Michael Flatley's last hurrah with Lord of the Dance: Dangerous Games
"To be honest with you, every day is a bonus day now," says Michael Flatley. "It's just like one, very calm and relaxed victory lap right now."
Announcing that he was quitting the stage after two decades as the all-conquering Lord of the Dance, Flatley could be forgiven for feeling slightly nervous about what lies ahead. But as he prepared to for his final show at Wembley Arena on July 4, it seemed that the Chicago-born stepdancer couldn't wait to permanently hang up his tap shoes.
"I'm really enjoying myself right now," he adds, with a smile. "I'm also enjoying the audiences, and every moment of it all, and just being with this magnificent team of new dancers."
Having initially made his mark with Riverdance in 1994, Flatley then struck out on his own, debuting The Lord of the Dance at Dublin's Point Theatre in 1996. Since then, he hasn't looked back, regularly staging the original show and its various spin-offs including Feet of Flames and Celtic Tiger at venues all across the world. It will include Lord of the Dance: Dangerous Games in Wellington next month.
"I feel like I've accomplished everything that I set out to accomplish," he says. "I've done the things that I came here to do. Right now it's my honour to pass this onto the young dancers who are coming up in the future. That's really the only reason I'm still dancing now, to draw attention to them and to show them to the world, so that they can shine like the stars that I know they are."
But having previously returned to performing in 2010 after an extended absence of several years, he is determined that he won't make any more comebacks on this occasion. "I've had severe injuries in the past, and I've certainly had one major illness that kept me away from the stage for a few years, which was a very difficult time," says Flatley, who was admitted to hospital with a mysterious viral infection in 2006. "But right now is a completely different thing, as I'm actually in better health but there's only so much more that my body – especially my legs – can take."
Therefore Flatley won't be making an appearance when Dangerous Games, arrives in New Zealand. Describing it as "the latest iteration" of The Lord of the Dance, it sets the traditional folk tale against a dystopian, Hunger Games-esque backdrop. But despite the presence of tap-dancing robots and some eye-catching pyrotechnics, he promises that any stylistic overhaul hasn't been too radical.
"What I always try and do is to build the best show that I possibly can," says Flatley, who has enthusiastically utilised cutting edge video technology to create an evocative environment for the performers to dance in.
"It's a great gift to have all these wonderful new tools and I've really learnt quite a bit doing this. Hopefully the end result is still impressive and, certainly, the audiences seem to share that opinion, as the show gets a great response every night everywhere we go. I feel like we've got the greatest team of dancers in the world, so it's really interesting for me to put them into a show like this where I can really amplify what it is they're doing and show it in a new and exciting way."
Having limited his own appearances to a brief handful over the past 12 months and with up to three different troupes touring internationally at the same time, Flatley believes that the company will have no problem maintaining momentum after his imminent departure. "The Lord of the Dance is a timeless story," he says. "There are also other brilliant dance companies and some modern dance companies that have done The Lord of the Dance storyline in their own form of dance." According to Flatley, Dangerous Games doesn't revolve around any one person. "The Lord of the Dance is one of the key roles, but the Dark Lord is equally intriguing, as are the young ladies like Saoirse and the temptress Morrighan, while the Little Spirit is probably the biggest starring role," he continues. "She's really the star of the show because it's all about the Little Spirit's dream, so the whole show is based around her."
And as he prepares to hand the baton onto his various young proteges, such as his new Manchester-born Lord of the Dance James Keegan, he knows that Dangerous Games is in safe hands. "James is an exceptionally talented young man, who was going to be a professional footballer before he chose dance instead," says Flatley, whose company is drawn not just from Ireland but also from all nationalities.
"We've had terrific dancers from Poland, Asia, Holland, Canada and all over America, and not to mention Australia and New Zealand. They come from everywhere, and it keeps growing every day with new people coming from all sorts of places. This is a global dance form, and there's waiting list to get into the show, which is certainly a big change from back when I first started this."
Although he insists that "there have been too many highlights to mention," as he prepares to dance away into the sunset, Flatley believes that fostering developing dancers has given him the greatest satisfaction. "It doesn't really get any better than being able to bring young talent through the door, seeing them shining and letting them enjoy the standing ovations before becoming stars themselves," he says.
"That's why I started this whole thing, to give dancers the work and to show people that dance could be the star attraction. That's always been the most exciting thing for me, and it will now take on a whole life of its own. Whether I'm alive or dead, whether I'm here or gone, this will now continue, which was my whole goal in the beginning."
Lord of the Dance: Dangerous Games is at Wellington's St James Theatre, August 25-30