Members of the Irish music and dance troupe—Riverdance—will make their final U.S. performance this weekend, at Wolf Trap in Vienna in five performances. It will be the group's 14th season at Wolf Trap.
Patch asked its principal dancer, Belfast native Jason O'Neill, what it's like to dance in the famed troupe.
Patch: When did you first become interested in dance? We read you have six sisters and were resistant to dancing at first. What did your family think initially when they found out you would be touring with the production?
O'Neill: "Irish dancing was a passed down art form in my family and it found its way to me as an impressionable six year old. Initially I was shy to the idea but it soon became clear that I had a passion for dance. The rhythm and athleticism was immediately infectious and I fell in love with its potential. When I saw Riverdance at age 10, it changed everything. I don't think my feet ever stopped since. My family were very supportive and they have become massive Riverdance fans."
Patch: "The performances this weekend at Wolf Trap are billed as "final performances" in the United States. Did you get a chance to see any of the towns and cities in the U.S. while touring? Is there one city or town that sticks in your mind that's a favorite?"
O'Neill: "I am an eager tourist and love to travel so I really get up and go when I am in a new city. I spend most of mornings (if I am not on a bus) exploring the coffee shops, restaurants and tourist spots. I always have my big Nikon D90 in hand ready to capture something new or something memorable. We are visiting 82 cities this tour so there are to many places I cherish. I did fall in love with Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia and Savannah."
Patch: "Do you plan to continue to make a career of dancing? If you are part of the tour going to South America and beyond which country are you most interested in seeing?"
O'Neill: "I have a passion for design and photography but for now I am happy to pursue dance. I realize I can't dance at this level forever so I want to squeeze every inch out of it because it makes me happy. I am continuing on with this show and other projects after this tour. I am going to Belgium and South America in the summer and opening a new chapter with the show. It is going to be an adventure performing in Sao Paulo and Buenos Aires."
Patch: Do you have a hand in choreographing the production?
O'Neill: "I have no hand in choreographing the show but I do get to show off some of my own steps in the number 'Trading Taps.'"
Patch: Is the dancing true to its historic roots or is there a tweak to the dancing?
O'Neill: "Riverdance took all that was unique about Irish dancing and made it entertaining for the masses. The dancing stays true to the roots of the art form with its pulsating rhythms and intricate steps, but it also tweaks it in various ways. Irish dancers keep their arms rigidly by there sides focusing on footwork and foot placement. However as a principal dancer I get to incorporate arm movements and express myself more freely."
Patch: Have you ever suffered any injuries? If so what happened?
O'Neill: "I have suffered many injuries over the years. Irish dancing is very high impact targeting the ankles, knees and hips. I have torn my ligaments, broke my foot and twisted my tendons. However I train in a certain way to prevent injuries as best I can. We have to look after ourselves by eating right and training irrefutably and efficiently. Luckily we have a brilliant massage therapist and physiotherapist on tour to put at bay our aches and pains. After every show I put my legs in the dreaded ice bucket to combat inflammation."
Patch: Do you have a "most memorable" show?
O'Neill: "There has been so many cherished moments on stage but the first time my parents came to the show was very memorable. I was performing at the Hammersmith Apollo, London for one week and they came over from Ireland. It finally felt that all the hard work, years of dance classes and competitions had paid off."
Patch: Have you had a chance to perform the show in Ireland before your family and friends? What was that like?
O'Neill: "I performed my first ever lead in Dublin for my sisters last August. It was one of the most exciting and emotional times of my dance career. I had trained tirelessly all summer to learn the role and for them to support me on my opening night was fantastic."
Patch: What will be going through your head during the last performance at Wolf Trap?
O'Neill: "A mixture of nerves, excitement and sadness. The troupe has a lot of perspective this tour because it will be the last time we will perform in North America. For 16 years they have been such a welcoming, energetic and infectious audience. I can't wait to dance in Wolf Trap, the show will be at its epic best."
Patch: What kind of shoes do you wear?
O'Neill: "I have experimented with many shoes over the years to meet different demands. Currently I wear Fays hard shoes because they are very neat with a crisp sound."
Patch: What kind of advice would you give to young dancers?
O'Neill: "Keep practicing and always remember why you love to dance. Have fun with it, stay passionate and work hard at your craft."
Patch: Tell us something about the production/dancers that would surprise us.
O'Neill: "We are like one big family travelling, working and socializing together. However we have been on the road for nearly five months and at this stage of the tour the cast are professional pranksters. There is always some mischievous plan conjured up to better a previous one. Additionally there is always an iPhone in hand ready to capture it all on film, (but what happens on tour stays on tour)."
For tickets to one of the five performances of Riverdance this weekend, visit Wolf Trap's Web site.
Tickets for Wolf Trap’s 2012 performances can be purchased via the Wolf Trap Box Office located at Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts at 1551 Trap Road, Vienna by calling 1(877)WOLFTRAP; or visiting www.wolftrap.org.