Analysis of Michael Flatley’s Feet of Flames
By Michael Ellis
Michael Flatley’s performance Feet of Flames was his last performance of the world-
renowned show Lord of the Dance. This pre-announced final performance was held on Saturday
July 25th, 1998, on the Route of Kings in Hyde Park, London. The opening shots of the stage
and audience show a huge covered stage rising up in the middle of what appears to be a large
wide-open field. This stage is complete with two enormous video screens and what appear to be
two levels for performers, ensuring all in attendance will be able to see. For this event, Michael
Flatley brought together two of the Lord of the Dance troupes, doubling the number of dancers to
84. The best way to establish the introduction for the show is to directly quote the page opposite
the listing of scenes from the Lord of the Dance programs (“Lord”):
The Spirit’s Dream. Time stood still and Erin was goddess of all…[sic] The
stories had all been written and everyone knew their parts. But the ancient clans
sitting in their stone circles, heard rumblings, and the spirit’s dream was troubled.
A new dark power had emerged to challenge the Lord of the Dance. The little
spirit travels through time and space to help the Lord of the Dance protect his
mythical people. On an incredible adventure, they encounter love, desire and
After showing the stage and the audience waiting, but before the show begins, a list of
places where this show has gone begins flashing on the screen. Every one of them is noticeably
marked, “Sold Out.” Such places as: Wembly Arena, London; Glascow Secc, Scotland; and
Radio City Music Hall, New York. This seems to be placed here to reemphasize the massive
worldwide audience this show has performed for. The listing of all the names of the scenes for
this particular performance was obtained from the Internet (Feet).
The entertainment begins with the Spirit in center stage, first surrounded by a semi-circle
of sleeping ladies, then further out by a group of hooded monks. At first the music has an eerie
quality about it, and this combined with these hooded monks seems to foretell of an upcoming
struggle of some sort. This magical Spirit lightens the mood and awakens these dancers with her
flute, almost like flowers awakening to the sun’s rays. As she plays, the dancing begins, and
before the sunset has placed the audience in darkness, several, apparently random or candid,
shots of the observers are shown. These shots show how everyone is thoroughly engrossed in
the performance, young and old alike. As the dancers on stage finish their dance, a silhouette
appears on the backdrop. It is obvious by the crowd’s reaction; the person to whom this shadow
belongs is the one they came to see. Before he even enters the stage, the audience voices their
enthusiasm. As soon as Michael Flatley begins to perform, it becomes quite obvious to anyone
who follows traditional Irish Dance; he has modified this performance to fit what he wants. This
is most evident through his personal style of arm and leg movements. This viewpoint is best
summed up in the video review by Robert Greskovic (18), “Stepdance purists will no doubt gag
at a good deal of the show-biz gloss.”
After he completes a short introductory number, in strolls the beautiful goddess Erin. She
performs three times throughout the show. Each of her performances comes across as if she is
giving a musical narration to keep the observers current. In this scene she both enters and exits
the stage in a dignified, almost royal manner, much the same as Peter’s view of the Old Woman
in W. B. Yeats’ Cathleen Ni Houlihan: “I saw a young girl, and she had the walk of a queen.”
(11). In the lyrics, this comparison is reinforced since it seems as if she is singing to her people,
the people of Ireland.
The Spirit once again starts the next scene. Here she has almost a playful/child-like
quality to start things rolling before she disappears. The scene is entitled “Celtic Dream,” and
with the dancers performing in soft shoe, with dresses resembling bright flowing colors, a
seeming soft diffusion of the lights, and a humming-like accompaniment to the music, it does
give this scene a dreamlike quality. This scene is also where Saoirse, the Irish Colleen, is
introduced. From this point on, she appears to resemble a traditional princess. She usually has
ladies around her, much in the way a princess would have ladies in waiting. While still in the
manner of introducing the players of the show, as soon as she and her ladies are done, the music
drastically changes, and Don Dorcha, the Dark Lord, does a hard shoe solo. While he is doing
this, in march his troops, the Warriors. One of the best shots of this whole show is in this scene
when he marches out on a platform in front of the stage. The angle the camera takes to get him
and his troops in the picture makes him appear to physically tower over them. After his
surveillance of them, he not only leads but also drills them as if demonstrating his power to the
audience. At the end of this performance, as they are marching off the stage, the Spirit reappears
and playfully follows them until they appear to sternly inform her to go away. Then, still being
childlike, she just turns up her nose and goes her own way.
Now, once again, the music immediately changes the mood, and out comes the
enchanting Morrighan, the Temptress. Her dance, with trance-like inducing arm movements,
long free-flowing hair, and combined with the mood of the music seems to intertwine into a
seductive quality. When she has finished her dance, she is down on all fours and gives the
audience very seductive wink from underneath her long hair. This presents the idea she may not
be such a good girl, after all.
The next scene is entitled “Dance above the Rainbow.” It seems to be one of the crowd’s
favorites with the lively music, step and bright colors, but it doesn’t seem to fit into the story. It
does seem to provide the main dancers with a break so they can continue. This scene is also
followed by another one also seeming to not really tie into the story at all, but once again it is
definitely there to please the crowd. It is entitled “Duelling [sic] Violins.” And the violinists
appear to be extremely full of energy and move out to the very edge of the stage to perform.
Their energy level seems to be so high when they are standing face to face stroking away, they
seem to be pushing each other harder and harder, much as two friends would do to help each
other improve their ability.
At the beginning of the next scene, it becomes obvious the stage has two levels. Not only
are there dancers on the lower stage, but now they are appearing on the upper level as well. In
this scene, “Breakout,” the ladies are wearing a more traditional Irish costume, similar to those
worn in a feis. Even though they are in the traditional dress, they do not revert back to the
traditional style of dance where the arms are virtually pinned to the sides and the heads hardly at
all. In the middle of this scene, in struts Morrighan, almost as if to just get in the face of Saoirse.
Immediately Saoirse and her ladies stand up to the challenge and chase her off. At this point in
the performance, it becomes visibly apparent by comparing this video to the previous one, The
Lord of the Dance, the cast is much more relaxed and into their individual character now.
Smoothly moving into the next scene is the last of the introductions. The Lord of the
Dance is back, but this time he has his Warlords with him. In comparing the Warlords and the
Warriors, it resembles the idea of rival gangs. The Warlords represent the side of good, and the
Warriors the side of evil. While the Lord is on the stage, it becomes obvious he is interested in
Saoirse. He starts by planting a blatantly passionate kiss on her, and then he drills his troops in a
manner of showing off. His method for drilling his troops differs to that of Don Dorcha. Where
the Dark Lord’s seems to be a stern drilling, the Lord of the Dance seems to be relaxed and doing
it for fun. His is not so much for a sense of power, but more for a sense of “Hey, look at what I
can do!” Also, in the middle of the drilling, he gets down on his hands and knees and playfully
crawls after the object of his affection. To close out the drilling, he joins in and seems as if he
even controls some of nature’s elements. Even lightning appears to be at his command. At the
end of this scene, it is shown his love is not unrequited. As they are all leaving the stage, she is
carrying the rose he gave her and she blows him a kiss.
As all the players leave the stage, in walks Erin. This time she seems to be singing in
Irish. Even thought the words may not be understood, it still seems she is doing a musical
narration. When she finishes her song and turns to leave the stage, out of nowhere, the Spirit
appears behind where she was and begins playing a tune on her flute. With her music playing,
Morrighan and Saoirse enter the stage. During a pause in their dance, they are staring at each
other presenting the image they are competing for the affection of the Lord. Then a tune I
remember learning in fourth grade at St. Cecilia’s Elementary School in Columbus, Ohio, begins
to play. It is played off and on throughout the show, but it is called “The Lord of the Dance,”
and as it starts, out walks the Lord. As Act I closes, Morrighan and Saoirse are shown directly
behind the Lord, side by side.
During the intermission, a group of hooded monks somberly march out on stage. This
scene was not in the other video, but it fits right in by presenting an image of dark prophecy of
things to come. When they finish their chant, they march off stage just as methodically as they
entered, still repeating their mystic chant. Another scene during the intermission emphasizes this
is Michael Flatley’s last performance. He comes out and does a solo on flute. In watching this,
he seems to be playing straight to and for the audience, and his playing truly comes from the
bottom of his heart, possibly thanking all for their love and support. Throughout this solo it
appears he has tear-filled eyes. This is in direct conflict with the self-centered/confident persona
he always emits. Once he finishes, he goes and escorts Saoirse to the stage before he leaves.
The scene she does is called “The Dance of Love.” In viewing it and hearing the music, it stirs
up memories of old movies where the lady left behind is anxiously watching and waiting for her
love to return. When her scene is complete, she is escorted off by two men in tuxedos, just as a
princess would be.
To start Act II, the stage is a greenish black, and an eerie wind-like music is playing.
These winds seem to conjure up frightful images for the Spirit, and she tries to bring her light
charm through the use of her flute. Before she can succeed, in marches Don Dorcha and his
Warriors. Together they all seem to surround her and evilly tease her while eventually breaking
her magic flute in half. The druids return with their dark methodical chant, and just when it
seems all is lost, in rushes her hero, the Lord. He manages to separate her from among those of
the dark side, and then calls up his Warlords to assist. Just when it appears a major rumble is
about to take place, the Spirit throws some of her fairy dust and manages to push the two sides
apart without a fight erupting. Tensions among these two sides are obviously high, but the fight
is not to be had now. After all leave the stage except for her and the Lord, she looks to him with
tears streaming down her face and shows him the flute. It is obvious he is figuratively a big
brother in her eyes, one who can fix any problem. Even looking at it this way, it seems like he is
more to her, almost as though he is her very own Cuchulain. As her hero, he does not let her
down. He even somehow manages to repair her magic flute.
Immediately after the flute is repaired, in prances Morrighan, dressed in a skintight pink
catsuit. She even winks at him from under her long dark hair. He seems quite appreciative of
her attention and even pinches her bottom as he crosses behind her. The impression left is one of
him enjoying both her attention and Saoire’s. After he leaves the stage, she is seen dancing with
Don Dorcha. As they depart the stage, the notion of these two in cahoots, against the Lord, is
Another break in the action is next, with Michael Flatley, the violins and the rest of the
band all coming out on stage to perform some good old-fashioned toe-tapping music. Although,
to be quite honest, I feel like virtually ever soundtrack keeps the feet moving. One thing to note
here is the jacket he is wearing. It looks like the one sleeve is done in an Irish theme, and the
other is done in an American theme. A scene called “Siamsa,” resembling some form of square
dancing, or something similar to it, with both a lively step and bright colors follows. Next, Erin
makes her final appearance. She sings about wishing to be back home with her love on their
wedding day. Listening to the lyrics brings up an image of her knowing her love is over the sea
but she has no way to join him.
Next, in “Stolen Kiss,” Saoirse is dancing in a pure white dress, much like the colors of a
bridal gown. She seems to be excited to be alive and has not a care in the world. Her ladies are
with her, and they appear almost like bridesmaids. Both the Lord and Morrighan enter the stage.
He dances with Saoirse, and while he is dancing with her, he does exactly what this scene is
called—he steals a kiss. Then Morrighan cuts in as if she is trying to steal him away. Saoirse
portrays a worried fiancée, but when he returns to her, Morrighan does a toss of the hair as if she
is turning up her nose at him. At this point, almost as if on cue, in march the Dark Warriors.
They quickly capture the Lord, and he is humbly bowed down and taken before Don Dorcha for
execution, but not before stripping him of his title of Lord of the Dance. Just as he is about to be
executed, from the upper levels of the stage, the Spirit is seen throwing more of her fairy dust his
way. At first this doesn’t seem to help, for he disappears with a burst of flame ignited by the
Dark Lord. As Don Dorcha is strutting off the stage with his new prize/title, the Spirit is seen
sprinting across the stage and sprinkling her fairy dust again, resurrecting the Lord for the final
battle. Both Lords square off in what appears to be a real fight with flying kicks and all. Soon
Don Dorcha seems to have the upper hand, and just when it looks like the Lord is going down to
defeat, the Spirit’s flute is heard playing out “The Lord of the Dance.” Upon hearing this tune,
the Lord draws energy from somewhere, so much energy that the Dark Lord vanishes in a
fireball from one very powerful kick. Finally, now the dark side has been expelled from the
land, he walks off victoriously, carrying his bride in his arms.
In this victory scene, all the dancers come out, and even the Spirit has a giddy bounce in
her step. Compared to the original show, there is a short pause taken here so Michael Flatley can
come out and do one more solo for the crowd. During this solo, shots are shown of members of
the audience, sever of whom are holding signs reading “Forever Dancing in Our Hearts.” Here it
is driven home exactly how much he has meant to this show and those who follow it. He does
seem to try to make light of his abilities in this scene as the stage begins to smoke with the speed
of his feet, until the entire stage erupts in one giant fireball. Lastly, everyone is brought out for
the final curtain call, all dancing in line, with three rows behind raised up on platforms. There
are so many dancers on stage it comes of as almost “thunderous” several times.
In setting up this show, Michael Flatley wanted to do something special for his last show
before retiring, and he has succeeded. He may have irritated many of those who feel hi is taking
Irish Step Dancing away from its traditional roots and moving it more toward tab dancing, but I
am a member of the opposition to this idea. I personally feel his shows are extremely
entertaining, and I believe he is simply modernizing an older art form. Sometimes this type of
evolution needs to be accomplished to keep a tradition alive.
Feet of Flames. DVD. Dir. David Mallet. Perf. Michael Flatley. Unicorn Entertainment Ltd.,
Feet of Flames Info. Date of access: 19 October 1999. Available from
Greskovic, Robert. “Last Bow for an Irish Lord.” Rev. of Feet of Flames, dir David Mallet.
The New York Times 3 January 1999: 18.
Lord of the Dance. Videotape. Dir. David Mallet. Perf. Michael Flatley. Unicorn Entertainment
“Lord of the Dance.” Program notes. American Tour. 1997.
Yeats, William B. Cathleen Ni Houlihan. 1902. Rpt. In John P. Harrington, Modern Irish
Drama. New York: Norton, 1991. 3 - 11.