One Irish dancer sheds light on “Lord of the Dance”

Dancer Katie Kerrigan describes the preparation necessary for performers in Michael Flatley's famous production, coming to the Milwaukee Theatre.

By - Feb 28th, 2013 04:00 am
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Katie Kerrigan plays Morrighan in Michael Flatley’s “Lord of the Dance,” at the Milwaukee Theatre Saturday. Photo courtesy Katie Kerrigan.

The reason you can tell Lord of the Dance’s performers are so good is because they usually make their complicated moves look so effortless. World-renowned Irish-American dancer Michael Flatley first developed the show in 1996, and it has since become the world’s highest-grossing Irish dance concert, even overtaking Flatley’s previous show, Riverdance. Almost 20 years later, one of the two Lord of the Dance companies still touring is coming to the Milwaukee Theatre for one performance: March 1 at 7:30 p.m.

One of the dancers stepping into the city is Katie Kerrigan, who plays Morrighan, the lead female antagonist. In the show, she vies against her pure female opposite, Saoirse, for the heart of the eponymous Lord of the Dance, in between his efforts to defeat the dark lord Don Dorcha. Of course, that’s all wrapped into 21 scenes featuring state-of-the-art lighting, Irish music and wardrobes and elaborate dance performances from over 40 troupe members.

Kerrigan has been with Lord of the Dance for eight years, joining at the age of 18, but she’s been an Irish step dancer much longer – since she was 5 years old. She says that’s no exceptional fact. “I think 90 percent of the people start at a young age,” Kerrigan said. “Most of the people in the show dance like I did competitively from the age of 4 or 5. At 13 or 14 you get competitive and have class four or five times a week and you’re traveling internationally for competitions … until you’re 18 or 19, joining the show.”

“Lord of the Dance’s” plot loosely features a good-vs-evil plot and a love triangle, but it’s mostly about the dancing.

While this might seem like intensive training for such young dancers, Kerrigan has no regrets about learning the rare art form. “I never really felt like I was practicing,” she said. “I was just doing it because I love it.”

As a member of the Lord of the Dance troupe, Kerrigan must adhere to a rigorous schedule to maintain the stamina necessary for five to six shows a week. After arriving at a new city, dancers have an hour or two to spend working out, via yoga, pilates, or weight-lifting. Then, they spend up to two hours on stage, warming up to give their best possible performance. They must work through varying time zones, climates, and stage sizes, all while maintaining a top-notch physically-trying performance.

Kerrigan said longterm injuries, such as tendonitis, are a constant risk, but all the dancers work hard to take care of themselves and keep their bodies performance-ready. “We always warm up, we do the show, we stretch after. When we all go onstage together it helps … two hours a night of dancing helps you keep in shape,” Kerrigan said.

And as it turns out, Milwaukee is a near-homecoming for Kerrigan: She grew up in the Chicago area, and often competed in our city. “I’m excited to go back and perform in Milwaukee.” she said. “We haven’t been in maybe three or four years so it’s exciting to get to go back.” She said she hopes Milwaukee’s population, Irish and otherwise, come out to see the show, as it features Irish dancing that isn’t exactly what you might expect. “You don’t even have to know about Irish dancing to come and enjoy it. It will take you by surprise if you’ve never seen it because it is such a traditional art form, but in this huge production with lights and sounds and live music … This is never-before-seen Irish dancing, and is a family show everyone would enjoy.”

Lord of the Dance will be at the Milwaukee Theatre on March 1 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets start at $38 and can be purchased online.

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