As creator and star of the long-running stage spectacle “Lord of the Dance,” Michael Flatley has 20 years of milestones and memories behind him. He’s packed football stadiums in Eastern Europe with more than 100,000 awed spectators. He’s sold out every major arena in every major city around the world. His career has taken him to Disneyland, Moscow and Madison Square Garden and to the Oscars, where, in 1997, he memorably brought his brand of Irish tap to the Academy Awards.
Still, these monumental moments are nothing like the time his father and now 8-year-old son sat and watched the culmination of Flatley’s lifelong dream: to dance around the world.
“It was a blessing to have him and my son sit together hand-in-hand and watch me dance,” says Flatley, especially thankful for their presence since, a year later, his father died. “It was something I’ll never forget.”
Looking back, Flatley doesn’t recall precisely the first time he danced, but he was young, maybe even just a few years old, he says. “I'm told my grandmother would take me through steps at four,” Flatley notes. At age 11, he pursued dance seriously, but the teacher deemed him “too old” after the first class.
“It was a disappointing start,” he recalls. “But I came back and I practiced and I worked and I caught up with the class. I began really enjoying the whole competitive spirit of it, and it seems to taken off on me.”
Indeed it has… and then some. The Chicago-born dancer, creator and choreographer has reached international status thanks to a global phenomenon he set into motion 20 years ago: “Lord of the Dance,” a flashy fusion of Irish dance and theatrical panache.
“There’s something about the Celtic rhythmic patterns that I really loved,” he recalls, discussing the beginnings of his Irish-dance career. “For me, the rhythmic patterns were very powerful and infectious. The men were dancing and it was such a powerful, masculine dance and done in a very artistic way. So, I was just drawn to it immediately and I wanted to do that type of dance.”
And so, in the mid-’90s, Flatley did. After touring with Irish-folk band The Chieftains and launching the popular multicultural spectacle “Riverdance,” he broke off to create “Lord of the Dance.” The show existed in Flatley’s mind long before it existed on stage.
“I saw myself standing on the stage with the greatest troupe of dancers in a football stadium with 100,000 people,” he says. “I visualized it, I felt it, I saw it, I believed it, and it happened.”
When “Lord of the Dance: Dangerous Games” taps into town, stopping at The Palace at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Flatley will take his final bow. After a wildly successful run spanning two decades, it’s time, he says.
“I'm in a very good place to walk away,” says Flatley, 57. “I’ve had the greatest career in the world. When I first started there was no such thing as a professional Irish dancer and after 20 years that mission is accomplished, and now I can pass it onto the young generation and let them take the lead and let them shine.”
This latest incarnation of the show, subtitled “Dangerous Games,” marks Flatley’s last time as the “Lord of the Dance.” As he moves behind the curtain — citing his aging body as the reason for retiring — that title will be passed onto protégés Morgan Comer, James Keegan and Fergal Keaney.
“It feels fabulous,” Flatley says of leaving the stage. “It’s my honor to bring these lads into the limelight and let them shine like the stars I know they will be.”
Along with Flatley, “Dangerous Games” features the choreographer’s latest Irish dance troupe tapping through a jaw-dropping mélange of holographs, dramatic lighting sequences, world-champion acrobats and dancing robots. “It’s big and bright and fast and sharp and loaded with high-tech things,” Flatley enthuses.
The state-of-the-art staging featured in “Dangerous Games” is due in part to major technology advancements made since “Lord of the Dance” debuted in 1996, making for a fitting farewell: The show honors the past while also looking to a new-and-improved future.
“In many ways it’s unrecognizable,” he says. “But also, there are just some fabulous parts from the original show that are in this show. We tap all the great numbers, but we’ve just made them better. We put a new twist on it, a new spin on it, and it’s really taken off.”
Flatley’s last show — on his feet, anyway — is appropriately being held on St. Patrick’s Day in Las Vegas, and then, he says, “I’ve got a few things up my sleeve.”
Chris Azzopardi is a Canton-based freelancer.
‘Lord of the Dance: Dangerous Games’
The Palace of Auburn Hills
6 Championship , Auburn Hills
7:30 p.m. Tues., March 1
Tickets: $75, $55 and $35 reserved
Michael Flatley: Moments and Milestones
1994: Flatley debuts “Riverdance,” a multicultural spectacle that forever changes Irish dance
1996: “Lord of the Dance” premieres at the Point Theatre in Dublin
1997: Flatley and his Irish dance troupe perform on the Academy Awards stage
1998: “Lord of the Dance” breaks box-office records worldwide; sets a record-breaking run of 21 consecutive shows at London’s Wembley Arena
1998: Flatley breaks his own Guinness World Record of 28 taps per second, originally set in 1989, with 35 taps per second
2005: Mixing tradition with international flare, his latest creation, “Celtic Tiger,” debuts
2010: Shot over three days at the O2 arenas in Dublin, London and Berlin, “Lord of the Dance” is filmed (and later screened) for the first time in 3D
2014: Flatley premieres his final run, “Lord of the Dance: Dangerous Games,” at Palladium Theatre on London’s West End to multiple standing ovations
2016: Flatley embarks on his last tour as a dancer, a 17-city jaunt that concludes at Caesar’s Colosseum in Las Vegas on March 17 (St. Patrick’s Day)