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updated: 3/7/2014 6:33 AM

Synthetic 'Heartbeat' doesn't step too far from 'Riverdance' roots

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  • "Heartbeat of Home," a new music and dance spectacular from the producers of "Riverdance," is making its U.S. debut at the Oriental Theatre in Chicago through Sunday, March 16.

      "Heartbeat of Home," a new music and dance spectacular from the producers of "Riverdance," is making its U.S. debut at the Oriental Theatre in Chicago through Sunday, March 16.
    Courtesy of Jim Byrne/Riverdream Productions

  • Ciara Sexton performs in "Heartbeat of Home," a new music and dance spectacular from the producers of "Riverdance" now making its U.S. debut at the Oriental Theatre in Chicago through Sunday, March 16.

      Ciara Sexton performs in "Heartbeat of Home," a new music and dance spectacular from the producers of "Riverdance" now making its U.S. debut at the Oriental Theatre in Chicago through Sunday, March 16.
    Courtesy of Jim Byrne/Riverdream Productions

  • "Heartbeat of Home," a new music and dance spectacular from the producers of "Riverdance," is making its U.S. debut at the Oriental Theatre in Chicago through Sunday, March 16.

      "Heartbeat of Home," a new music and dance spectacular from the producers of "Riverdance," is making its U.S. debut at the Oriental Theatre in Chicago through Sunday, March 16.
    Courtesy of Jim Byrne/Riverdream Productions

  • Video: 'Heartbeat of Home' montage

 
 

There's no denying the amazing talent onstage in "Heartbeat of Home," the new music and dance revue by the producers of "Riverdance."

Now making its U.S. debut at the Oriental Theatre, "Heartbeat of Home" should please die-hard "Riverdance" fans and Chicagoans should consider themselves lucky to be getting so many of the original 2013 Dublin cast members on tour. Director John McColgan's diverse dancers and versatile musicians impress in this glossy, high-tech show. Still, "Heartbeat of Home" feels frustratingly vague and disjointed at times.

Like "Riverdance," "Heartbeat of Home" offers up the prerequisite high-octane percussive dance routines amid a Celtic whirlwind of sound. Joining Irish dance choreographer John Carey is choreographer David Bolger, who is responsible for the overall musical staging that integrates other cultural dance styles of flamenco, Latin dance and Afro-Cuban street acrobatics much more thoroughly than "Riverdance" ever did.

"Heartbeat of Home" also has more of a theme: the historical and ongoing Diasporas of Irish, Latin and African peoples and how their cultures persist or adapt to new lands.

This is strongly suggested in the second number with mournfully danced duets against video projections of a receding coastline, and later with a thunderously danced Irish routine in front of animated choppy seas on large screens suggestive of ship sails -- an impressive synchronized collaboration between set designer Alan Farquharson and projection designer David Torpey of Image Now.

But "Heartbeat of Home" squanders its weighty cultural start and reverts to largely upbeat choreographic and visual flash (as seen by the women's sequined hot pants and tights designed by "costume stylists" Monica Ennis and Niamh O'Connor). Or other numbers become calming, contemplative mood pieces against projected background visuals of twinkly-star skies and coastal sunsets often found on inspirational greeting cards.

Amplified within an inch of its life, with prerecorded musical moments to augment the hardworking onstage musicians, "Heartbeat of Home" sometimes comes off as too synthetic.

And though the great technical dancing may prod audiences to think a bit more about immigration and cultural exchanges, much of the show feels like a lost opportunity to choreographically explore the sometimes difficult realities of assimilation and appropriation.

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