I'm going to tell you a story.
It's 1996. I'm watching Lord of the Dance for the first time. The show is exciting, but I'm wondering where the story is going; the entire first act is expository, with only one hint of conflict between the two female leads. If Chekov's Rule of Drama is being followed, then all the pieces are now on the board.
The second act begins, and the Little Spirit emerges. She plays that haunting flute melody. Except this time, Don Dorcha and one of his lieutenants appear. They taunt the Little Spirit. Her flute is broken. And suddenly, there are bad guys everywhere. I will never forget the insert shot of Helen Egan banging her fists in panic against the portcullis, trying to escape her own dream-turned-nightmare, only to be chivvied back into the middle of a mob of henchmen.
I was actually getting really upset. Angry. Somebody needed to DO something.
And then Michael Flatley runs onstage, followed shortly by the Warlords, and we get a sequence that's etched into my memory: Hell's Kitchen.
This wasn't a polite exhibition of technical prowess. This was a *war.*
I'd never seen anything like it before. Sure, West Side Story or other dance dramas come to mind, but remember: in 1996, the professional Irish dance show was a brand-new genre, and the only template anyone had to go off of was Michael's first show -- a very different type of experience than the bare-knuckle street fight unfolding here.
It was the sheer *surprise* of it that caught me. Seeing the anguish on Helen Egan's face. The barely-contained rage that Michael was projecting. And you don't have to look that far to understand where it was coming from: Michael had staked everything to prove himself as an artist, determined to outdo his first creation that was now in the hands of others -- and it really was do-or-die time.
This is one of the reasons why the original 1996 video sold so well: because it was *real.* There's a raw, primal, kill-or-be-killed energy to it. Even if you knew nothing of the context behind the show, you could still feel that energy through your screen. This was Michael Flatley at his *angriest,* stretched in all directions, his personal life in chaos, his professional future completely on the line.
(For those of you who have read his autobiography, there's probably quite a lot in these numbers of the Chicago kid who got laughed at for not being able to afford a flute or flute lessons, and had to defend himself in street fights more often than not. I've been in that position. I know what that anger feels like. It never fully leaves you. It *drives* you.)
Spirit in the New World and Hell's Kitchen are when I fell in love with Lord of the Dance. Because it's the sort of thing his first show would never, *ever* do, and it showed that this was an artist willing to do the bravest of all things: forego trying to look clever and instead go for the beating jugular of human EMOTION.
One of my passions, as you've probably guessed from reading this production journal, is film editing. Just as Michael is self-taught on the flute, I'm self-taught as a video editor. And one thing I've always wanted to try, for nearly twenty-four years, is to come up with an edit of Spirit's Cave and Hell's Kitchen that not only captures the frenetic, rough-edged insanity of what happens on that stage, but actually evokes an emotional response.
This *matters* to me. It matters to me because I personally believe that there's a real magic in the 1996 rough-around-the-edges video. There's something wonderfully undeground about it -- a certain "you had to be there" lightning in a bottle that was somehow captured on film. This is why I love putting cameras on the dancers when they're onstage: because you're seeing the actual dance *as it's being performed.* It's a way of taking something that's super-slick and polished and showing it to you in a way your brain isn't used to seeing.
First-person onstage cameras are a completely new way of consuming Irish dance through your screen. And Lord of the Dance is the only Irish dance show that does it. Frankly, we might be the only Irish dance show capable of pulling it off, because this sort of raw high-octane filmmaking actually fits the brand as a marketing tool.
I've said it before and I'll say it again here: Lord of the Dance isn't a polite evening of technical showcase. Lord of the Dance is a rock concert. It's loud, bold, and shouts images at your brain in primary colors. It trusts that you're intelligent enough to not need to be pseudointellectually pandered to, and instead goes straight for your emotions, as any good story should.
If I've pulled this edit off, this should actually evoke some strong emotion. This *should* get your heart pounding. The live show is incredibly high-octane, and my goal is to create a video edit that matches that energy. If I've done my job right, this should encourage you to buy tickets to the see the live show.
This video was filmed by Liam Costello during our performance in Puebla, Mexico. Starring Cathal Keaney as the Lord of the Dance, Zoltan Papp as Don Dorcha, Jessica Aquila Judge as the Little Spirit, and featuring Matt Smith as the Warlord who trades punches with Liam, this should get your blood pumping. As William Carlos Williams once famously wrote, "Hold back the edges of your gowns, ladies; we are going through hell.”