The sound of ‘music in the air,’ and the sight of ‘feet on the floor’

It seems like yesterday that Moya Doherty and I sat down in the chill winter of 1993 in a small café on Dublin’s Baggot Street to discuss the germ of an idea that was to become Riverdance. Little did we dream that by 2012, this small germ would have sprouted into a two-hour show that would be seen by 22 million people around the world. Now it is making its return visit to Boston, where Riverdance has previously performed on seven very happy occasions.

However, for the first time, this visit will be tinged with some nostalgia. We are here to say farewell to Boston and to the USA, as our company sets out on its travels elsewhere.

This will be our first time out of the United States in sixteen years. Significant milestone events like this prompt some reflection, both general and personal.

Since the show first set foot on American soil in 1996, we have played in every kind of venue, from massive arenas to more intimate concert halls. In some locations, like here in this city where there is a large Irish-American community, the performances resemble a homecoming. For the dancers and musicians, Boston’s audiences always feel a bit more like their Dublin counterparts – rowdier, more familiar, and eager to celebrate their Irish roots. In other venues with less Celtic connections, this exuberance is also present, but combines with a curiosity about Irish culture and a keen willingness to join in the party.

There is something at the core of traditional music and dance, no matter where its roots lie, that has a capacity to unite people. In those 16 years touring the United States, Riverdance has witnessed some extraordinary events – from the horror of 9/11 to seeing Americans go to war. Back in the home country, we have lived through the arrival and the departure of the Celtic paper Tiger and we have watched our people struggle to deal with the fallout.

Despite all these trials, what the Riverdance company witnesses every night is the human capacity to come together and engage emotionally and spiritually when there is music in the air and feet on the floor. And what is most encouraging is that wherever we tour, be it in New York, London, Moscow, Beijing, Tokyo, Hamburg, or Millstreet in County Cork, this same window into the beating human heart is open everywhere. One begins to realize after touring the world that, whatever may be the geographical and political divides, at the level of our music and dance, poetry and painting, drama and literature, there is little that separates us and much that affirms our common humanity.

If I may, I would like to include some personal reflections about Boston. Four years ago, my youngest son, Brian, enrolled as a student at Berklee School of Music on Mass. Ave. Last year, my family and I sat proudly at the Commencement ceremony for his graduation. Shortly after Brian began his studies, I was invited to join the Board of Trustees at Berklee. Inevitably, all of this meant that I have spent considerable amounts of time here. I now have friends and colleagues in Boston, and I have come to know the city better, enjoyed its many cultural and social amenities, worked and relaxed here, and feel very much at home every time I return.

Slán, the Irish word for “goodbye,” is a familiar word to many Bostonians. Either they, or their forbears, will have used that word over the centuries, and sometimes in heartbreaking circumstances. It comes from the Irish word lán which means “full” – “full and plenty” -- of life, of health and of happiness. And while it is doubly difficult at this time to say “Slán” to Boston, it is exactly what all of us in Riverdance wish our friends here in Massachusetts: a warm farewell.

Bill Whelan is the composer of Riverdance, which will be presented at the Boston Opera House on the weekend of April 13-15, with shows on Friday night and the Saturday and Sunday afternoons and evenings.