'Rhythm of the Dance' brings Celtic history, culture to The Palace Theatre

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Mar. 12—Fresh from celebrating St. Patrick's Day, audiences are promised a whirlwind tour of Ireland when "Rhythm of the Dance" hits the stage of The Palace Theatre in Greensburg at 3 p.m. March 19.

After the two-hour extravaganza of dance and music, "they will leave the theater feeling that they have been on a trip around Ireland, and they will have a strong impression of our culture and our music," said producer Kieran Cavanagh.

The long-running tour has been refreshed for 2023, with a new script, choreography, costumes and music, along with updated multimedia features. The underlying story remains the same, a recounting of the journey of the Irish Celts throughout history through traditional and modern forms of dance and song.

"Irish music is loved all over the world, as is our 'Dance' now," Cavanagh said. "It's pretty amazing, and the people come out and fill the theaters and sometimes bring Celtic song books and literature with them to show to us."

On occasion, the revelry continues off-stage, even when performers and audience members don't share a common language.

"We have sometimes even played music with them in our hotel and they cannot communicate with us, only through the music," Cavanagh said. "It's fantastic to see this happen, how music can bring different nations and cultures together."

"Rhythm of the Dance" is a production of the National Dance Company of Ireland. It was founded in 1998 as a one-time, three-week tour of the United States, but proved so popular that it evolved into an annual 40-week tour covering countries around the globe.

"It never ceases to amaze me how many countries we have actually toured," Cavanagh said. "(In Russia), we generally start a tour as far over as Siberia and then work our way back to Moscow over a five-week period of one-nighters, going from town to town overnight by train."

Among Cavanagh's favorite memories was a performance in Shenzhen City, China, for the millennium New Year's Eve television special.

"We had an 8-minute slot and the show was broadcast to 1 billion viewers in Asia on CCTV," Cavanagh said. "Can you imagine being able to reach that big of an audience in one TV show? It was our finest hour for sure, and we now tour China every year."

Another highlight was a 2007 visit to Dolly Parton's Dollywood amusement park in Tennessee.

During a set performed for 1,000 media members, the iconic country singer joined the company's trio of Irish tenors to sing "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling." Accompanied by the dancers, Parton also sang her own composition, "We Irish."

The live orchestra is as pivotal to the company's success as its highly trained dancers, Cavanagh said.

"I have always prided myself on continuing to carry a big band around the world to play our music live to the audience," he said. "We have an array of instruments, like the flautist, fiddle, accordion, bodhran drum, whistles and banjo, and it is not unusual for one musician to play several instruments."

The tenors are not just popular with audiences, Cavanagh said, they also provide a behind-the-scenes service.

"They give our dancers a much needed breather and time to change costumes, as we have about 25 costume changes in the show," he said. "Sometimes the dancers have literally just seconds to make that change to a new costume, or it could be switching shoes from the hard shoe, which makes the loud tap on the stage, to the soft shoe, which is for what we call light pieces of dance."

Tickets for "Rhythm of the Dance" are $38-$68, available by calling 724-836-8000 or online at thepalacetheatre.org.

Shirley McMarlin is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Shirley by email at smcmarlin@triblive.com or via Twitter .