Riverdance team Fuse flamenco and fiddlers in new show
‘Heartbeat of Home’, a new dance show from the creators of ‘Riverdance’, with lyrics by Joseph O’Connor and music by Brian Byrne, is drawing a new musical map of Ireland
How does this manifest itself in music and dance? “In the first half you hear salsa music by itself and Irish music by itself, and gradually they intertwine,” says Byrne. “By the time you reach the end of the show there’s rap, mambo, salsa, Irish céilí, jazz, Benny Goodman. ”
He explains the complexity of different folk rhythms and traditional airs. He taps out beats. He lilts a few tunes. He explains how to put a salsa bass line beneath an Irish reel, again singing and tapping it out.
He also discusses the role of technology in the creation of the show. The writers collaborated via email. Initial audition tapes were collected online from dancers all over the world who were influenced by Riverdance, and Byrne absorbed hours and hours of music on the internet. “I’d go down the wormhole of YouTube for hours, days, weeks,” says Byrne. “I knew about flamenco music, but for me to write a bulería, the most difficult flamenco dance, I really had to get the rhythm of it into my body . . . There are these internal accents. I’d look it up on YouTube and watch for hours and then would spend weeks walking my dog around Los Angeles [where he lives], counting it out.”
“That dog’s a great dancer now,” says O’Connor.
‘Riverdance’ nailed it
Byrne was first approached by McColgan and Doherty when he was working on a film score in Ireland in 2010. He initially thought of turning the job down, “because I thought that what Bill [Whelan] did with Riverdance, blending Irish music with a contemporary orchestra and band, just nailed it.”
O’Connor sees Riverdance as a milestone on the road to Irish self-confidence and maturity. “I grew up in an Ireland that wasn’t even on the map. My grandfather used to read the News of the World or one of the other English tabloids; there was the weather map of Britain, and beside it was this funny little island called Northern Ireland. The place that I lived actually wasn’t there. We weren’t worth the ink. So you had a notion of Ireland being a disappeared place.
“There are moments over the past 20 years when Ireland came out of the 20th century . . . The World Cup was one of them: seeing players in an Ireland jersey who were black and spoke with a Liverpool or Glasgow accent all on the same team. The Irish rugby team playing in Croke Park is a huge part of Ireland’s growing up.
“A writer such as Kevin Barry couldn’t exist 20 years ago . . . There’s a generation of Irish writers now who are not in the shadow of writers 20 years older. And Riverdance was part of that. It took this thing, Irish dancing, that a lot of people were a bit embarrassed about.
“In the same way, some regarded the Irish language as this sad old relic from the past and forgot the enormous richness of it. In our haste to hate ourselves we were ready to throw these things away.”