'Lord' Flatley goes to great length to show off his talent

September 01, 1997|By Judith Green | Judith Green,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The anonymous artist who designed the Celtic knot back in the eighth century must be kicking himself for not taking out a copyright on the design. He could have made a fortune just on "Lord of the Dance," where it decorates everything from banners to T-shirts.

The person making the fortune, however, is Michael Flatley, the phenomenal Irish-American step-dancer and tapper, who portrays (who is?) the title character in the show. It played twice this weekend, to full but not packed houses, at the Baltimore Arena.

Flatley controls every aspect of the extravaganza, from its hand-picked production team to its choreography. His intent, it seems, is to have everything play second fiddle to himself. This is especially evident in the climactic "dance duel" between the Lord and his dark alter ego, played by very fine dancer Daire Nolan, who doesn't have a prayer against Flatley's self-serving choreography.

And yet, somewhere behind the smoke and the strobe lights and the ear-shattering amplification and the Celtic kitsch, there's a lot of exciting dance -- not the least, Flatley's own.

The show is mostly glitz wrapped around a good-vs.-evil conflict that makes "The Golden Book of Bible Stories" look like heavy theology. As Irish folklore, as it's touted in the souvenir program, it's ludicrous: "Erin the Goddess," an elfin lassie in a cloth-of-gold pantsuit, is nowhere to be found among the dark, powerful deities of authentic Gaelic culture.

And "Lord of the Dance" carries too much trash to be adjudged art on its own merits. There's the moment, for instance, in which the women throw off their already skimpy dance tunics and cavort around in black jog bras and trunks: bordello chic.

So, though it's apparently what Flatley wants, "Lord of the Dance" is never going to be what his talent deserves. But that doesn't mean it's worthless.

The performance Saturday was a good deal more taut than the one I saw last month in Philadelphia, which was adequate but not effervescent.

Here, the company was at the top of its form, from the lissome, long-legged women, in their sexual/asexual black stockings, to the men, hammering the floor as virile robots of evil.

After Flatley, who really does give 110 percent at every performance, the standout is Gillian Norris, the dark-haired incarnation of wicked sexuality, who practically scorched the stage with her sensual speed.

Overall, "Lord of the Dance" demonstrates that Flatley, as with many an artist before and after him, needs a curb. And as long as he controls the purse-strings, he's not likely to get it.

Someone needs to tell him that an artist trusts the work to speak for itself. The real thing doesn't need pyrotechnical support; it creates its own.

Pub Date: 9/01/97

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