Riverdance is coming to Marquee and it’s a moving feat for Cork star John!

Ronan Leonard talks to Corkman John Lonergan, from Ballyphehane, who will be the principal dancer for Riverdance’s 25th anniversary show at his hometown show at Live At The Marquee
Riverdance is coming to Marquee and it’s a moving feat for Cork star John!

Riverdance: Coming to Live at the Marquee.

“This is one of the closest shows I’ve ever done to where I grew up”, laughs Ballyphehane native John Lonergan as he prepares to perform as principal dancer at Riverdance’s 25th anniversary show at Live At The Marquee.

While it isn’t his first time to perform here these appearances have an added importance to him. “I did dance at Live At The Marquee the last time in 2016, but this time I’m coming back as principal dancer so it’s a different motivation and with more excitement, if that’s even possible!”

While this tour of Riverdance involves a brand new production to commemorate the landmark anniversary, John credits the original show with creating the opportunity of a career as a professional dancer.

Riverdance meant that we could see dancing becoming a job, whereas years ago you just entered competitions and that was about it

“When I first got into dancing as a boy was also when Riverdance meant that we could see it becoming a job, whereas years ago you just entered competitions and that was about it. You’d have to become a teacher or find another job somehow; you’d have to go to college and do something else outside of dancing as well. In my era, it became a new goal, put your head down and be the best you could be and hopefully one day you could walk through the doors of Riverdance and tour the world with them.”

John celebrated a major anniversary with Riverdance a few weeks ago. “I first auditioned for them in 2011 and I got a call asking if I wanted to go on tour with them in Australia and New Zealand. Which was a no brainer, I went over and I’ve been a member ever since, I made my stage debut with them in May 2012 and 10 years later I’m still here. It came up on my Facebook memories last week! I remember being seven or eight, trying to copy the moves from the VHS we had of Riverdance, thinking it looks so easy and realising it wasn’t at all. Going from that living room in Ballyphehane to then suddenly doing those very steps on the actual stage that first time I could barely believe it was happening!”

Principal dancer, Riverdance, Cork’s own John Lonergan.
Principal dancer, Riverdance, Cork’s own John Lonergan.

Despite his decade long tenure John has never rested on his laurels, he explained just how much each performer challenges each other to stay on their toes. “Basically we are contracted from tour to tour, so if you let your standards slip there are so many people waiting for a chance to take your place. You have to be at peak performance all the time.”

To the outside eye that might feel like a lot of pressure, but John relishes that environment. “You know what, it’s only fair because at the end of the day, we have a paying audience coming to see you. Why shouldn’t you be at your best?

While it is a competitive environment, it is friendly as opposed to a rivalry. That’s where it’s different in comparison to the competition, because you’re there to win and to get whatever your own personal goal is. Whereas in Riverdance, while of course you want to climb the ranks, it’s more about producing the best show, if you are that person who unfortunately has become complacent you may not get a start in the next show.”

Everyone brings their own personal style to it. We are all the result of everything we’ve been taught

Reflecting on his role as principal dancer John feels he made it his own based on his own experiences. “Everyone brings their own personal style to it. We are all the result of everything we’ve been taught, you know. Some people will be perhaps kind of sharp, some will be more elegant. It just depends on your own dancing style, who were your teachers when growing up, those first two or three years, and then your own personal touch. I can only dance as me, I’m kind of fast, electric and swift so that’s what I will bring to the role.

“The importance of helping dancers at the start of their journey is close to John’s heart, he runs his own dance classes in Cork — The John Lonergan Academy of Irish Dancing — and he is committed to encouraging them.

“I always say that as a teacher you are trying to train them to the best they possibly can be, forcing them beyond boundaries that they’ve never known even exists within themselves. I want to be able to train them to be professionals so that when it comes to them going into that industry they don’t react to situations thinking, ‘oh my god, this is really difficult.’ I want them thinking ‘this is what John prepared us for, I’m able to deal with this’.

“I try to instill that in every single student regardless of whether they’re a beginner or already winning championships.”

This year’s show in comparison to 2016 is very different, according to John. “They’ve revisited the set, so that’s brand new; there’s a good few new costumes; the music has been rerecorded, to celebrate it’s the 25th anniversary show. They’ve modernised it massively, so in case there’s anyone who thinks it might be the same as it was last time, they’re in for a massive treat!’

Obviously John expects to know many of the faces that will be in the audience. “My family are all booked to come. The majority of my dance school is coming, and I’ve friends who are flying from all over to come see it. So it’s going to be incredible I’d say, I genuinely can’t wait! Since it is in Dublin so often I was shocked the first time it came to the Marquee. Because I never in a million years thought it would ever come to Cork. But now returning as a principal dancer is mayhem. I can’t believe I’m lucky to be able to perform in my hometown, it’s going to be brilliant.”

Riverdance 25th Anniversary Show will perform Live At The Marquee on Friday, June 3, at 8pm, Saturday, June 4, and Sunday, June 5, at 2.30pm and 8pm. Tickets available via www.ticketmaster.ie.

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