March 6, 2012
Reagle Music Theatre’s popular revue “A Little Bit of Ireland” returns on March 17 and 18 for its 14th season. The show is a colorful celebration of Irish music, dancing, and light-hearted comedy based on what Reagle’s Producing Artistic Director and Founder, Bob Eagle, modestly calls “a little idea I had.”
This year’s production features an enthusiastic cast of almost 70 singers and dancers, including Irish tenor Rusty Russell, world-renowned Irish fiddle player Seamus Connolly, Broadway’s Sarah Pfisterer, Harold “Jerry” Walker, Larry Reynolds and Comhaltas, plus Judith Ross and the Massachusetts Harp Ensemble, among others.
Always an audience favorite in the show is Men’s World Champion Irish Step Dancer Liam Harney, returning for the sixth year. As in the past, Liam will bring with him a diverse group of dancers from his Harney Academy of Irish Dance in Walpole.
Since leaving the world of competitive dancing, he has taken his considerable talents to some of the most prestigious stages around the world, from starring in “Riverdance” to performing internationally in his own creations, “CelticFusion” and “Waves.”
Whether on stage on in the studio, he’s known for his dedication to cultivating Irish dancing and crossing it over into other styles.
Born in Boston and a certified instructor and adjudicator, Liam was named one of the top 100 Irish Americans by Irish America magazine. We recently spoke about his work and the upcoming Reagle revue. Here’s a condensed look at our conversation.
BIR: Dancing has really been your life. Where did it all begin?
LH: Well it just clicked with me. My parents put their three oldest into dance after a trip to Ireland. I didn’t really know what to expect, I was just four and a half. I loved the music. … It was pretty clear it was my favorite thing to do. As the years went on, it became more competitive and I went on to win the World Championship a few times, become a Presidential scholar and later went on to perform for a couple of our presidents as well as the presidents of Ireland. I’ve had a pretty good dance career.
BIR: Was teaching and sharing the dance traditions something that was a natural progression?
LH: I always knew that I wanted to teach. But I also knew I had a performance bug that needed to be taken care of. I decided I would open my studio and have that to come back to after I had my performing years under my belt. I opened the studio here in Boston 20 years ago this fall.
BIR: Do you find your students stay with you long-term?
LH: Yes, that’s basically one of the honors I consider in Irish dancing. You build relationships with these kids—you’re their teacher and their mentor for a good 10 to 12 years of their lives. I now offer a class called Boomerang. If you throw a boomerang it does come back. And so these kids come back to me—they’re professionals now—and they do what they do best for keeping in shape.
BIR: What do you have in store for this year’s “Little Bit of Ireland?”
LH: There will be a combination of maybe 16 or 17 dancers. Some of them are in college, others in high school. And then we like to jump the gap all the way down to our youngest dancers, [who are] 7 and 8 years old. Probably they’ll do the old-fashioned country set. The older girls will be doing more of what’s come to be known as the show scene Irish dance numbers.
BIR: “CelticFusion” was quite innovative. How did you come up with the concept?
LH: “CelticFusion” was a huge success for us here in the United States because it was what people were looking for. … They were curious—What is Irish dancing? And how did this phenomenon come to be? So I decided it would be an informational show along with being an entertaining show. I take audiences on a journey. I am the narrator of the show, but not through spoken words. It’s through dance. I showed what happened to the music and the dance steps when they crossed the ocean and came to the United States. We’d do the Irish dance number and the audience would get what they thought they were getting. And from there, I’d come out in a special light and do a bit of a solo and turn it into the country clog. So the audience started to see the Irish dance chip away and become another dance form.
BIR: You also starred in the London production of “Riverdance.”
LH: (Laughing) We’re talking ancient history here. If I could be as bold as to say, it being a new genre of Irish dance—show dancing—there were very few people that the producers had to choose from because the competition scene was so strict on arms straight down and head straight forward.
BIR: “Riverdance” was just explosive for dancing, wasn’t it.
LH: People had no idea that Irish dance had as much technique and talent behind it—years of training. They thought of it as St. Patrick’s Day. People putting their hands on their hips and doing a mock Scottish dance. So it was really the moment in time when the world saw a line of world champion Irish dancers—the two lead dancers being Jean Butler and Michael Flatley—with a budget to actually put on a spectacle show. And not to forget that it was a Eurovision song contest—which meant all of Europe was tuned into it (on television) at that very moment.
BIR: To end where we began, tell me a bit about the traditions of Irish dancing.
LH: I don’t know if you’ve ever heard the definition of Irish dance, being that dance was banned in Ireland by the English. And the Irish said, “Well, what is dance? We’d like a definition of that.” And the English said, “It’s the coordination of arm, head and foot movement.” So Ireland came up with their own mock dance, restricting their arm and head movement, straight forward, but showing the free nature and the fighting spirit of the Irish people through the fast foot movement. Now that’s just a theory . . . but it does draw a picture.
R. J. Donovan is publisher of OnStageBoston.com.
Reagle Music Theatre’s “A Little Bit of Ireland,” March 17-18, Robinson Theatre, 617 Lexington St., Waltham. Tickets: 781-891-5600 or reagleplayers.com.