We chat to local boy James Keegan
The Flatley of Fallowfield
'Riverdance' and its many related shows has been a theatrical phenomenon for over 20 years. Michael Flately's creations constantly tour the world to packed houses. This week, the latest show 'Dangerous Games' comes to Manchester and performing the lead role of The Lord is the city's very own James Keegan.
You started dancing when you were just four years old. What attracted you to it so young?
A lot of dancers start at that age. Once you can learn, get a grasp of things and hold information you're on your way. I had sisters who went to lessons every week so they dragged me along just to get me out of the house.
You were winning trophies just a couple of years later. Was life as a child all about about travelling and competitions?
Pretty much. Things started getting serious when I was about 7 and won my first major at the American Nationals. From then it was full on going round the UK, Ireland and America for the next few years.
At that young age most kids are pretty fearless and take things in their stride. Did you ever realise what a big deal it all was or was it just the norm for you?
I guess it was more the norm, being young and not knowing any difference. As a kid I remember little parts feeling like a bit of a whirlwind what with winning trophies and travelling everywhere but it just became a way of life. It was normal to travel every weekend to competitions and go to other countries. It was great meeting so many people and making friends from different parts of the world at such a young age. I was also so lucky to have my parents travel with me and be so dedicated.
Was it hard to come back after a trip and fit back into everyday school life?
I remember teachers almost banning me from storytime when you had to speak about what you'd done over the weekend. I'd been off on my travels winning a big trophy and the others kids had been to the local park!
'Riverdance' came to the world's attention in 1995 as that year's interval act for the Eurovision Song Contest. Was that a major turning point for you?
Oh yes. It was a really exciting night because at the time there was nothing else out there like it. Irish dancing was just a hobby. I was only ten when the family all watched it on the Eurovision and like everyone, we were blown away by it. It was so exciting and amazing to see it taken on to a big stage and performed in such a showbiz way. It took the traditional elements and pushed it on. Michael Flately had such flair and charisma.
I first saw 'Lord Of The Dance' on tour in Manchester in 1997 when I was about eleven. Afterwards at the stage door, Michael came out and signed my book and it was the greatest thing ever. That's when I first thought 'let me be a part of this'. 7 years on I was there! Now I've been at the stage door with him when little kids have come up to both of us and it's a weird, circle of life experience!
He is quite a formidable character. What was your first Flately encounter as a dancer like?
In 2002 his team had done a scouting process where they contacted all the dance schools to see who was doing well and I was invited to audition in London. I was still in a school so really just went along for the experience of cast members teaching me routines to see how well I could pick things up. I couldn't believe it when they offered me a place once I'd finished school but I jumped at the chance and never looked back.
This type of dance is so physically demanding. How do you prepare your body for such punishment night after night?
Back when the shows first started there had been nothing like it so people were still learning how to cope with how hard it can be. It is gruelling on the body so it was a steep learning curve for those early performers. Now we have ice baths after the show, physio and massage are part of the tour, you have stretching routines and we're very careful about what we eat so we're always learing.
...and now you're back in Manchester !
I can't wait. I'm so excited because I was born and raised here, all my family are based here and my youngest sister, who I went to classes with, has a dancing school so all her students - the next generation - are coming to the show. Even though I've been all over the world and seen amazing places, I still come home to Manchester when I'm not performing and eventually, I'd like to teach here with my sister.
What can we expect from 'Dangerous Games'?
With every show, Michael makes things bigger, better, bolder and more edgy. He merges choreography with technology so we have an LED screen at the back with visuals throught the show which adds massively and takes things to another level. We've also got more pyros, performing robots and things that have never been done before.
You play The Lord. That's got to be quite a responsibility?
It is! It's always hard to step into Michael's shoes but I've been practising for this since I was four. I'm nervously confident and prepared and when he offered me the role and was training me I just had to grab the chance with both hands. I just want to take it all in and remember being that little boy at the stage door way back when.
Palace Theatre, Manchester 11 – 15 April