Follow Your Dream, Day #265: Proscenium

Ever notice how Lord of the Dance weaves back and forth between onstage self-containment and breaking the fourth wall?

Some dance shows -- usually without a dramatic narrative component -- regularly break the fourth wall. Others go completely to the other extreme, only acknowledging the audience during the curtain call.

Lord of the Dance, meanwhile, seamlessly weaves back and forth between the two. It's an element of the Flatley formula for creating an Irish dance show that no one's ever really talked about.


* In the first act, three of the four leads -- the Lord of the Dance, Don Dorcha, and Morrighan -- overtly interact with the audience. Saoirse also does so to a lesser extent, in keeping with her character being untouchable grace personified.

* In the second act, all of the dramatic scenes except for Cats -- Spirit's Cave, Hell's Kitchen, Stolen Kiss, Nightmare, Execution, and the Duel -- are self-contained, with no acknowledgement of the audience's presence. (Non-plot numbers, such as No Surrender, *do* play to the audience.)

This is a subtle aspect of the show's construction that really deserves some discussion, because it's been sitting there in plain sight for twenty-four years and no one's talked about it.

In order for a drama to work, you have to care about the characters. By choreographing the expository numbers -- Cry of the Celts, Celtic Dream, Warriors, Gypsy, Warlords, and Robojig -- to play to the audience, it's a way for you to understand who the characters are and what they represent. Thus, when the dream collapses into a nightmare in the second act and the drama becomes more self-contained upon the stage, the lack of that choreographed audience-to-performer connection creates the distance necessary to build the tension. Thus, once evil has been vanquished and the Lord of the Dance regains the title belt, notice that once again the show shifts to play entirely to the audience once more.

In theater, the "fourth wall" is the invisible wall at the edge of the stage that separates the performers from the audience. Lord of the Dance breaks the fourth wall to directly connect to you at specific moments. (As the lads at Red Letter Media like to say, "You might not have noticed -- but your *brain* did.") Rewatch the show, either on video or live in the arena, and pay attention to where those fourth-wall breaks take place; you'll see a surprisingly precise pattern.

Michael Flatley's art form extends far beyond dancing and choreography. Remember, he literally *invented* the genre of the professional Irish dance show, and the most successful shows within that genre have him in common. In particular, Lord of the Dance is the show where you see his entire art form on display, unfettered; you can enjoy it exactly as it's supposed to be enjoyed, or you can dig down into its construction and find even deeper levels of amazement in just how remarkably well thought-out each element is.

It is this meticulous attention to detail, both overt and sub rosa, that makes all the difference.


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