'Riverdance' 25th Anniversary production makes history with first black female Irish step dancer
ELMIRA, N.Y (WENY) -- After being paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Riverdance’s 25th Anniversary production has made its way to the Twin Tiers.
The new production showcases an “exciting, exhilarating,” reimagined vision of the beloved original Riverdance.
One aspect of the show that’s different from the original is the casting of Morgan Bullock, a 22-year-old champion-level dancer from Virginia. After studying with former Riverdance cast members Jessie and Megan Baffa at the Baffa Academy of Irish Dancing, Bullock is now making history as the first black female dancer to perform in the production.
“It is just so surreal,” she said. “To be that person for young girls to look up to and to see themselves in me…or for them to be able to see that they could do it as well, it just means a lot to me. I didn’t really have that growing up. I kind of just had to picture myself on stage. It's an amazing honor.”
Before making her professional debut, Bullock rose to fame for choreographing Irish step dancing moves to today's hits on TikTok.
Millions of people watched Morgan's TikTok videos during the COVID-19 lockdown, including Megan Thee Stallion, Beyoncé's mother Tina Knowles and Taoiseach (Irish prime minister) Leo Varadkar. The latter even invited Bullock to Ireland to dance in the 2021 St. Patrick's Day parade.
Another person who Bullock caught the attention of was Padraic Moyles, the executive producer and associate director for the 25th Anniversary production of Riverdance. He was so impressed with Bullock’s talents that he gave her a shot at making history.
“To be a part of the Riverdance tour...is just amazing, and I'm so grateful for all the opportunities that have come from just posting a fun video,” she said. “I almost didn’t post it. It’s crazy to think how different my life would be if I hadn’t posted it.”
However, amid all of the support, Bullock faced backlash from users on social media accusing her of cultural appropriation. Bullock, on the other hand, explained how the history of Irish step dancing allows it to be celebrated and appreciated by anyone.
“There’s a huge difference between appropriating and appreciating a culture,” she explained. “Appropriating is when you take something from a culture without giving credit to where it’s coming from, which couldn’t be further from what I'm doing as an Irish dancer. [However], I think it’s a testament to how strong the Irish culture is because Irish dancing in itself was born out of oppression. At one point, there were efforts to completely ban Irish dancing, and the fact that it's been able to survive all of these years and be spread around the world is something that should be celebrated by anyone.”
Even the 25th Anniversary production of Riverdance celebrates more than just Irish culture.
“It's a beautiful exchange of cultures, not just Irish dancers,” Bullock said. “We have tap dancers, flamenco dancers, [and] so many cultures represented. It’s something that everyone can resonate with. The 25th Anniversary is staying true to the original Riverdance and its origins.”
Despite the backlash on cultural appropriation, Bullock said it was a small fragment of all the otherwise positive feedback she received. She encourages anyone to follow their dreams, even if it means breaking barriers.
"Just go for it, because these cultural boundaries are not anything that should be stopping someone from sharing what they love to do,” she said. “As long as they appreciate where it comes from, [and] you have a passion for it, there’s nothing wrong with trying things that may seem out of the box.”
Riverdance's 25th Anniversary production finishes its run at the Clemens Center Wednesday evening. Tickets can be bought online at the Clemens Center’s website here. They can also be bought at the box office or through the phone at 607-734-8191.