Dance Lord of the Dance Coliseum, London

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The Independent Culture
Michael Winner loved it. And this isn't some nasty private little habit of his: he shares that love with thousands and thousands of people. On Tuesday night, Winner and a host of celebrities worshipped at the altar of Michael Flatley, self-annointed Lord of the Dance. By Wednesday, we were down to the more humble disciples but their faith was absolute. "Ooh look: 'Video available October,' " burbled the folk behind me excitedly as they devoured their souvenir programme - and they hadn't even seen the show yet. Veterans of countless trips to Riverdance, they were certain to enjoy themselves. Imagine the advance box-office for Phantom II and you get the general idea.

Our Lord's entrance in warm leatherette is greeted with screams of delight and his first solo is cheered to the skies. Despite reports of a recent calf injury, he dances with strength and speed and panache but the limited vocabulary of Irish dance makes for monotony after a bit. Flatley senses this, and attempts to bring the normally rigid upper body to life with a variety of macho poses culled from the body builder's repertoire. He is also very proud of the fact that this show, unlike Riverdance, has a story: he has no reason to be so. The plot (as if anyone cared) is cod- Celtic twaddle about the winsome doings of a flute-playing pixie in gold lame bell-bottoms. Bad guys break her flute, Flatley fixes it, a paramilitary squad of step-dancing thugs kill him but he rises again seconds later in another pair of trousers. The audience is rightly uninvolved in the plot. The sure test of this is the cheers and whistles for the bad guys after they march in triumph on breaking the pixie's flute - no one ever applauds the Wilis in Giselle.

Like many star vehicles, Flatley's show carries quite a few passengers in order to provide the 38-year-old with a few breaks between dances. But where the Riverdance ensemble is light and lively and elegantly turned out, Flatley's new chorus is unbecomingly decked in pastel shortie nighties (it's hard to believe that the same Sue Blane designed English National Ballet's exquisite Alice in Wonderland). Most sport long hair that looks like its had a nasty accident with a home perm. The overall effect is less dream-time in Erin, more party-time in Erith. Even the audience felt the difference - if you can gauge a house's disapproval by its failure to scream with pleasure. Both choruses have been very expertly drilled but then so have my teeth (and to greater aesthetic effect).

But what do I know? By the end, three quarters of the huge house was on its feet. The star took a long warm bath in the adoring applause of his public and affected astonishment at their desire for more - a completely bogus response as he has a special outfit for the encores. No doubt the lady behind me will buy the video but it won't get as many plays as Riverdance. That was an attempt to celebrate an almost forgotten dance tradition; Lord of the Dance is merely a celebration of Michael Flatley. I only wish I hadn't crashed the party.

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