Lord of The Dance: Dangerous Games set to return to Belfast
Michael Flatley's Lord of The Dance: Dangerous Games returns to Belfast's Waterfront next year. Monaghan dancer Tom Cunningham, who plays the show's villain, tells Kelly McAllister how the Irish dancing-based hit is now more sinister than ever before
IT'S BEEN over 20 years since Michael Flatley changed the Irish dancing scene forever with Riverdance, before going on to create the Lord of The Dance, two of the most commercially successful and long-running dance shows ever.
Flatley's barnstorming success didn't stop there, of course; he is the creator, director and producer of other high-grossing shows including Celtic Tiger and, most recently, Lord of The Dance: Dangerous Games.
Flatley premiered the latter in London's West End in 2014 – its subsequent tour included sell-out shows in Belfast's Waterfront Hall and Derry's Millennium Forum.
The spin-off show centres on the battle between the Lord of The Dance and the evil Dark Lord, characters from the original show.
Next year LOTDDG will be returning to the Waterfront; Tom Cunningham, the man beneath the Dark Lord costume, assures dance fans it's darker than ever before.
"It has become a lot more sinister and dark. As the show has developed, so has the character. It's a really fun kind of role," the Monaghan man says.
Joining Lord of The Dance more than two decades ago, Cunningham started off as a back-line dancer before working his way up.
"You're going back to almost the beginning – it has been quite a journey," he says wistfully.
He has taken on many roles throughout the years: now, when he isn't on stage performing as the Dangerous Games villain, he's one of the show's 'dance captains', a choreography leader and trainer.
"Obviously I would be in the twilight of my career, but now I can bring my experience and pass it on to the younger dancers. Whether it's adjusting to life on the road or the physicality of it all," he says.
"I have to be taking a step back but I get the same satisfaction seeing young dancers step forward onto the stage as I did."
Before he realised that dance was his forte, Cunningham preferred playing football with his friends, but his mum insisted he take up Irish dancing.
"My mother wanted me to taste a bit of Irish culture so she dragged me to the local hall to learn Irish dancing as a young lad. I wanted to go outside and kick the ball about but I took to the dancing like a duck to water, so I took along that path instead.
"I probably am a better dancer than I would be a footballer anyway," he laughs.
Cunningham and the rest of the Lord of The Dance crew have just returned from Canada where they performed 16 sold-out shows. The troupe tour for around six-to-eight months at a time.
"It is quite intense when you're out on the road. Most of the time when I am home I try to rest a little bit and recover. It's OK doing it one night, but giving the same level of performance night after night can take its toll," he says.
For Cunningham, giving his best performance every time he steps out on to the stage is his only option.
He says: "I always want to give 100 per cent and give the exact same experience and the same level of performance each time. We work very hard and we are proud of what we do, seeing the excitement in the audience excites us. The crowd's reaction is just unbelievable for us."
Having had a long and successful career with Lord of The Dance, Cunningham finds it difficult to pick just one highlight.
"There are quite a few, but dancing lead opposite Michael Flatley in Dublin in front of a home crowd, including family and friends... sharing a stage with someone as iconic in Irish dancing as Michael is to me – that would have to be one," he says.
"Definitely the crowd's reaction as well – you can't beat it. When we get a standing ovation, it makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up."
Cunningham and the rest of the Dangerous Games cast are eager to perform in Belfast again, he admits.
"We are looking forward to that one. Whenever we see Belfast on the calendar we can't wait for it."
:: Lord of The Dance: Dangerous Games, the Waterfront, Belfast, February 5 to 10 2019. For tickets and showtime info call the box office on 028 9033 4455 or visit Waterfront.co.uk