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July 13, 2014, 5:12 am

‘Riverdance’ concludes long farewell

“Riverdance” proudly returns to Philadelphia and the Merriam Theater for two days only, May 11-13, marking the end of an era.

After some 1,500 dancers, 15,000 hours of rehearsal, 14,000 dance shoes, and 16 years later, the worldwide phenomenon that branded Irish step dancing is finally coming to a close in the United States — although it will continue on in other countries.

“Riverdance” producer Moya Doherty acknowledges that no one ever thought that a show like this would still be running all these years later. “Three years ago we embarked on our farewell tour, saying good-bye to every city in North America we have ever played in over the years. And now our troupe will say goodbye forever to the U.S.

“It has been a source of immense pride for me as producer that America took ‘Riverdance’ to its heart to such an amazing extent,“ she continues, “and I would like to pay tribute to every dancer, musician, singer, and all the crew and staff who served ‘Riverdance’ so well over the years.”

One of those dancers is Jason E. Bernard, who has tap danced his way into the hearts of audiences everywhere. A native of the Bronx, New York, Bernard has been with “Riverdance” on an off over the past decade.

For those who have never seen the show — and surely there can‘t be many —“Riverdance” includes several different types of dance, including Russian ballet, Flamenco, and tap dancing.

“I started with the show in 2001 when I was 20,” says tap dancer Bernard. “I’m now 31 and I’ve been in and out of the company all these years. I spent most of my 20s traveling and performing with them, so the thought of it coming to an end is a sad thing to imagine.”

Bernard was just six years old when he started taking dance lessons. He remembers, “My sister danced first, so my mother and I used to sit around all day Saturday waiting for her to finish. I used to listen to the sounds of the dance, and being around all that energy and seeing how people reacted to it, made me want to do it too.”

And so he did, winning an audition and eventually a scholarship to the Dance Company of Harlem. And by the time he was 17, he made his Broadway debut in the Tony-Award winning musical “Bring in ‘da Noise Bring in ‘da Funk.”

Bernard next made his feature film debut in Spike Lee’s “Bamboozled.” Bernard was a featured performer in CoisCeim Dance Theatre in the world premiere of “Dodgems” and was also featured and toured in Ireland in the revival of “Boxes.”

In “Riverdance,” the Irish step dancers and the tap dancers fight a sort of dance duel that is filled with unbelievable energy. “About 85 percent of the dance is choreographed, and the rest is improvised,” Bernard says. “We are able to react off each other, and be challenged and energized by the power of the dance.”

And that power reaches all the audience throughout the show, Bernard emphasizes, which is why, in his opinion, the show has lasted so long. “This show is all about the music that people can so identify with. Everyone who has ever seen it is totally affected by it. When the show starts, when the dancers come out on stage, it’s like you’re on a train ride that doesn’t stop until it gets to the end. And I think people keep coming back just for that because there’s never been anything like ‘Riverdance’ and I don’t think there ever will be again.”

For times and ticket information, call (215) 731-3333.