Titanic Dance | Theatre Review
Belfast Waterfront • 18 August ’18
Words: Peter Moor • Photos: Marta Janiszewska
Ever since the Eurovision spectacular in 1994, Irish Dancing has become a hit. A dance form that automatically provides a feel-good factor, epitomised in Michael Flatley’s Riverdance.
The Titanic’s sinking in 1912 is a disaster so well known across the world, partly down to James Cameron’s epic romance that captured so many upon release in 1997.
These two mighty elements combine in Titanic Dance, only a few miles from RMS Titanic’s birthplace, at Belfast Waterfront. Such a heart-wrenching depiction of 1,517 deaths and many more lives torn apart makes for an emotional narrative.
It is always a challenge to pay fitting tribute to such a disaster, not celebrating and instead, remembering. The first half of the performance charts the lives of a lady from first class meeting, and falling in love, with a passenger from third class, all before the ship’s inevitable demise.
In this way, the performance retains a Jack, and Rose-esque story of love, reaching across the class divide. However, it would be wrong to tar Titanic Dance with a full Hollywood glaze. Instead, the sheer talent of 20 Irish dancers and 5 musicians bring it away from the all too easy showbiz feel. The speed, synchronisation, and rhythm of the talented troupe electrified the story throughout, providing welcome energy from what could have been a very guessable narrative.
This energy reverberated through the cavernous Belfast Waterfront – only with a relatively small audience in its stalls despite a wider capacity of over two thousand. The conviviality of a simple four man band, centred around the bodhrán provided a clear soundtrack throughout, with an eerie fiddle continuing to play as the ship went down.
Whilst the music provided a tempo, carrying the story, the role of the narrator felt somewhat out of place. Not to downplay the talent of superb soprano Orla Mullan, but the varied vocal mix distracted from a performance where the Irish Dancing was always such a spectacle that you were left waiting for the troupe’s next burst of energetic movement.
The dancing was all the more impressive given the cast had 18 new members, and for the performance to be at the end of the Belfast run. Even more so, earlier in the day, the cast had visited Belfast Children’s Hospital to bring the animated Titanic Dance to sick children.
Titanic Dance is not a new phenomenon for Belfast, following its initial performance at the then named Odyssey Arena, not forgetting its recent world tour gaining huge popularity with Chinese audiences. Most notably, however, was the China International Folk Arts Festival, where the show was beamed to a worldwide audience of 1.3 billion.
A more localised Belfast audience still seemed highly appreciative of the performance, with audience members revelling at the Irish dancing, after years of performing as children. There was, however, one notable question at the end, that many must have been thinking, “Where was Celine Dion?”
This, however, was a clear message against the vision of the directors Sean McAnaney, Ray Sweeney and Kevin Toland, according to Orla Griffin, who I interviewed in June.
“We’ve gone for a more raw, emotional, story rather than the glitz and glam,” she told me.
This attitude was very much apparent, with certain scenes, often accompanied by gentle soft shoe dance – very effective in portraying the emotion of the Titanic.
Titanic Dance seems to achieve something very difficult – knitting two pieces of local culture into one larger work – one that retains the energy of Irish dancing whilst still bringing out true emotion.
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