Born in the United States to parents who had moved across the Atlantic from Ireland less than ten years before, Michael Flatley comes from a classic 'dual heritage'.
He was born July 16th 1958, so grew up during the 1960's and 70's, decades of rapid growth and change in both countries, and thanks to his family's continued close contact with Ireland, he spent considerable time in both countries. The lifestyles of the two family places must have been in dramatic contrast then, much more so than today, Chicago a big modern city, while the Ireland the Flatley family came from (Sligo and Carlow) remained very rural and traditional both in the amenities of life and in lifestyle and outlook. Life in a major America city would have been tough and fast-paced, that of rural Ireland quiet and relatively secluded from the outside world, yet in some ways the connections would still have been very close. In past years in Ireland, it was not uncommon to find those who had never been to Dublin, yet had been to America, because Irish families are such strong units that often the Atlantic Ocean might as well be a 'Pond', as it is sometimes nicknamed.
Later, he would add such diverse achievement as becoming a Chess Master, and during a very short space of time, significant in that his aptitude for such a 'game of the mind' highlights a razor-sharp intellect, and requires creativity, ability to focus and take on challenge against the odds, and determination to succeed, all qualities that have shone out throughout Michael's life.
The Flatley family established strong roots in Chicago, developing their own successful construction company, against which background Michael and his brother and sisters were raised with a solid work ethic. Michael, however, was too creative and artistic to follow in the family business footsteps without also continuing to pursue his own true dreams. From the beginning, after leaving school, he was trying to find a way for Irish dance to be his life, at first through the only known channel of that time, teaching, but although he found immediate success with the dance school he started, that was not to last, since the creativity burning within him could not be fulfilled by teaching.
order to make a living, Michael utilized the construction skills his father had
taught him, and true to family tradition, his plumbing company became very successful.
As he continued to pursue his favourite sport of boxing, despite having given
up competitive boxing, he also continued to maintain the fitness of an athlete,
and all the while, deep inside, remained true to his dreams and continued to seek
artistic expression, both in dance and music. In his twenties, together with his
brother Patrick as bodran player, he produced his own flute album 'And then came
Flatley', of Irish traditional music, and included some of his own composition.
HINTS OF THINGS TO COME
Whenever he could, Michael took his already innovative style of Irish dancing to the stage, touring on weekends with Irish traditional music groups in America, until his first big break came when he was asked to dance with The Chieftains, the internationally successful Irish group. They took Irish traditional music all over the world, and while staunchly preserving the homeland's traditions, they were also very open to other musical cultures and welcomed musicians of many ethnic backgrounds to share their stage, exploring the similarities and contrasts between the musical cultures, a blending that Michael's creative mind must have delighted in, and which shows in his dance performance to this day. The openness of The Chieftains to innovation encouraged Michael's wish to expand and develop the discipline of Irish Dance, and gave him the opportunity to test his innovations on audiences of substantial numbers.
Ireland first got a glimpse of the future when Michael danced with The Chieftains for the opening ceremony of the Paraplegic Olympics staged in Dublin in 1987. Although still presenting largely traditional Irish dance, subtle touches and the fiery skill that he displayed signaled a dramatic move forward, as film footage from the occasion shows. In that footage it is also easy to recognize pieces of distinctly 'Flatley steps' later to become famous in his shows.
The next time Ireland experienced the coming eruption in the Irish dance world was June 1993. To celebrate the opening of the Heritage Centre at the five thousand year old archaeological site in Co. Mayo, the Ceide Fields, a special concert took place in Dublin's National Concert Hall, in front of a packed audience of VIPs, including our President, Mary Robinson. The line-up of production and performers was key for what was to come the following year - Moya Doherty and John McColgan, producers from RTE, the national broadcasting network, Bill Whelan, composer, Anuna, choral group, and Irish-American dancers Jean Butler from New York, and Michael Flatley.
Michael's performance at this concert, the so-called 'Mayo Five Thousand' (properly titled The Spirit of Mayo), received an electric reception, prompting the producers to ask him what he would like to do with his dance - the chance to present his answer in reality on stage came unexpectedly soon after, as the same producers worked on the interval for the Eurovision Song Contest, and 'Riverdance' was born, in the form of the now legendary 'seven minutes that shook the world', at Dublin's Point Theatre, on April 30th 1994.
TO THE WORLD STAGE
That seven minute event, was one of those defining moments in history, when almost every Irish person still remembers where they were and what they were doing when it took place. Those seven minutes were the start of monumental change in the Irish Dance world. Its impact reached far beyond Irish shores, thanks to an estimated TV audience of 300 million across Europe and beyond, and sheer public demand dictated that a full stage show named 'Riverdance' follow. To all involved it was a new world of uncharted territory, to Michael it was the realization of his life's dream, to put Irish Dance centrestage for the world.
Others involved could not accept Michael's unshakable belief that, as he put it: 'Ireland could stand on her own two feet' in terms of our national dance holding an audience for an entire evening. Elements from other world cultures were incorporated into the show: Russian folk dance, Spanish Flamenco, American tap and gospel singing. Thus, as an international mix of dance traditions with Irish Dance at the forefront, 'Riverdance the Show' was formed, and remains successful to this day. However, the core that established its success was its Irish heart, with its breath-taking sequences of Irish Dance which were the creation of Michael Flatley.
back, Michael has said that by the time the show hit the stage, within weeks he
had 'Riverdance II' and 'Riverdance III' in his head, his creative mind exploding
with more ideas, while nightly he gave his heart and passion in performing the
'Riverdance' numbers on stage. And while his electric performances filled the
Point Theatre to 'standing room only' capacity week after week on it second run
there in the summer of 1995, having had a sold out run in London after the first
term in Dublin in February, no-one watching would ever have known that backstage,
everything was by then in crisis.
THE BIRTH OF LORD OF THE DANCE
months of his parting from 'Riverdance', on December 30th 1995, Michael appeared
on Irish television as the interval act on the annual Irish Radio and Television
Awards (IRMA), broadcast live from the National Concert Hall in Dublin. Announced
as the first glimpse of 'his new show, Lord of the Dance', Michael and an all-male
troupe showcased 'Warlords' for the first time, to rapturous applause. That applause
was as much the support of an audience celebrating his re-emergence on the Irish
stage as it was for his new creation. For all the media coverage that had taken
place since October, when he was fired from 'Riverdance', he himself had remained
silent, choosing to fight back in his own dignified way, by working on a new creation,
and as he put it 'getting up off the canvas', so the public did not know if they
would ever see him again, until that late December night.
'Lord of the Dance' took to the stage at Dublin's Point Theatre on June 28th and July 1st with two previews performances, followed by a Gala Opening Night, Tuesday July 2nd, and four further nights. Every show was sold out. Some may have gone out of curiosity, and most probably wondered how anything could possibly compare with Riverdance. Contrary to popular belief, the general public at that time did not know if Michael had been the true creator of Riverdance or not. There had been so much press, full of accusation and negativity (none of it emanating from Michael) that many people simply did not know what the truth was. By the end of the opening number, 'Cry of the Celts', however, all four and a half thousand people were on their feet, and at least those present could no longer be in any doubt.
After the magic
of that Dublin week, Michael must have set off to Britain in confident and excited
mood. However, he was almost immediately faced with supreme personal challenge
when he was struck by crippling injury in the opening number of one of the first
British shows. Pre-show difficulties left him insufficiently warmed up for the
performance, and he tore a calf muscle within moments of flying across the stage
in his opening solo. He was quoted as saying it felt like he had been shot in
the back of the leg. Somehow, with extraordinary strength and courage, he finished
the dance and the audience remained unaware of his agonizing pain, but his understudy
had to take the stage for the rest of the night.
|The second anniversary of 'Lord of the Dance' was celebrated with another return to Dublin the weekend of June 8th, this time for three electric performances to 15,000 strong crowds in the outdoor venue of the RDS Arena in Ballsbridge. It was a magical weekend, when rainbows banished the rain showers just before showtime (literally!), and it was a climax for the show's followers worldwide as among the audience thousands were more than a hundred people, most of whom had never met before except online through Michael's website's 'VB' (Visitor's Book), gathered for the celebrations, coming from places as far away as Hawaii, Singapore and Australia. The gathering resulted in the establishment of many lifelong friendships, romance and even marriage!|
THE WORLD'S BIGGEST DANCE SHOW
After two years on tour, having battled along the way with injury and even a life-threatening encounter with pneumonia (which did ground the unstoppable Michael for two months and tragically cut short the second Australian tour), it looked as if retirement from live touring performance was on the cards. The plan was set for a 'grande finale' just after his fortieth birthday (July 16th 1998). Now with the money to upgrade and redress his show and turn it into the one he had always wanted, Michael presented the world's largest and most lavish dance show, a one-night extravaganza filmed live for video, 'Feet of Flames', in London's Hyde Park.
|For the 25,000+ audience, it was an event of extraordinary spectacle and colour, and both dramatic and traumatic. While no-one knew if they would ever see Michael dance live again, his now famous solo unveiled that night revealed that he was by no means done creating with his feet. Choreographed on his fortieth birthday, the solo defied definition and left those watching mesmerized and wondering just what they had seen. The night also revealed that Michael could captivate his audience equally without dancing a step, when he presented his first flute solo, 'Whispering Wind', to an enchanted crowd.|
three years of its premiere, four troupes of 'Lord of the Dance' were pounding
out the rhythms of Ireland around the world, the troupe members Ireland's best
possible ambassadors, and with them the fashion for all things Irish and Celtic
BEYOND THE STAGE
In the spring of that same year, another aspect of Michael's life finally found public recognition in Dublin. Privately and quietly, he had always passionately loved and supported children wherever he went, and was known in Irish children's hospitals long before his Riverdance fame. Throughout his life he has made countless gestures of generosity and giving, both to charities and in personal friendship to those in particular need, although he has chosen to have that part of his life remain extremely private. However, in March 1998 he was invited as Guest of Honour to the inauguration of the Dublin Famine Statues. These were a set of bronze sculptures of a bedraggled starving family commissioned by a Dublin lady, Norma Smurfitt, for the quayside of the River Liffey, in commemoration of the Irish Famine of the 1840's, and as emblems for a new charity foundation to raise money for disadvantaged youth. Those donating over 1000 Irish Pounds (about 1300 euro) would have their names on bronze plaques set into the cobblestones beneath the statues. At the lunch to celebrate the Charity's launch, Michael gave 50,000 Irish Pounds. When the plaques were put in place two years later, his name was listed on the first one, after American President Bill Clinton and Irish President Mary McAleese.
September 1999 saw the much-anticipated announcement of Michael's return to the stage, and in March 2000 he opened his new 'Feet of Flames World Tour' in Erfurt, Germany. While still maintaining elements of 'Lord of the Dance' this show was considerably more lavish and colourful, with a larger troupe, a stage on multiple levels, and drawing more broadly on Irish history. A lover of history himself, and an avid reader, it was natural for Michael's creations to move in that direction, and as the artist in him matured and grew, for his work to evolve in complexity. 'Lord of the Dance' also had been full of subtle historical reference, but its surface fairytale was so direct that audiences not noticing the deeper meanings left quite content. 'Feet of Flames' presented its complex face more strongly, and some found its reference confusing or puzzling.
However, European audiences loved its richness, its colour and energy, and Michael's performance was better than ever. Physically, he had undergone extensive training so that he now worked with the body of an Olympic athlete. He had also 'grown into' his Hyde Park solo and developed it even further so that it was the ultimate highlight of every show, with his by then renowned flute solo running it a close second.
The 2000 tour climaxed with what is possibly Michael's most historic performance to date. 'The Feet of Flames World Tour' played at the outdoor venue of the grounds of Stormont in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The use of the venue for international shows was very new at the time, only Pavarotti and Sir Elton John had performed there before, and no Irish artist had staged a show there. Michael and his troupe became the first Irish act to be staged at the historic location.
To understand why that event, on July 29th 2000, was so significant, it is necessary to know a little of the situation of Irish Dance in Ireland before 1994. Even within the Republic of Ireland, but more so in the Northern Ireland (Ulster), Irish Dance was only considered 'proper' for those of Catholic heritage. The Protestant children were not encouraged to learn our national dance, nor would it be welcomed in Protestant halls. Somehow, the arrival of Michael changed everything, and almost instantly all the previously closed doors opened, and the whole country, North and South, wanted to dance! Irish Dance suddenly shook off the shackles of its history and all children came together, in venues from both religions, and classes boomed. Irish Dance was bringing communities together, and by the time Michael brought his 'Feet of Flames' to Stormont, he had a number of Northern Irish dancers in the troupe, as well as many from the Republic and right across the Irish diaspora.
2001 saw 'Feet of Flames' conquer the US with another whirlwind tour, and even before he finally closed the World Tour, Michael was hinting that he was creating another, completely different show. Again, he was supposedly retired from personal live performance at the end of July 2001, and his obvious emotion on stage the final night in Dallas, Texas, suggested even he himself almost believed it. Various business ventures, together with milestone award achievements, kept him sporadically in the public eye for the next couple of years, but neither stage nor film projects spoken of seemed to be coming to fruition, although he continued to make reference to 'a new show'. News of auditions and rehearsals in summer 2004 finally confirmed his fans' greatest wishes, and the preparations for a new Flatley chapter were confirmed.
No longer pressured to be so concerned by commercial success staging a show, with 'Celtic Tiger' Michael set out to create, primarily, a stage 'work of art', to present the success story of Ireland's history, on her own island and in the land of his birth, America, and to deliver a powerful message of self-belief and determination, along with forgiveness and hope for the future. Staged with a unique blend of screen and live performance, and dressed with characteristic colour and on characteristically lavish scale, he showcases a rich tapestry of the highest quality talent, taking Irish Dance once more to new dimensions. The most formal traditional step sequences are juxtapositioned with vibrant modern dance pieces, marrying heritage and innovation in his most complex creation yet.
Celtic Tiger is still in the early days of its life, and such is its complexity and depth that it is not being universally appreciated or understood. The outstanding quality of the choreography and performance is applauded, at least, and when old reviews of Michaels previous shows are revisited, it can be seen that those shows received not dissimilar criticism to Celtic Tiger in the beginning, and the same reviewers are now referring to those earlier shows as classic. Now the creator dares to change direction once again, and to expand his art, so at times he is suffering the fate of so many great artists before him, but given a little time, Celtic Tiger will be heralded, rightly, as one more Flatley masterpiece