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Lord from afar

Michael Flatley keeps show on its toes through intermediary

Contemporary Ireland is all cell phones, salon tans and cappuccino, and nothing better represents it than the ranks of buff boys and flat-bellied girls who stomp through 'Lord of the Dance' every night, somewhere in the world.

There are currently three choreographic juggernauts of Irish jigs at large in the world. Troupe 1 tours Europe; Troupe 2, the United States; and Troupe 3 has a five-year gig in that special place where CŽline Dion makes a living, Las Vegas.

Not that he's gotten too big for his hornpipe shoes, but twinkling, glistening Michael Flatley won't be anywhere in sight when the show returns to Portland. The star of 'Riverdance' opened 'Lord' in Dublin in July 1996 and bowed out in June 1998. Since then he's had his nose to the franchise grindstone while taking his other show, 'Feet of Flames,' all over the world.

Creative director Flatley works with choreographer Marie Duffy to keep the shows moving.

'It's a 50-50 collaboration,' Duffy told the Tribune on her mobile phone from Dublin recently. 'I find it quite easy to work with Michael because we think along the same lines.'

She talks to him a couple of times a week, and they meet up on the road to run through new ideas, which she puts into operation. Part of Duffy's job is coming up with fresh moves, treading a fine line between demotic MTV rump shaking and the dreary bouncing on the spot that constitutes traditional ruler-across-the-back-of-the-legs Irish dancing.

'Lord' contains a big dance called 'Siamsa' (pronounced 'sheem-suh'), a Gaelic word that means 'an enjoyable time with friends.'

'(Michael) gave me a brief on that and asked me to put a number together, what we call a figure dance, a combination of movements for a group of people, using different tunes,' Duffy says.

While the Portland show is the original 'Lord,' with the same story (soulful Celts in the shimmering mists of time, etc.), Duffy must continually update it for different sets and stages.

Duffy auditions dancers all the time and says her troupes come from 'all over: we have Irish, English, American, Canadian. É' Still heavy on the Irish expat countries, then, where parents encourage their kids to study the dance on weekends.

She adds that Irish dance is getting big in South Africa and in European countries such as Germany, France, Switzerland and Hungary. It hasn't quite replaced the samba in Latin America, but Duffy says it is on the way Ñ there's now an Irish dance school in Mexico. It's become popular, she says, because 'the energy oozes from the dancers to the audience.'

Duffy loves her work and doesn't find any part of the job difficult, she says.

But she is strict. Don't expect to see the hoofers out downing pints at Kells pub. The demands of the show mean they are treated like athletes.

Asked about rumors that she's considered the Roy Keane of Irish dance (referring to the fiery former captain of the Irish soccer team who was sent home from the World Cup for cursing at the coach), she says: 'I've been called worse things than that. I run a tight ship, yes.'

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