Japanese tapping in to the world of `Riverdance'


The Mikado, it isn't, Noh drama was never like this, but the Land of the Rising Sun has taken Riverdance - after some baffled hesitation - to its heart.

The Japanese, usually reserved, self-effacing and timid in public, took to it cautiously at first, only to end up yelling for more. Some were even in tears.

The first evidence of the highly drilled, highly successful Irish dance troupe hit Japan last week.

Outside the Tokyo venue, principal male dancer of the Liffey company, Brendan de Gaillai, led a section of the male troupe in a show of steps that drew looks of puzzlement and gasps of delight from onlookers and passers-by.

It was a breezy promotional run through, beginning just as the neon lights flickered to life in the Ginza District, the swankiest shopping area in Japan.

The mixture of the dancers' rhythms and Blade Runner visuals was but the first of many more bizarre cross-cultural moments.

"One of the reasons we think why Japanese people like Riverdance so much," says Mr Haruyoshi Totsukawa, an executive director of promoters Kansai Telecasting Corporation, "is the similar sense of tradition they share with the Irish".

"The Japanese people love the fact that Ireland, which like Japan, has suffered at the hands of outsiders, is now embracing its own tradition and culture. Japanese people empathise with that. It's a very emotional experience for them."

It's a long way from a seven-minute Eurovision segment in Dublin almost five years ago to selling out a run of shows at the 5,000-capacity Tokyo International Forum.

Against all expectations, Riverdance has crossed yet another barrier in its non-stop passage around the world.

"In a funny kind of way," says Grammy-award winner Bill Whelan, composer of the Riverdance music, "the Japanese don't have the same connection to their tradition that we have to ours.

"Therefore, they find the manner in which we can build a show in a contemporary way out of a tradition that is archaic is something which they hunger to do for their own tradition."

Tickets for the eight Riverdance shows in Tokyo (and the eight shows in Osaka, starting on Thursday) sold out a short time after they went on sale late last year. Media response to the Tokyo shows has been difficult to assess. Radio and television coverage has been widespread yet there is no appreciable critic-based review coverage in the Tokyo-based English language newspapers.

The review in the daily newspaper, The Sports Nippon, stated that "the 5,000 audience were intoxicated". This captured the spirit of the audience response if nothing else.

Certainly, the perception of the Japanese as unsmiling and passionless people has been radically altered.

"The response to the shows is unprecedented," remarks Mr Totsukawa, whose corporation has previously been responsible for promoting Prince, Madonna and The Rolling Stones in Japan's capital.

"People were actually crying, which I assure you is most unusual. Japan has never seen anything like Riverdance."

There are three Riverdance touring troupes, each one named after a river. The Lagan company has been to San Francisco, the Lee company visited Canada, and the company in Tokyo is the Liffey troupe.