With the iconic Irish dance show on its way to Oxford, we visited the production's home in Dublin

THE distinctive clack was deafening as heels hit the sprung floor in unison at Dublin’s Gaiety Theatre, despite clapping and whooping from an enthusiastic audience.

Dancers in the Riverdance troupe tapped and twirled in perfect time to smash their finale, still bursting with energy two hours in.

I had sat awestruck for the duration, lost in the mesmerising choreography and sheer talent on stage - not just the dancing, but the expert musicians and ethereally beautiful singing too.

A bold thought occurred to me as the curtain fell: that was the best theatre show I have ever seen.

Even now, after the electricity of the night has faded, I fail to recall enjoying a production so thoroughly.

Riverdance is the show that made Irish dancing famous worldwide.

The original seven-minute version was first performed in April 1994, in the interval of the Eurovision Song Contest in Dublin.

ALSO READ: His Dark Materials stars talk about Oxford TV blockbuster

More than 300 million people worldwide were watching, and its popularity led to the first stage show in Dublin the following year.

A global tour and various awards ensued, including a Grammy for composer Bill Whelan for the Riverdance album.

Lead dancer Michael Flatley split ties with the show in 1995 and went on to create his own production Lord of the Dance, but Riverdance's success still snowballed.

Audiences have ranged from Pope Francis to Prince Charles and the show has remained largely unchanged - until now.

The 25th anniversary show will go on tour next year, and it is coming to Oxford’s New Theatre in March.

Though the choreography will be consistent with that which fans are familiar with, the visual backdrops on stage will be brought up to date.

The 2020 production is being advertised as a 'powerful and stirring reinvention of the show', with more spectacular lighting, projection, stage and costume designs.

Having been so taken by the original performance, I was unsure of the changes.

A sneak preview of rehearsals, however, proved that the reimagined Riverdance will be even better than before.

The new backdrops, rather than detracting from the dancers, provide a more immersive audience experience.

ALSO READ: Review - is Oxfordshire's most-hyped Thai still worth the trip out?

The narrative and acts are unaltered, still exploring Ireland's culture while celebrating nature, depicting powerful forces ranging from rivers to thunderstorms.

In one scene inspired by the sun, a solo dancer strikes an impressive silhouette in a fiery, flamenco-like routine.

Dance-focused acts such as that are interjected with chillingly good performances from musicians on stage, including the unmistakably 'Irish' sound of the uilleann pipes.

Child prodigy Haley Richardson captivated the audience with her exuberant solo on the fiddle, an incredible feat at the age of just 17.

Another of my favourite acts was a fast-footed 'dance-off' between two rival pairs of street dancers, which injected some comedy into the choreography.

I was told prior to the show that one record-breaking Irish dancer had once been recorded tapping 38 times in a second.

I had nodded and smiled, confident that he had got that fact wrong - my knowledge of Irish dancing before was admittedly limited to Ed Sheeran music videos and a couple of auditions on television talent contests.

Only after witnessing the astonishing pace for myself can I believe it, and no scene better demonstrates that than the dance-off.

The real magic happens when the troupe comes together on stage, flicking their legs and stomping at the floor in perfect unison.

ALSO READ: Grease The Musical hits Oxford's New Theatre

Their movement is so fluid that almost look as if they are on ice, gliding into formation.

It is impossible not to smile as they line up to the beat of drums for a spectacular finale.

Amy-Mae Dolan, the lead female dancer during our Dublin show, joined the Riverdance family after completing the Riverdance Summer School in 2016.

The school runs annually in Dublin and, perhaps more surprisingly, has a sister school in Boston in the United States.

I visited during my trip to Ireland, where the Riverdance professional dancers take classes to inspire the next generation.

The six-day school packs in intensive days of dance lessons as well as insight into life as a performer, culminating in a performance at the city's Gaiety Theatre, and is open to dancers aged 12 and older.

Having tried and failed to master a few of the most basic moves, despite unfailingly patient direction from my teacher, I can confirm that the dance is not as easy as they make it look as they bound around on stage.

Riverdance runs at Oxford's New Theatre from Tuesday, March 24 until Thursday, March 26.

Tickets start at £42 and are on sale now - see atgtickets.com/shows.