HEARTBEAT OF HOME has been wowing audiences and critics alike at Toronto’s Ed Mirvish Theatre since January, delighting with it’s unique blend of dance styles and diverse music from around the world.
From the Producers of the smash-hit phenomenon that is Riverdance, HEARTBEAT OF HOME takes the popular Irish Dance and adds a new layer by integrating various other styles of dancing ranging from Latin to Afro-Cuban, Tango and more.
This is it’s North American Premiere, and so far audiences are falling in love all over again – remembering what they loved about Riverdance and finding new things to appreciate thanks to the eclectic assortment of tremendous talent on stage.
The show is helmed by it’s lead dancers Bobby Hodges and Ciara Sexton, who have known each other since they were seven and eight years old and possess a fiery chemistry not often seen on stage. It’s remarkable to witness them dance together – and impossible to take your eyes off them.
I sat down to chat with them about what the journey to Toronto has been like, what it’s like to choose a career in Irish dance and what their hopes are for the future of HEARTBEAT OF HOME:
First off, congratulations on the success of HEARTBEAT OF HOME! What do you think of Toronto?
B: I love it, but we don’t get to see that much of it. We had a lot of rehearsals plus eight shows a week – but it’s a great city.
C: We aren’t thrilled about the weather though…
That was actually one of my questions – does the extreme cold and shifting temperatures make it harder for you guys to stay in the shape you need to be in to perform a show like this?
C: Not really, the buildings are all very warm. It’s more learning to adjust to such a contrast… You have about five layers on that you have to start slowly peeling off as you warm up.
B: We’ve had a few colds and flus go through the cast but we work around it.
How about the audiences? Have you found them as receptive as in the UK?
B: They’ve been really receptive. We’ve been lucky enough to have had 100% standing ovations – it’s a nice and extremely welcoming crowd. They must be understanding and ‘getting’ the show because we get an equally enthusiastic respond at all shows – even the Wednesday matinee!
C: It’s been amazing and it’s selling well which is always nice. We’ve loved being the new kids in town and being successful too!
You two have had quite the journey with HEARTBEAT – could you tell us a little about how you came to be on stage at The Ed Mirvsih Theatre?
C: Myself and Bobby are really fortunate because we were invited to perform, we didn’t have to go through the audition process and deal with the pressure of meeting John and Moya. I wonder if we would have gotten the roles if we did audition! (laughs)
B: Ciara was involved way before me because she did an original workshop which is how the show got booked for Toronto in the first place. I was working on another show called ‘Footstorm’ and the producers saw it and approached me right after to see if I was interested in a new project. I signed up pretty much instantly.
C: I’ve known Bobby for years and I’ve worked with him before and even though we were both approached individually we definitely had the same reaction which was an enthusiastic YES! It’s such a different show and a whole new era for Irish dance and we are so happy to be representing that and be involved.
B: Especially when shows like Riverdance have been around since the mid nineties and been so successful. For me, Riverdance was WHY I got into Irish dancing. So it’s awesome to be a part of a new show. We did a workshop while in Toronto that was a ‘giveback’ to local Toronto dance schools and the response we got was overwhelming. If we can inspire others to keep up Irish dance then that’s incredible.
B: For me I did as soon as I saw Riverdance on TV when I was five years old. I kept nagging my Mom until she took me to dance class. When I hit maybe 13/14 I had to make that decision of whether to stick with dancing or pursue sports, and I’m glad I stuck with the dancing as it totally took off.
I had a spot in University and I was able to differ – and now five years later I still haven’t gone back. I was hooked after my first tour and I just knew this was what I needed to be doing until my knees stopped working.
C: It was amazing to grow up and see the Riverdance phenomenon and know that it could be an option to do what we love as a hobby for a living. It’s not for everyone though and we are very very lucky to be here. Dancing for a living is incredible.
What do you think it is about Riverdance (and now your show) that appeals to such a universal crowd and endures through the years?
B: It’s such a unique dance form. From the waist up it’s much more rigid than other types of dance but with our show that’s really changed. We’ve got people in the cast who’ve studied ballet as much as Irish dance. I think it’s also the rhythm, this is a hard hitting show to watch and it’s easy to get captivated by it.
C: Riverdance gives you this feeling that’s so special – the music stirs something inside of you and I hope that the audience get the same feel that I got when I first watched it. I hope we’re inspiring dancers in the same way that I was inspired. It’s so cultural – it’s less about ‘look at me’ and more ‘look at us’. It celebrates our similarities instead of our differences and I love that.
You two have an incredible chemistry on stage – did that come naturally or did you have to work at it?
B: Ciara and I have been friends since we were seven and eight years old, so for us dancing together comes naturally. We know what each other is going to do. For me personally I’m a big flirt and a show off so the more interaction I can have with the people on the stage the better. I hope that translates to the audience!
C: I just know his every move and it’s a great relationship, especially when you’re friends off stage. It comes across really well. We do have fun and we do have a laugh and wind each other up on stage.
What is the hardest part of performing in this type of show?
B: I think just maintaining that level of energy for all eight shows. Whether it is the Wednesday matinee or a Saturday night we know that everyone deserves the same show. We are there to entertain the people who have paid for tickets so you’ve got to keep that up. And learn to eat enough that you don’t lose weight from all the dancing!
C: Exactly. We want to be really conscious of the fact that people need to see the same show whether it’s our first or our last of the week. People have seen the great reviews and will come in with expectations and we want to please them!
How about other styles of dancing? Do they appeal to you as well?
B: In the rehearsal process we had ballet class three times a week and salsa class as well so we’re learning from everyone. We’re all developing in the other styles. Personally I’ve learned a lot from our Flamenco dancer and what he does with his upper body – that doesn’t come naturally to an Irish dancer. Every show we get better and better at that blend. There are numbers where we do their style or they do ours, and that was a huge part of the appeal of the show to me.
C: We do explore all the different types of dance and it was such a challenge during the rehearsal process – especially for Bobby and I because we are Irish dancers first and foremost. But we got there in the end. I look at the dancers every night during ‘The Night I Danced With You’ and I just think they’re superheros. I admire John and Moya for what they’ve created and how they’ve brought all this talent together. Every single person on stage is there for a purpose and because they’re the best at what they do.
B: It’s like Riverdance remixed! It’s for the next generation and it shows how far dance has evolved. There’s so much versatility in the show and I’ve seen comments from people where their favourite part wasn’t even the dancing, it was the band!
But that’s ok and that’s what is so great about – you don’t have to be a die-hard Irish dance fan to come and enjoy the show because there’s so many other amazing talents on stage. You could almost not watch some of the numbers and still see nearly every style of dance that exists.
C: Exactly, so everyone ends up having a different favourite part which is great.
What do you hope the future has in store for HEARTBEAT OF HOME?
B: We’re still in the birthing stage and there’s very good buzz around the cast so here’s hoping we can go ahead and follow in the footsteps of Riverdance and have a big hit!
C: If we could even have a fraction of the success that Riverdance has had, it would be incredible. Not just for the cast but also for John and Moya and every single person who have put their heart and soul into this show to get it to where it is today.
B: Exactly, because they took the risk again. And so far, that risk is paying off.
HEARTBEAT OF HOME is on-stage at The Ed Mirvish Theatre until March 2nd. Tickets can be purchased by phone at 416-872-1212 or online at http://www.mirvish.com/shows/heartbeatofhome