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Follow Your Dream, Day #513: Forging A Spirit

Time for a treat: never-before-seen rehearsal footage from 1996 of Helen Egan Maguire bringing the Little Spirit to life!

People sometimes focus so much on Michael Flatley's skill as a dancer that they overlook his gifts as a choreographer and dramatist. Everything in #LordOfTheDance came out of his head: heroes, villains, characters, rhythm patterns, plot arcs, et cetera. When you go to see a Michael Flatley show, you're seeing his art form and his gift for storytelling, with #IrishDancing as the foundation of it -- but taken in new directions no one had ever anticipated.

Consider: in 1996, what was the formula for a successful #IrishDance show? Only one existed -- Michael's first show -- and he'd been unceremoniously removed from it while others went on with his work. As Michael himself said, the only way to prove he built the first one was to build another one -- and that's exactly what he did.

There are certain elements of the "Flatley formula" you can see within all three major shows he's created in the last twenty-five years: memorable rhythm pattens (the treble-and-a-toe-down-heel is now practically ubiquitous in the world of Irish dance), a natural ebb-and-flow of different numbers to take the audience on a journey, and a preference for bold contrasts to drive emotions. But it's with Lord of the Dance where that formula has been stratospherically successful commercially. And, as a result, it becomes a tremendous showcase for the handpicked performers chosen to bring it to life.

Nowhere is this perhaps more evident than with the role of the Little Spirit. Planet Ireland is the Little Spirit's dream, and the audience has to buy her as a character so that she can serve as the everyman who takes the audience through the fantasy world. Paradoxically, it is the one role in Lord of the Dance which has virtually no Irish dancing in it, yet is central to the experience.

Which brings us to the OG Little Spirit, Helen Egan. The pressure on Helen to bring the character to life was enormous. There were no reference points for her to draw from; what she created from Michael's direction combined with her own imagination was completely new and unique.

This is why, if you watch the original 1996 video, that audience is losing its collective mind -- because not only were they seeing something completely new, but it was wilder than anything they could have possibly even *imagined* up to that point. Here, in this never-before-seen rehearsal footage from the SFX in 1996, you see the very early first steps of this role being brought to life.

Planet Ireland arises: 2021.


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