By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — The "Riverdance" phenomenon, the hugely successful global money-spinner that emerged from a Eurovision Song contest interval act, has come full circle and triumphantly returned to Ireland for a six-week run in Dublin’s Point Depot.
President Mary McAleese and her family were among the attendance at a gala opening last week for what has become one of the country’s most successful entertainment exports in the last five years, rivaling groups like U2 and the Corrs.
After premiering in 1995, the show tentatively transferred from Dublin to Hammersmith in London in 1996. It has since become a global juggernaut and has swollen to three constantly touring dance companies.
The success of the companies, named after the rivers Liffey, Lagan and Shannon, has led to an explosion in interest in Irish traditional dancing. The shows are believed to be turning over about £150 million a year.
The Liffey company performing in Dublin will start a European tour in Paris in September and will then move to venues in Asia.
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The Lagan company is in Dallas, and the Shannon company has been playing on Broadway in New York since March. It has just had its run extended to next January.
The three companies have given more than 3,500 performances in almost 100 venues in 18 countries on four continents.
It has been seen live by more than 10 million, television audiences totaling more than 1.2 billion have watched it worldwide and video sales have generated more than £90 million.
After "Riverdance," Irish dancing is seen as sexy, synonymous with glamour and responsible for a new global image of "Celtic cool."
"Riverdance" has also sent sales of special Irish dance shoes soaring and opened up a worldwide market for the hand-held bodhrán drum featured in the music.
It has spawned more than 15 "copy-cat" shows. The most successful have been Irish-American dancer Michael Flatley’s "Lord of the Dance" and "Feet of Flame" shows.
The Chicago-born Flatley had held the world record for dancing 28 taps per second when he was younger. Last year, James Devine, 24, from Ardnacrusha, Co. Clare, a "Lord of the Dance" graduate, took the record with an extraordinary 38 taps per second.
Flatley, who was the lead dancer in the first "Riverdance" show before he left after a row, had his legs insured for £40 million. It is an indication of the sort of earnings the Irish dance extravaganzas are generating.
"Riverdance" itself has made its creators, John McColgan and Moya Doherty, into multi-millionaires for scaling up the 7-minute Eurovision interval to a two-and-a-half-hour theater spectacle.
The husband and wife partnership had worked together in RTE television. They had difficulty raising the finance to launch the first show and had to take on £800,000 of the risk themselves.
Since early this year, the initial minority investor agreements ended and the couple now own 100 percent of the shows and merchandising.