When you think of the character of Saoirse, the Irish Colleen, what traits come to mind?
What comes to mind for me: elegance, grace, strength, poise, and beauty. The last trait in particular is important, because beauty is more than just physical appearance; Saoirse, as a character, embodies beauty of spirit as well.
Saoirse is an incredibly difficult role to portray. Aside from the physical demands of a Michael Flatley show which you have to perform with seemingly effortless grace, there's also the challenge of portraying a character archetype. Audiences all over the world, from different cultures, ages, and languages, must be completely enraptured and captivated with you. The two primary themes of Lord of the Dance are good versus evil and love versus lust -- and as Saoirse, you have to embody goodness and love.
You have to make the entire audience fall in love with you.
This is a tall order. And it takes a top-notch performer to pull it off.
Over the decades, some truly amazing Irish dancers have done just that with the role, starting with the legendary Bernadette Flynn O'Kane. Think about the challenge she faced! In 1996, she was only the second female lead to dance with Michael Flatley in a commercial video release. It's hard enough to make a stage performance look outstanding, especially if you're an Irish dancer who's just had to learn to use your arms for the first time; now add in the pressure of looking good on camera, especially when you're a teenager.
Bernadette, of course, absolutely nailed it. And it's fascinating to see her performances evolve over the various video releases. I had the distinct pleasure of seeing her perform live during the Feet of Flames world tour, and she was astonishing in person.
Today, in the current troupe, we have three female leads who perform Saoirse: Erin-Kate Mcilravey, Katrina Costello, and Niamh Shevlin.
Each one of them has their own unique interpretation of Saoirse, and the performances are as distinct as fingerprints. The dancer featured in this journal entry, Niamh Shevlin, is the newest Saoirse; if you were watching LOTD TV (twitch.tv/lordofthedance) back in June of last year, you saw her make her debut live as we streamed it.
Niamh's Saoirse is fascinating to study. Go back and rewatch the onstage footage Andrea Papp-Kren shot as Morrighan during Breakout; the *shade* that Niamh throws, in the conflict between good girl and bad girl, is enough to flatten several small towns.
Make no mistake: these are *strong* women. Saoirse is no damsel in distress; she's more than capable of holding her own.
The photos attached to this journal entry are from a recent performance in Shanghai. I constantly marvel at the transformation these dancers make every night; during the day, they're young men and women having fun, seemingly no different than you or I -- but when it's time to get down to business, you see a level of discipline and focus that could crack a walnut just by looking at it. And in the last few intense seconds before they go onstage for the first time, I swear you can feel the energy gathering around them. It's actually hair-raising.
The magic is *real.*