Michael Flatley is in pain.
“People don’t realize how brutal it actually is,” says the Irish step dancer who clatter-tapped his way to international fame in “Lord of the Dance.” “I know a lot of professional athletes and we trade horror stories about the legs and the feet and the backs and the necks. And I think I got the worst of it!”
Relief may be in sight. “Lord of the Dance: Dangerous Games,” the latest version of the show, is Flatley’s farewell tour — he’ll turn in his taps after a performance in Las Vegas on St. Patrick’s Day (of course). After his show in Fairfax on Feb. 26, he’ll be just 12 performances away from kicking up his heels.
Flatley, 57, has been developing and performing in various iterations of “Lord of the Dance” since the first version premiered 20 years ago. In that time, the show has benefited hugely from technological advantages.
“We have new lighting and sound that’s been specially invented for us; we have 3-D screens and holograms,” he says (at one point in “Dangerous Games,” Flatley dances with two holo-Flatleys). Still, he says, it’s paramount that this newest version hark back to the first one.
“If you see Led Zeppelin, you want to hear ‘Stairway to Heaven,’” he says. “People want to see the hit numbers — that’s really important. But they want those in new and exciting ways.”
When talking to Flatley, it’s easy to detect that he’s not particularly interested in discussing his extensive career and worldwide fame. Bring up the people, though, and his enthusiasm ramps up.
“That’s our proudest achievement, the people,” he says. “Not just the dancers — the accountants, the lawyers, the truck drivers. There’s no end to the relationships. I’ve had the same wardrobe girls every night for 20 years! These are relationships that are forged over a lifetime; if I’m proud of anything, I’m proud of that. These young dancers, taking them from what was a folk dance to the world stage — that’s something.”
Flatley admits that, while it’s been a successful time, it hasn’t been an easy one. “It’s not like any other art form,” he says. “We have to paint our picture every night — live — and it has to be as close to perfect as we can, every night — live. It’s been a long road.”
Which leads to the inevitable question: Was it worth it?
“Oh, yeah. A hundred times over,” Flatley says. “People have asked me, ‘Aren’t you sad, now that you did it? You won’t be able to walk!’ But every time I feel the pain of those injuries, I remember that I went after my dreams. I’d rather that than sitting at home without any pain thinking, ‘Jesus, I should’ve went for it.’”
How to tell if you’re at a Flatley show: Is flute music wafting through the air, even though you are not an Irish lass wandering barefoot through a meadow? Can you spot at least four PBS tote bags? Are shirtless men nearby making you feel dirty because they are clearly far too young for you? Did someone use the non-Boston-NBA pronunciation for “Celtic?” If you answered yes to three or more questions, enjoy the show!
EagleBank Arena, 4400 University Drive, Fairfax; Feb. 26, 7:30 pm, $30-$99.
More interviews from Kristen Page-Kirby