Arts

Dark Lord Tom Cunningham leads Lord of the Dance back to Belfast

With Michael Flatley's Lord of the Dance: Dangerous Games set to return to Belfast next year, Dark Lord Tom Monaghan tells Joanne Sweeney how the Irish-dancing extravaganza is now faster and sexier than ever

You feel bigger, badder and meaner once you slip on the bad-guy costume says Tom Cunningham, aka the Dark Lord Picture by Brian Doherty

THE Lord of the Dance: Dangerous Games is coming back to Belfast with more than a hint of fire and drama. The Dark Lord Tom Cunningham says he and the cast are ecstatic about the prospect of performing in front of a home audience at Belfast's Waterfront hall in May.

For those unfamiliar with the Dangerous Games version of the extravaganza which has now been running for 20 years, the show is even more exciting and sexier than ever. The production tells the battle between the Lord of the Dance – originally played by Michael Flatley – and the evil Dark Lord against a backdrop of live music, song and dance.

Irish dancing is the real star of the show, with the stunning solo performances and the military-style drilling of the dance corps in hard shoes.

Tom burns around 1,000 calories wearing his heavy Dark Lord costume and loses one to two pounds in sweat during his 45 minutes on stage every night.

The Co Monaghan man has been with the show 'man and boy' since the age of 18 and he's one of the stalwarts of the revamped world famous Irish dance and music performance.

"We can't wait for the Belfast show," Tom told The Irish News, which is media partner for the 2017 run of performances.

"There's always a smashing atmosphere and we are looking forward to setting down on home soil again. The Belfast crowds are probably one of the best that we have. It's really like a homecoming as we have some many dancers from the city and the north.

"People's families that live nearby are able to travel so there's always a real buzz when we get there. The dancers will be buzzing and inevitably that transfers to the crowd and we feed off that."

Tom was just off the phone from speaking to the show's creator and driving force Michael Flatley who had touched base with the show's dance captain ahead of a five-week tour of Germany, followed by touring Denmark and Belguim before spending three weeks in Israel before Christmas.

While Michael does not perform on the show anymore, Tom said his influence, direction and support is still very evident and he often visits the cast to check that everyone is still en pointe.

For Tom and the cast, which includes Antrim dancer Lara Milne, the revamp since 2014 has made an already winning format every better.

"From an audience perspective, it's bigger, better, faster, bright and sexier than before," says Tom. "We went back to the drawing board on everything about the show, the music, the staging, the steps, the costumes.

"But Michael was keen to keep the core of the show the same as we have a massive fan base around the world so we stayed true to the biggest, iconic numbers and moments. They are still there but improved," he reassures.

"For me, one of the most exciting things was seeing what the costume designers had come up for the bad-guy role. As soon as you put it on, you can almost feel yourself change into the character. It just helps you so much more. You feel bigger, badder and meaner once you slip it on."

But it said he and the other Dark Lords had to spend several weeks learning how to dance with the new costume in order to perfect their performance.

"We almost had to train ourselves again the first time we tried to dance it it because of the weight and it's very hot. We actually had to become fitter than we ever have been because we couldn't do what we used to be able to do.

"We had to get stronger and put on a bit of muscle."

When he's not travelling around the world, home for Tom is Carrickmacross where he lives with his Italian wife Giada, surrounded by his parents, close family and friends.

He's is now thankful to his mother who made him go to his local Irish dancing classes when all he wanted to do was go out and play football – after winning his first competition at the age of six, that success spurred him onto to realising a career dancing on the world stage when he joined Lord of the Dance in 1997.

"I literally had to be taken by the scuff of the neck by my other to the local parish hall to dance," he laughs. "But the show has made me so proud to be Irish and an Irish dancer."

:: The Lord of the Dance: Dangerous Games, the Waterfront, Belfast, May 2-5 2017 (tickets from box office 028 9033 4455 / www.waterfront.co.uk).

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