'Fred and Ginger'
Michael Flatley in his art studio. photographs: brian mcevoy
Michael Flatley creating his unique paintings by dancing on canvas. photographs: brian mcevoy
Queen Victoria would most certainly not have been amused by the sight of a muscular Irish dancer warming up in the picture gallery of Buckingham Palace ahead of the evening’s entertainment. But that’s where ‘Lord of the Dance’ Michael Flatley recalls preparing for his swan song – two years ago – when he performed for the last time. Among the audience attending the private function, in London’s most exclusive ballroom, were Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall.
The Prince of Wales may have had the last dance, but Flatley, whose legs were once insured for $40 million, hasn’t quite hung up those famous brogues. His dancing shoes, custom-made by Freed of London, are instrumental in his new career.
Now 54, the man who transformed traditional Irish dancing and brought it to audiences worldwide, has embarked on a new career as a painter. He is using his feet to make art by tap dancing paint on to a blank canvas. Flatley has been working in a studio housed in converted stables at Castlehyde, Co Cork, his estate on the banks of the Blackwater near Fermoy.
A marble-tiled floor is covered with canvases and large, plastic-bottle-like tubes of paint. It is here he creates his art during intense bursts of feverish activity. He works at a frenetic pace – he is, after all, the fastest tap dancer in history, having achieved, in 1998, a dizzying record 35 taps per second. The result? A series of highly-charged, vibrantly colourful and powerful paintings.
During my visit, he’s taking a break and relaxing inside the palatial 40,000 sq ft mansion on which he’s lavished tens of millions of euro in one of the most elaborate and expensive house restorations ever undertaken in Ireland.
His study is a vast reception room where the masculine decor includes wall-mounted stags’ heads, framed photos of tout le monde (from Mohammed Ali to Bill Clinton) and a large painting of a fox-hunting scene. The Downton Abbey look is softened by a framed parchment from Pope Benedict conferring marriage blessings.
Lunch is retro and macho: steak, chips and onions and a side-salad zinging with enough garlic to slay a vampire. Wine must, ruefully , be declined – a lost opportunity to taste the Flatley cellar’s fabled Château Pétrus.
Flatley’s international success with the spectacular dance shows Lord of the Dance, Feet of Flames and Celtic Tiger means he could now just put his feet up. But he’s not in wind-down mode and is visibly enthused as he explains how art has become his new passion.