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A 'river' runs through the world

"The expectations were to run for 21 performances in Dublin," Doherty told the Irish Echo in a recent phone interview. "At that time, we had invested a lot in the show, both creatively and financially, and secretly we hoped we would have a life beyond 21 performances if we delivered something that was worthwhile and had a certain degree of scale and spectacle to it. But never, ever, ever did I think I would go from 30s to my 50s with this show touring the world."

Fifteen years on, the Irish step-dancing phenomenon has three touring troupes and been seen by millions of people around the globe.

"It's extraordinary, really," Doherty admitted. "I've always said that I won't really, fully understand or savor the magic and the extraordinary phenomenon that 'Riverdance' is and was until I am old and grey and sitting in a rocking chair on the west coast of Ireland somewhere. But it's come around remarkably quickly; in the blink of an eye. In so many ways, I suppose, the show still feels as fresh and vibrant as it was in the beginning because of our wonderful performers. We are constantly privileged to be casting such new and talented and energetic people. Very shortly, probably in the next year or two, we will have dancers in our troupe who were not born when 'Riverdance' first started."

Looking back, the producer said the production has given her loads of great memories to cherish.

"There have been so, so many!" she exclaimed.

"From that opening at the Point . . . to that first time we played Radio City Music Hall and I can remember walking along the street with (score composer) Bill Whelan and looking up at the neon sign and the gentlemen of Radio City were up on their ladders putting up (letters that said,) 'Riverdance, composed by Bill Whelan.' And we stood in awe looking at both 'Riverdance' and Bill's name going up in lights. So we've had so many extraordinary times," she recalled. "That party we had at the Plaza Hotel afterwards. All of Ireland seemed to be there and every single member of the Irish-American community seemed to be there from the dear departed Senator Ted Kennedy on. Everyone was there and in Dublin when we first opened we had something like five former taoiseachs in our midst. They were extraordinary days. There's real love [for the show] and a real sense of pride."

She also observed how the life of "Riverdance" has spanned a remarkable decade and a half during which Ireland experienced its Celtic Tiger years of economic prosperity, which has lately been waning.

"We see a return to emigration and a rising unemployment -- all of those awful, painful things we went through in the past . . . And here we are again," she noted. "But, thankfully, in the midst of it all, 'Riverdance' continues and continues in new markets and new ways. We've just returned from an extraordinarily successful 12-city tour in China and we were the first-ever western show to tour 12 cities outside of the two cities where most shows tour, which is Shanghai and Beijing. "

Asked if she is surprised by how ethnic groups around the world have embraced the distinctly Irish production, Doherty explained: "I think it's the percussive rhythms and it's the fact that dance is an international language and that maybe that it's more than a show because it comes from a culture that's deep and rich, and it speaks out from the heart. Perhaps. I don't know."

Although many have credited "Riverdance" with increasing the world's interest in Celtic culture, Doherty is quick to point out the many other Irish artists who blazed that trail before her show came along.

"I always joke that Paddy Maloney and the Chieftains, discovered (performing in) China long before 'Riverdance,'" she said. "You had those people who really flew the flag for us like the Chieftains, all those great groups, even the balladeer groups, the wonderful Clancy brothers, who were huge in the 1960s and 1970s. And, perhaps, then 'Riverdance' came at a time when people were ready again to receive something that was of our culture, but that had a slight twist."

Doherty said many families have come to view seeing "Riverdance" as a tradition over the years.

"We do terribly well on repeat business because people leave it feeling happy and joyous, and there are always these subtle changes over the years and new performers who bring their new energy and their own touch to it," she said. "It certainly has become an event for families and a family outing that they share with grandparents down to grandchildren."

While some dancers have left the production to have families or start up dance schools of their own, others have stayed with the beloved show for years.

"I think they know we maintain high standards and then all these young dancers get to see the world and they get to go to all these places that they would never get to go and make tremendous friends," Doherty said. "We have something like 38 'Riverdance' marriages. I don't know how many 'Riverdance' babies and now the talk is which 'Riverdancer' will be the first to have a son or a daughter dance in 'Riverdance.' So it really is a handing on of the torch and there is such pride because, I suppose, it's our dance. It's Irish dance. We all own it."

"Riverdance" returns to New York's Radio City Music Hall for an 8-show engagement March 16-20.

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