Danahey on the Loose with Riverdance star James Greenan

Riverdance line. Photo by Jack Hartin.
Riverdance line. Photo by Jack Hartin.

Turns out I have something in common with James Greenan, the lead dancer in Riverdance – The 20th Anniversary World Tour, which plays the Cadillac Palace Theatre in Chicago April 5 – 10.

To have enough energy to perform, Greenan said he and other cast members carbo-load, piling plates with pasta, potatoes and other starches.

When I head out to see an Irish dance show I, too, frequently get my fill of carbs, albeit usually in a pint glass. (That’s not to mention a multi-course Italian dinner before catching the 5-hour-long Goodman production of Eugene O’Neill’s boozy Irish-American masterwork, The Iceman Cometh.)

Greenan also is a fan of soccer’s Manchester United. Sure, they’re a dynasty, but Greenan noted the team is having an off year – something to which any fan of the Chicago Bears can relate.

More into soccer as a boy, Greenan’s sisters persuaded him to Irish dance when he was 10 and the family was living in London. The family moved back to Ireland and Co. Cavan the next year, where Greenan studied a Mona Ni Rodaigh school in Dundalk, subsequently won all sorts of championships and eventually wound up in the tour of the show that made Irish step dancing an international pop culture phenomenon.

Riverdance, of course, originally was an interval act in the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest (when Greenan was 4 years old) which became a full-fledged production that hit Dublin, then London in 1995, then made its way to New York in 1996 and the rest of the globe thereafter.

Greenan has been with the show on and off for five years now and with this particular tour since September. He’s performed in Chicago three times with Riverdance.

Riverdance Thunderstorm. Photo by Jack Hartin.
Riverdance thunderstorm. Photo by Jack Hartin.

As for the staying power of Riverdance, Greenan said, “It’s the music by Bill Whelan. It still can raise the hairs on the back of your neck. It’s a monumental production, and so emotional you’re ragged as a performer at the end.”

Dancing the role created and made famous by Chicago-born Michael Flatley – who was just in town on his alleged farewell tour of his own –  has its own set of challenges, too.

“At the start it was daunting, but I found my way to my own character,” Greenan said. “It’s all about the performance which I convey with facial expressions, making it emotional, with a bit of fun.”

Greenan also has relatives in the Chicago area, some of whom have a downtown condo. I do, too, but he gets to stay at the one in his family. I’ll be heading back to the suburbs (where I belong) after I catch the show.

“I like to hit the beach when I come to Chicago, but I’m pretty sure that won’t be happening this time,” Greenan said. “I’ll enjoy it day by day.”

With Riverdance he’s also been to China, Brazil, Argentina and even East Lansing, Mich., where he was when I talked to him by phone.

“China has a spirit, the food, the rats, random animals about, and is a place where just about anything seems normal. It’s always fun,” Greenan said.

Greenan also once

Riverdance lady in read. Photo by Jack Hartin.
Riverdance lady in red. Photo by Jack Hartin.

studied architecture, and he still brings his sketchbook with him on the road.

“I’m interested in eco-friendly buildings,” he said.

Greenan said he also is considering getting into sports nutrition and physiotherapy once he’s done with dancing. For now, though, along with Riverdance, Greenan has his own dance company back in Ireland to keep him busy.

He sees the future of Irish step dancing as becoming even more athletic and physical, fusing even more with with modern styles with boundaries pushed.

“It’s going to become more cool,” Greenan said. “I could see it fusing with dances like Rihanna has in her shows. It’s going to be more about swagger than Vegas.”