Irish dance icon Michael Flatley talks to MOLLY MULDOON about fatherhood, the Irish recession and the launch of his new movie Lord of the Dance 3D.
“The first time I was dragged by my ears to an Irish dance class in Chicago, I was 11 and I remember the teacher sending me home, because I was too old to learn,” recalls Michael Flatley during a chat in New York on Monday.
“That is a good memory, because look what happened! I learned the steps from my little friends that were there and caught up with the other 11-year-olds and I kind of just took off.”
Therein lies the determination that led Flatley to become the global king of Irish dance, a crown he still firmly holds four decades after someone told him he couldn’t flourish.
When the Irish Voice met Flatley on a Monday afternoon in a Park Avenue hotel, it was surprising to find that his on-stage exuberance that made him his fortune is something he carries with him all the time.
A strong handshake, he thanks me for coming over and I forget for a brief moment that our interview is just another one of the countless press junkets he will be absorbed in all week.
In New York for the premiere of his latest on-screen adventure, Lord of the Dance 3D, Flatley is excited about his latest innovative production.
After yet another sell-out global run of Lord of the Dance, the Chicago native collaborated with English director Marcus Viner to produce a motion picture of the live show that they wanted to dazzle.
“For years I was asked to do some film work but I was apprehensive, I didn’t think it would translate. But then I discovered 3D and the new innovations and technology,” Flatley said.
“If an audience buys a ticket for my show they will see it and experience it in a certain way, but in 3D they can come on stage with us. They can see it in a whole new way which I find exciting and I think it captures a lot of the energy.”
The show itself, shot and cut in 3D, is made for the big screen. Captured over several nights in London, Berlin and Dublin last year, 20 cameras worked in tandem each night shooting the live performances in 3D.
In the opening sequence of his new film, Flatley remarks that you cannot have a great army without a great general, and likewise there cannot be a great general without a great army. His words come to life on screen as the audience witnesses the pure raw talent, precision and skill exhibited by the leading man and his troop of dancers.
At times you feel as if the dancers are floating on the stage as their feet barely seem to touch the hard solid wood that they seamlessly spring off.
The costumes alone are a feast for the eyes, with everything from glitz and glamour to more demure sophistication, which add to the 3D effect.
Harping back to Flatley’s boxing days, the all-star dancer takes on a band of evil forces throughout the show as he attempts to banish the their wicked presence from the stage.
Speaking about the team behind him, Flatley is conscious of their dedication to the show.
“They are very talented people and I am so blessed to be on stage with them,” he explains.
“We have a long list of dancers trying to get into the show, from all over the world – Poland, Hungry, New Zealand, Canada; Russia.
“It is magic, we have created a market place that is global and we are Irish!” Flatley says.
Reflecting on his long and successful career, he admits that after the Irish phenomenon of Riverdance, the show he originally starred in but left after a dispute with producers, the odds were stacked against him when began producing the original Lord of the Dance.
“When we first opened Lord of the Dance nobody gave us any hope. I used every penny that I had, I had to beg, borrow and steal to put that show up and I had to dance every night for over a year to break even. But I did, I broke even and we made it.
“When we touched down in Australia there were about 10,000 people at the airport and we thought, ‘Wow where did that come from?’ We weren’t expecting it. But it took off like a rocket ship.”
The second of five children, he credits his Irish immigrant parents’ strong Irish work ethic as “vitally important,” adding, “It was really important that my father and mother taught me that.”
“I have to attack everything I do every day, what I do is not mainstream… so I have to fight for everything I get,” he says.
Michael and his wife, former dancer Niamh O’Brien, welcomed their first child into the world in the spring of 2007. Speaking about his three-year-old son Michael Junior, Flatley says that fatherhood has changed him.
“It’s probably calmed me down a good bit, in a good way,” he admits. “It’s hard to explain the feeling you get when your little son jumps up and hugs you, there is no feeling like it in the world.
“I think it has grounded me a little bit. Everything I do now is with him in mind,” he told the Irish Voice.
When asked if Michael Junior will be a dancer, the star coyly answers, “I don’t know, it’s up to his mother!”
The family split their time between their London and Cork homes and it’s clear that Flatley’s affinity to Ireland is unwavering as always.
Conscious of the current downturn at home in Ireland, he says that tourism can do a lot to kick-start the economy.
“My job and your job as being Irish in America is to try and convince everybody we can to go home to Ireland now, just go home,” he says.
“If you have never been there before just go home for the first time, and if you have been there before then go home and enjoy it with us.
“Ireland is the last stone unturned. It is the most beautiful country in the world. It’s time to invite everybody back home now.”
As far as advice for Ireland’s new Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny, Flatley says that the Irish need to get behind their new leader.
“Enda is a good guy, a very capable man, we needed a change, and we needed something new,” he says.
“Let’s get back and renegotiate that deal (with the International Monetary Fund), and let’s get on with it. Whatever it is, let’s all be positive, see the end result and pull together.
“I would implore the Irish media to stop with all the negativity and let’s have a little balance. We need some positivity in that country right now, people need to have hope. You cannot saddle the Irish community with all of this and the negativity too.
“We have got to believe in the future. There are good things coming,”
Lord of the Dance 3D opens nationwide in the U.S. for one week only from St. Patrick’s Day.