Twenty years ago, very few people thought that a show that celebrated Irish folk dancing would become an international phenomenon. No doubt even fewer figured that it would be a phenomenon that would still be entertaining audiences around the world well into the 21st century.
But “Riverdance,” which started out as “tweener” performance that kept viewers occupied during downtime on a European television song contest, has become an unstoppable force. It’s coming to the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall in Sarasota for three shows, one on Tuesday and two on Wednesday.
Most people who haven’t seen “Riverdance” think it’s exclusively about traditional Irish dance. But while Irish dance and music dominate, “Riverdance” explores traditional dance from other cultures as well.
“Riverdance” has spawned a very successful spin-off of sorts. After an acrimonious split with the original production, Michael Flatley, one of the creators and original stars, went on to create and tour with “Lord of the Dance.” Flatley’s show, which was very popular in the late 1990s, was exclusively about Irish dance, and played in arenas instead of theaters. (It’s still touring today.)
“Riverdance” has been continually tweaked over the years, with the sets changed and with some songs added and others taken out, but it’s essentially the same show that has been thrilling audiences all this time, with a rousing score by the original composer Bill Whelan.