For Riverdance, the final flow

When the amaz­ing Riverd­ance first opened in New York in March 1996, no one ever pre­dicted its long suc­cess.
“But here we are some six­teen years later still go­ing strong,” said Jason O’Neill, lead dan­cer with the show, which will give its farewell per­form­ance at the Mer­ri­am Theat­er in Cen­ter City May 11 to 13.
After all these years, Riverd­ance will close pro­duc­tions in the United States — al­though it will con­tin­ue to thrill audi­ences in oth­er coun­tries around the world.
“I’ll con­tin­ue dan­cing with the com­pany in oth­er coun­tries, but I will miss the Amer­ic­an audi­ences,” O’Neill said. “In Amer­ica every­one is so friendly, so very up­lift­ing, and I think the best audi­ence in the world. They ex­press them­selves when we’re dan­cing and we love all the en­ergy they send to us.”
O’Neill, 26, was born in Bel­fast and has been dan­cing for many years. He danced com­pet­it­ively and achieved first place in the Ul­ster cham­pi­on­ships five times. He also won the Great Bri­tain and All Scot­land titles, among oth­ers, and placed second in the world in solo and team dan­cing.
“I was raised with six sis­ters and they all danced,” O’Neill ex­plained. “So I guess it was just nat­ur­al for me to even­tu­ally dance too, al­though ori­gin­ally I was op­posed to the idea. But after enough time, I fell totally in love with dance and rhythm, and one thing just led to an­oth­er.”
Still fight­ing the idea of mak­ing dance his ca­reer, O’Neill at­ten­ded col­lege and ma­jored in graph­ic arts. But soon the pull and the pas­sion were just too strong, and when he au­di­tioned for and won a role in Riverd­ance, he knew he had to take the chance.
“When I was offered the lead I knew this could be my ca­reer op­tion. So I turned my back on a graph­ic design stu­dio and nev­er looked back,” he said.
And so it has been, O’Neill joy­fully re­ports. Dan­cing with the com­pany since 2009, O’Neill has no re­grets and just looks for­ward to con­tin­ue dan­cing.
“Life on the road can be hard, but I have a real thirst for travel. I love to dance and I love to travel, so even though I don’t get home to Ire­land as much as I’d like, it’s all bit­ter­sweet,” he said. “I do have days when I miss my fam­ily and friends, but every day I get to see new places and new people, so for me it’s all been a mostly pos­it­ive ex­per­i­ence.”
Of course, per­form­ing in Riverd­ance can be quite strenu­ous, and dan­cers like O’Neill are not without their in­jur­ies.
“I try to keep in shape by skip­ping and run­ning every day, as well as dan­cing. That keeps my body know­ing this is what it has to do. But we also travel with mas­sage ther­ap­ists who keep us on track, and they are lifesavers,” he said.
And they’d bet­ter be.
O’Neill said over the years he’s had sprained ankles, knee in­jur­ies and a frac­tured foot.
“But, like any­thing else, the wounds heal and you just go on from there,” he said. “Riverd­ance is an ori­gin­al, the first of its kind to fea­ture Ir­ish dan­cing fused with oth­er types of dan­cing. It’s a full-scale Broad­way pro­duc­tion. The mu­sic is ex­cel­lent, and the dan­cers give it everything they’ve got every single night.”
When the show ends its run in Amer­ica, O’Neill will keep dan­cing to its mu­sic and ma­gic in oth­er coun­tries — which he will con­tin­ue as long as he can. Even­tu­ally, though, he hopes to do oth­er things as well.
“Even­tu­ally I want to do cho­reo­graphy, and also pur­sue graph­ic design and pho­to­graphy,” he said. “But I will con­tin­ue on this road as long as I can. For me, it’s all about the pas­sion and love I feel for the dance, and I just look for­ward to con­tinu­ing to do it for many years.”
For times and tick­et in­form­a­tion, call 215-731-3333.

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