It is strange to think, as you revel in the brilliantly entertaining Riverdance, that shows of this sort simply didn't exist until this one came along.

Famously originating as six minutes of interval entertainment during the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest in Dublin, this brilliantly conceived feast of music and movement went on to conquer the world.

Thus it was that on a recent state visit to China, the Irish President Mary McAleese could watch with pride - as she tells us in a programme note - "this perfect ambassador for our cultural heritage" in the Great Hall of the People.

A building of similar dimension would probably be needed to accommodate all the fans clamouring to see the production in Oxford this week. As it is, they must take their chance of a seat at the New Theatre. In a packed house on Monday, I was truly astonished by the virtuoso skills on display in what was, for me, a first encounter with Riverdance.

And if it doesn't seem too much like stating the obvious, it is the dance itself that chiefly inspires admiration and - for the creaky-jointed among us - our envy. Irish dance needs the ability to float, seemingly for ever, on the ball of the foot; to swing the legs high and wide; to beat out tattoos of such astonishing rapidity that tap-shoes become a blur.

Above all, it needs artistic input, the ability to communicate a sense of enjoyment, of exhilaration, in the accomplishment of a creative enterprise that makes such challenging demands.

I am happy to say that all these requirement are fully met by the young performers. Their work is a tribute to director John McColgan and other members of the creative team. So much does the dance inspire admiration that I have, regretfully, to admit that the interludes of song and music tend to fall a little flat, despite the virtuosity of, for instance, fiddler Alexis MacIsaac and Darragh Murphy on the uilleann pipes.

As a reflection of the way Irish culture has spread around the world by way of immigration, there is an international element to the show. This includes fiery flamenco dancing from Carmen Armengou, and awe-inspiring acrobatic routines from the Moscow Folk Ballet Company who at one point turn one of their number into a spinning top.

Best of all, though, is a marvellous routine in which a group of Irish lads - emigrants to the US - show off their dance techniques to a pair of American tappers who are only too eager to demonstrate their fancy footwork too.

Riverdance is at the New Theatre, Oxford until Saturday, June 16