Director and Choreographer: Michael Flatley
With no ill intent, Americans will love this. Which will probably answer any questions for anyone watching Celtic Tiger. Lord of the Dance, the flashiest of toe-tappers and a bonified Irishman performer, Michael Flatley has an exceptionally acute sense of over-the-top style, panache and gusto when it comes to dance for the masses, and those families who are 100% certain they have Scottish or Irish heritage. Claiming to be his most ambitious piece to date, there is no denial about the bloated excesses of Celtic Tiger – a production which seeks to promote a sense of spiritual awakening and a fight for freedom.
When first hearing Michael Flatley, initial thoughts are of hideous emerald leotards, legs akimbo and Flatley at the head parading topless, for some reason. But it’s oh so much worse than this. Often insulting, more often confusing, Celtic Tiger tackles ballet, salsa, cheerleading and yes, Riverdance, amidst a myriad of tacky, gormless strutting.
From highland clearances, Bloody Sunday (no, seriously) and Al Capone, to Flatley single-handedly defeating the English Redcoats – Celtic Tiger feels like a mid-life crisis on overdrive. Raunchy strip-teases sit in the same category as ‘tributes’ to the Irish struggles and unrest. Marvellous choreography from the industry’s finest professionals, with some world-class string instrumentals and live bands, are upstaged by bikinis and fireworks. Little makes sense in Flatley’s direction of the production, nor does David Malley’s direction of the camerawork.
A particular issue is that it’s too cinematic, there’s an edit every few seconds which distract immeasurably from the snippets of genuine talent, the training, precision, and effort. These dancers are extraordinary, and the framing fails to allow this to be the focus – instead, drawing our eye to what else? Flesh. Flesh, glitter, and banners. Occasionally the camera-crew realise a necessity of Irish stepdance is to allow the audience to witness the mesmeric speed and articulation of footwork, but it’s usually for a moment before cascading back down the neckline of a young dancer.
Throughout ravaging Celtic history, with dashes of obtuse stereotypes, something mind-boggling beautiful happens. Twice, in fact, for as talented as the dancers can be, two vocal performances halt any snorts of derision. Irish singer Paul Harrington performs Four Green Fields, with control and impact which silences the riled-up audience, who have their fieriness doused with Harrington’s glorious rendition, sublimely sung with no distraction. Similarly, Una Gibney’s solo rendition of the Banshee’s Cry, a haunting melody of pitch-perfect tonal proportions is a set which stands out from the rest of the scattered production.
And this is the definitive issue with Celtic Tiger, its ambition is a killer. The production has such a gluttonous need to cover a vast array of genres and methods that it completely misses the mark on what Flatley has always been known for. When taking a moment to reflect, there is an ignition of brilliance. Take the Highland Clearances, the brutality of the redcoats as the flaming buildings unearth dancers, smoked out and wrought with emotion. The tremendous potential is then oversaturated with crocodile tears by a director who sees the faux-emotion, but not the significance.
Repugnantly, this is a five-star extravaganza of variety and movement – reduced to nothing but a pandering mess of cultural appropriation, mickey-mouse history and chauvinistic showboating. Elements of genuine Celtic mythos or haunting aspects of modern Irish history are painted over, glammed up and slapped into the gaping maws of a hungry audience who want their quality technique smothered in Hollywood schlock.
Available here until 5 July 2020