As Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage he hopes his new show will usher in a new generation of stars, including a 16-year-old acrobat who won gold for Team GB at last year’s World Games.
Alice Upcott, who received her GCSE results on Thursday, has been chosen as one of the stars of Lord of the Dance: Dangerous Games, which opens at the London Palladium at the beginning of next month.
“Performing on stage is always something I’ve wanted to do,” she told The Independent. “My role involves contortion, dancing movements and acting, though with my body. Some of it is new to me, especially the acting. I never did drama at school; I really like it.”
Ms Upcott, who has performed at the London Olympics closing ceremony, was cast in the role of Little Spirit in Flatley’s latest dance show after she was recommended by her gymnastics club. She has now finished school and will tour with the production.
Flatley, 56, said: “I’ve never seen anything like her in my whole life. There’s a reason she’s a champion. She lights up the whole show, just look at her eyes, there’s magic.”
Ms Upcott, one of the latest stars of Flatley’s hugely popular shows in a cast of 46 performers, started “baby gym” at the age of three before competing in acrobatic gymnastics seriously at the age of 10.
She won gold at the World Games in Cali, Colombia – a competition described as the “Olympics for non-Olympic sports” – and the European Championships in Odivelas in Portugal last year in the mixed pair category with Dominic Smith. They won silver at the World Championships held in Levallois-Perret in France last month.
“It is very similar to what you see with gymnastics,” she said. “You get judged by a big panel of judges and you compete against all the other countries. The only difference is it’s a different form of gymnastics.”
After he contacted her gym the Heathrow Gymnastics Club, Ms Upcott’s coach suggested several candidates for the role. “He came to see me and he liked what I could do. So here I am,” she said.
Ms Upcott has some experience of performing. Her brother Edward, a five-time acrobatic gymnast champion, was part of Spellbound, the troupe that won Britain’s Got Talent in 2010.
Shortly after the victory Ms Upcott joined and at 12 became the youngest member. It was as part of Spellbound that they performed at the Olympic closing ceremony.
Flatley is to make his final West End performances with the new Lord of the Dance show. “To say I’m long in the tooth is an understatement. But I love it. It’s who I am. It’s what I do,” he said.
“Since I was a little boy I’ve read about the West End, I’ve always wanted to be here,” he added. “When the lights go out I’m going to be right here in the moment. This is the top of the world for me. It’s the West End.”
Yet, he said that it was time to step back and “unleash these new stars on the world”. His focus, he said, now is on “creating new young stars”.
The show also includes Girls Aloud star Nadine Coyle who said: “I couldn’t believe I’m here, I’m on cloud nine.” Although she added that she had tried Irish dancing as a child but stopped after losing a local competition.
Flatley first came to prominence when he performed at in the interval at the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest in Dublin. He subsequently created Riverdance and then Lord of the Dance which sold out theatres and stadiums around the world.
Of the current popularity for mainstream dance programmes such as Strictly Come Dancing, he said: “I think we played a little part in popularising that. There wasn’t much around like it in mainstream entertainment 20 years ago.”
He also backed former ballet star Darcey Bussell’s call for dance to be taught in schools saying: “Dance has always been part of after school projects but it should be part of the curriculum”.