandoah was filmed on Rivington Pike in Lancashire, near where in the 1960s my fashion designer sister had her first boutique. Isn’t Rivington as it is about as far from Ireland as you can get?

“Yes. It is gorgeous up there and unless you know it you would not know it was there, but we were lucky as we did it just before the terrible big fire and it only just escaped being destroyed by those flames.

“It is only about 40 minutes from where I live so was nearer than going to a location in Ireland and it worked well for us and was an ideal location for us to use for our film.”

How did you come to do this show?

“The project started off as a corporate act as I was asked to create a big dance piece for one of my clients for a corporate Celtic event at the Birmingham Hilton Metropole. So I created it with 8 dancers for a 22-minute piece and it went down a storm.

“From there it was a natural progression to develop it into a theatre show. For the last year and half that is what I’ve been doing.”

Duncan Heather man behind Emerald Storm dance show

Is it all new material or have you drawn from known tried and tested themes?

“Initially it was going to be completely new music from start to finish but then we introduced some familiar and classic Irish songs like Fields Of Athenry, Whiskey In The Jar and the American song Shenandoah with the Emerald Storm production.”

What is the balance between dance and songs?

“Well there are probably about eight songs within the whole show but there is dance involved with some of those as in Whiskey in the Jar, where the whole ensemble are doing Irish Dance between the verses to a live Irish
fiddle.

“We have designed the show with a bit more of a thread than say Rhythm Of The Dance, or Spirit Of The Dance does. We have more of a story and I looked into that Celtic Otherworld story and I was enticed into that myth about the heavens and the elements.”

When I read the synopsis of all that mythological Heaven and Otherworld stuff it all sounded a bit Kate Bush…

“Yes exactly. Our violinist plays the role of the mystical Queen and even what she wears is very dramatic and, of course, we loved Kate Bush.”

Is it live music or playback?

“Only the violin is live – the rest is specially recorded and, of course, all the vocals are live. We created all the music from scratch, which cost a lot of money, but by being pre-recorded we can get a big sound, as there would not be enough room on the stages for the dancers and a live band.

“We felt it was the right thing to do especially with some of the theatres we are doing. We will be filling those stages as we have a cast of fifteen as it is and we could not get a band on as well. We have a kind of riser at the back and there is back projection into the backdrop but it would have been too cramped to have anybody else on there if we were to have the space for the dancers to work.”

Duncan Heather man behind Emerald Storm dance show

How much of it is actually Irish? Is the Jazz and Salsa in to widen the appeal away from an Irish Interest audience?

“No, I don’t think we are trying to move away from the Irish interest and, of course, we want the audiences that loved those other Irish dance shows to come as we recognise that they were so popular. Seventy per cent is Irish dance, some soft shoe, some Irish tap, but we also have some other edgy stuff and the ballroom and salsa elements, and different styles of music are used as part of the story, to which we put Irish dance.

“So it is not just twinkly Irish music, there are some heavy rock pieces when there is an attack going on
because the story is representing climate change in a kind of way.

“Each of the elements from the myth of the Otherworld with the Fairy Queen are represented by a different style of dance, so it is partly done from an audience perspective and partly for the feel of the show – like we go into a tango number which is the fire and the tempo of the music changes and the back-production changes and then we go back into the Irish music with the Fairy Queen and all is well at the end.

“It is the Irish themes and the Irish dance that make everything all right but I don’t want to give away too much.

Duncan Heather man behind Emerald Storm dance show
Duncan Heather

“There is more of a story than in the others and especially as we are using narration performed by our leading male vocalist, who does some poems set to music and also the big song. It is a clash of these worlds and these styles of dance and is quite a spectacle really.”

Was your background as a singer or as a dancer?

“For twenty years I have been a professional singer either here or in America and what I have learned is that there is a big audience out there if you get it right. Seven Drunken Nights, based on The Dubliners, which was done by the same producers as our show, has done really well, as anybody with a love of Irish music can enjoy that show.

“We are trying to appeal to that audience but are also trying to get a new audience in a way and produce something we are really proud of with a show that can travel and be popular.

“This production would really suit a run in America, in Las Vegas or somewhere at a big hotel, where there would be a big audience for an Irish dancing show.

“When people come they will see that we have all the Irish elements in there and not just the cool and edgy stuff that is in there as well.

 

“The younger Irish dance groups are really grabbing on to it and want to be involved as it is different.

“It is more than just a lot of Irish dancers in a line doing that Riverdance thing. We are trying to do something special and even now as I watch it in rehearsal from the wings that Irish dance is just fascinating but we are doing it our way and making it edgier with ripped jeans and things.

“We are I suppose a cross between Riverdance and Prodijig so with our dancing and the songs and the music in there it is in a way a ‘musical’ in a kind of way.

“It is enthralling with the dance but there is a thread and there is a story with the live violin, so it is much more than just a concert of Irish music, so we hope it will appeal to a broader spectrum of audience.”

How many shows are you doing around the country?

“We are doing 20 dates in the autumn here then we have a break and are going to Europe where we will do five or six weeks in Holland then on to tour Germany.”

It all sounds very exciting with a fresh approach so check it out and see if you think it will be as popular as Riverdance, which set the bar so high for all the dance shows that followed.


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