International dance show Spirit of the Dance is hot-shoe shuffling into Bromley… the Weekender finds out what life is like on the road from a member of the cast, writes Holly O’Mahony…
Dance-led musical Spirit of the Dance has enjoyed international success for the last 22 years, virtually since it debuted at the Bristol Hippodrome in 1996. The love child of theatre mogul David King, the show combines Irish dance with other styles from around the world, including Latino tango and Spanish salsa. Today, it’s played to 30 million people in 20 countries across the world, and won Global Awards including ‘Best Choreography’ and ‘Best International Production’.
David credits Spirit of the Dance for making his career. Back in 1996, he was struggling to find success in the entertainment industry. But a trip to see Bill Whelan’s Irish dance musical Riverdance showed the savvy producer the huge appetite there was at the time for Irish dance shows, inspiring him to create his own: Spirit of the Dance.
Today, David’s international production company ‘Spirit Productions’ has roughly 24 shows on global tours, with David employing around 500 dancers, singers and technical crew at any one time. Furthermore, David has made a name for himself as ‘the working man’s Andrew Lloyd Webber’, who has ‘brought musicals to the masses’.
Ahead of Spirit of the Dance coming to the Churchill Theatre in Bromley this Saturday, February 23, the Greenwich Weekender speaks to Bromley-based cast member Alison Parsons to find out what life is like behind the scenes and on the road.
Alison has worked as a professional dancer since graduating from college in 2012. She worked on cruise ships, performed in pantomimes and played the lead in Irish musical Essence of Ireland before joining the 16-strong ensemble of Spirit of the Dance in 2015.
Holly O’Mahony: When did you first start dancing?
Alison Parsons: I began doing ballroom and Latin dancing when I was seven, then did a bit of Irish when I was 10, but it was never my main focus. In fact, I hadn’t done that much Irish dancing before I got the job with Spirit of the Dance. We’re all professional dancers though, who’ve been trained in all different styles.
HOM: Is dancing in Spirit of the Dance a full-time job, or do you combine it with other work on the side?
AP: I’m self-employed, so when Spirit isn’t touring, I do other contract work as a dancer or singer. I often do one-off corporate gigs, for example a St. Patrick’s Day event, and I do some modelling on the side, too.
HOM: How would you describe Spirit of the Dance to someone who hasn’t seen the show before?
AP: It’s a show with a complete mix of dance styles – from Spanish to Scottish. This makes the show quite different from Lord of the Dance [Irish-American dancer and producer Michael Flatley’s Riverdance spin-off], which is primarily Irish trad and tap. It’s high energy and audiences seem to love it.
HOM: Has the show changed much since its debut in the mid-90s?
AP: The show has definitely evolved over the years and certain numbers have been given a bit of a revamp to make them feel more contemporary. That said, Spirit of the Dance is still very traditional: the Irish, Scottish and Spanish numbers reflect the traditional styles of dancing from those countries, which are timeless. If you tried to modernise them, you’d run the risk of making the traditional dance forms unrecognisable.
HOM: What does a typical day look like for you when you’re touring?
AP: We typically begin the day with a bus ride between venues. We usually get into our dressing rooms by early afternoon, then head out to get some food before our call time for blocking on stage, which usually takes about an hour. There’s a lot of pattern changes with Irish dancing, so we need to make sure we know exactly where we should be standing on the stage. As we perform in different venues most nights, our blocking changes depending on the new space.
We have a lot of quick costume changes throughout the show, so we pre-set our costumes to the side of the stage before the show starts. Then it’s hair and makeup before the show begins at 7:30pm. The curtain comes down at around 9:45pm, then we pack away our costumes, ice any parts of our bodies that are hurting from a show – there’s a bucket of ice we all stand in to do that – and head back to the hotel for an early night before doing it all again the next day.
HOM: What have been your highlights from touring with Spirit of the Dance so far?
AP: The best part of it for me is when we visit the hometowns of performers in the company. The audiences are always amazing and the show usually sells out. The atmosphere is totally different when you have family and friends in the audience. Everyone’s on their feet by the end of the show.
HOM: On the other hand, what’s the toughest thing about being on tour with the show?
AP: Irish dancing is tough on your body so it can be painful. But we’re one big team; everyone gives each other massages on our days off and tries to help each other as much as possible. We each know all parts of the show; if someone is injured and can’t do a particular move or scene, someone will always offer to jump in and help.
HOM: You’re based in Bromley when you’re not touring. How do you feel about bringing the show home?
AP: I’m really excited about it. I’ve seen lots of shows at the Churchill in the past but I’ve never performed there before. Others in the company are also from nearby so lots of us will have our friends and family in the audience – everyone’s really looking forward to it. It’s the penultimate night off the tour, too, so we’ll be ending on a high.
Spirit of the Dance is on at the Churchill Theatre, High Street, Bromley BR1 1HA.
February 23, at 7:30pm.Admission: £28.50/£26 concessions.