All Things Entertaining and Cultural
Life lessons about sportsmanship and putting in the required work were included amid the traditional dance instruction Maggie Darlington received at the Claddagh Irish Dance studio in Camarillo, California.
Darlington, who went from taking classes to competing in international competitions, says Moire O’Connell, of Claddagh, did everything she could to make her dancers the best. That may be why Darlington is one of several of O’Connell’s students to perform in “Riverdance,” the long-standing Irish music and dance show that brings its 20th anniversary tour to Philadelphia’s Academy of Music from Tuesday to next Sunday, June 19.
“Moire always warned us we would be disappointed if we didn’t practice, follow instruction, or exert that extra effort to make our dance perfect. She also taught us to be gracious and shake the hand of the person who did better than us if we lost a competition. Most of us, she shared her knowledge with us, and if there came a time when a student needed something beyond her expertise, she’d bring in someone to work with person. The choreographers she brought in were especially good.”
Darlington is one of three performers sharing the female lead of this tour of “Riverdance.” She will be in every show, but her role may change depending on when someone attends.
“I have been with ‘Riverdance’ for five years, and I’ve grown with the company as well as seeing the world in a relaxed way. The experience has been great. I miss California and having a place to keep my stuff, but I enjoy seeing the United States and part of the world I never expected to visit, such as China. I like having friends who live in England and Ireland. Living out of baggage in hotel rooms never feels like home, but I compensate by the wonderful walks I’ve taken through cities and the chance to just sit and have a cup of coffee in a city and get to know its people and its rhythms. You balance the idea of never being home with the opportunity you get to see so much and the kinship you feel with your ‘Riverdance’ colleagues.”
Darlington says the important thing is to be ready to do each evening’s show. “Even as you wander around a new city, you keep in mind your energy, your rest, and the time. You don’t want to be late or worn down for a show. One time in San Francisco, a group of us had the great idea to ride bicycles across the Golden Gate Bridge. We had fun doing it, but we made it back to the theater just in time to make our call for the show.”
Darlington says there are places she’d like to return. One is Innsbruck, Austria, which she says is small but gorgeous, nestled where it is in the middle of the Alps. She was also taken with the South of France, which she says reminds her of the Santa Barbara area of California where she grew up.
Being a lead performer gives Darlington more freedom. For instance, she says, she uses her arms more than usual in Irish dance.
“I am well-schooled in the traditions of Irish dance, the stiff upper body and the fast feet. But lead dancers are encouraged to put more personality and arm movement in their dances. This helps audiences in large theaters see the dance better.”
Darlington also speaks of the two kinds of shoes Irish dancers wear and which are interchanged regularly during a performance of “Riverdance.” ‘Heavy’ shoes that resemble tap shoes but have a fiberglass rather than a metal front, are used for the percussive dances. ‘Light’ shoes resembling ballet slippers but made of canvas and with laces are worn for softer, more fluid movements.
Darlington has been dancing with age two but says she didn’t become serious about dance until she was 11.
“My older sisters were already taking Irish dance lessons when I was born. When I was two, I would imitate them. At three, I took lessons, but I thought of Irish dance as a lark, something pleasant to do with others after school. At the age of 11, I realized I had some talent and enjoyed the dance so much, I became more dedicated and entered competitions. I made a name, but I never considered trying out for ‘Riverdance.’
“I can’t say it never crossed my mind. Dancers talked about it, but I had no ambition. Then, a friend said an audition with ‘Riverdance’ can be arranged. Out of politeness, you can’t say no when someone goes to such effort in relation to your future. I guess the story is told by me being with ‘Riverdance’ for five years.”
Darlington says audiences can recognize her by her long, curly blond hair. She says, whether as the lead or in the chorus, she enjoys the battle of with the Russian ballet dancers than opens “Riverdance.”
“Riverdance” runs from Tuesday to next Sunday, June 19, at the Academy of Music, Broad and Locust Streets, in Philadelphia. Show times are 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Thursday and Saturday, and 1 p.m. Sunday. Tickets range from $110 to $20 and can be obtained by calling 215-893-1999 or by visiting www.kimmelcenter.org.