Stage is set for Riverdance in UL Arena in Limerick

Alan Owens


Alan Owens

Stage is set for Riverdance in UL Arena in Limerick
DEMAND for Riverdance was so “extraordinary” that more than 17,000 tickets could have been sold in Limerick, according to the show’s executive producer.

DEMAND for Riverdance was so “extraordinary” that more than 17,000 tickets could have been sold in Limerick, according to the show’s executive producer.

Some 2,500 people a night will see the show from this Thursday to Sunday, with three performances on Saturday, leading to a massive crowd witnessing the first major event of Limerick City of Culture and the 20th anniversary tour of the show.

All of the shows are now sold out, and Julian Erskine, executive producer, said the demand surpassed expectations.

“Because of the just extraordinary demand, we are now doing three shows on Saturday, which we have only once in 20 years,” he said.

“That was a long time ago due to just extraordinary demand in Japan. So Japan and Limerick now hold the record for the only place we have had to do three shows in one day,” he laughed.

Six articulated trucks brought the stage, rigging and seating into a transformed UL Arena over the weekend. Transforming the arena took some major calculations, Mr Erskine revealed.

“The thing that has kept us out of Limerick for the last 20 years has been the lack of a venue that could take a show this big,” he explained.

“It was a combination of Limerick City of Culture inviting us to come down and the fact that Bill Whelan is from Limerick – we then said we had to make a concerted effort and find somewhere.

“So I came down and had a look around and came out here and thought, ‘Why not? We can do it here. It is an arena and we play in arenas all over Europe.

“It has taken a lot of work to convert the arena into a full-on theatre, but we are really happy with it now.”

The massive stage stands at 24m long and 10m deep, with the nature of the basketball court floor it rests upon proving an additional headache for the technical staff.

“There is a double thing, there is what is below us and above us; because the floor has a weight loading as it is a sprung basketball floor, and the roof, like any, has a safe loading in terms of what you can hang off it,” said Julian.

“Our technical guys have done a huge amount of work with the UL team just making sure everything is safe.

“We will be heading for the 17,000 people. That is just incredible. When we started talking about this a year ago, everybody was saying ‘that is a lot of tickets, it might not happen’.

“We have not only disproved that, we could have stayed longer and surpassed it.”

The show not only represents a homecoming for composer Bill Whelan, but also dancers Brian Shinnors, from Newport and Patrick O’Mahony, from Ballylongford who both said they felt privileged to be so close to home with Riverdance.

“I am really looking forward to the Limerick stint,” said Brian, standing side of stage during rehearsals this Wednesday.

“I went to college in Mary Immaculate, so I am really looking forward to performing here,” he explained.

The young dancer trained with Linda Ball-Hoban in the city, and said that a “big crowd” was coming to the shows.

“All the aunts, uncles, cousins, everyone that knows me is coming,” he laughed.

“I have been with Riverdance since 2011 and have been really lucky so far, touring to China, the US and the Gaiety in Dublin. I have got a good taste, so I am really looking forward to bringing it home to my home turf.”

“When Riverdance was on in the Eurovision, I was only a toddler and now to be dancing so close to home, feels good,” added Patrick.

The dancers explained that the stage has a certain amount of ‘bounce’ on it, to help ease injury and add to their performances.

“We usually bring our own stage with us anywhere we go so it is the same stage, the same bounce, same feeling every time,” explained Patrick.

“It is not like walking on a timber floor, there is a spring to it,” he added.

Two ‘flight cases’ stand either side of the stage, allowing the 40 dancers to make quick changes throughout the show.

A number of changes have been made to the show for the 20th anniversary tour which begins in Limerick and will crisscross Europe for the next year. While the music has not been touched, the choreography and costumes, designed by three time Emmy winner Joan Bergin, have been updated.

“How the show looks and sounds, with new lighting design and costumes, particularly, has been updated,” said Mr Erskine.

Backstage, wardrobe supervisor Mary Sheehan said: “We are introducing a number of new costumes into the show, primarily for the female troupe, so we are very excited to see the final product.

“It is the same designer, Joan Bergin, that designs all our costumes, and she is wonderful, and she really has a sense of the show. It is very much an updated, but in a similar style version, so we are very happy.”

Meanwhile a number of children from the Ark Unit in University Hospital Limerick will be attending Riverdance over the weekend, thanks to a Limerick Leader promotion.

Beryl Carswell of the unit said she was “delighted” with the donation, which will see a number of children, and their families, attend shows on Saturday and Sunday.

“I know the children and families involved will really enjoy the occasion,” she said.