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Fleet feet fire up the Ice Palace

When Michael Flatley's Feet of Flames show comes to Tampa on Sunday, the audience can expect a huge array of glittering stage lights, as well as the world's fastest feet.

By JOHN FLEMING

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 7, 2001



[Publicity Photo]
Michael Flatley lives to dance, and he terms his Feet of Flames performances the biggest, brightest, fastest and most Celtic of any of that kind presented.
Michael Flatley is on the phone from London, or at least his perky publicist is. She says that after Flatley finishes a rehearsal of his latest Irish dance show, Feet of Flames, he'll have 10 minutes to talk about the American tour, which plays the Ice Palace Sunday night.

So there's a little time to scan the publicity pack while waiting for him to come on the line. Actually, it's a cardboard box about the size of a pizza container, with a glossy booklet full of pictures of Flatley in a black leather bolero costume, his chest bare, dancing or playing flute.

Amid the hype, one fact stands out: "In February 1998, Michael reclaimed the title as the fastest dancer on Earth by smashing the world tapping record (in the Guinness Book of World Records) with 35 separate taps in one second."

When Flatley comes on, the record seems as good a place as any to start. It hardly seems possible, no matter how fast his feet might be.

Flatley assures that it not only is possible, for him ("It's what I do"), but that Guinness had eight auditors in the studio to validate the record.

"We had to get a very special computer and sound system that recorded at that speed and measure them all separately," he says. "If your toe and your heel came down at the same time, they couldn't be counted as two separate taps."

Flatley, 42, was born in Chicago but spent much of his childhood in Ireland. Featured in the original Riverdance, he never danced in the show in the United States, having bitterly broken from its producers by the time the Irish dance phenomenon got here.

How are his own shows, Lord of the Dance and now Feet of Flames, different from Riverdance?

"Bigger, brighter, faster, better . . ." he says.

"Far more spectacular," the publicist chimes in.

"Yeah, it's a lot more spectacular, and it's a lot more Celtic," Flatley goes on. "We don't have African dancers in the show, we don't have Russian dancers, we don't have any other type of dancers in the show."

With about 50 dancers, an eight-piece band and singers, Feet of Flames doesn't have a narrative.

"It's basically a good-versus-evil story, but I think it's done in such a way that everybody will draw their own conclusions from it," he says. "It's a very motivating type show."

Flatley's set and lighting designers have also done tours for Pink Floyd, the Rolling Stones and Tina Turner.

"We have to be very careful of the heat," he says. "It's incredibly hot onstage. It's well over 100 degrees in most of the arenas we play because of all the lights we have. We probably have more lights than any rock show."

In May, Flatley had a scary encounter with an intruder in the bedroom of his villa outside Monte Carlo on the French Riviera. He woke up to find someone standing over him and his companion, Lisa Murphy. After Flatley yelled and jumped out of bed, the man fled.

"The police are convinced that it's somebody who may be a fan," he said. "I've always had security, but unfortunately that was the one week I gave them off before we went out on this tour."

The 10 minutes are up. "One last question," the publicist says.

Okay, how long will Flatley keep dancing?

"As long as I can," he says. "It's what I was born to do. I'm an entertainer. It's what I live for."

PREVIEW

Michael Flatley's Feet of Flames is at the Ice Palace at 7 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $35-$85. (813) 301-2500.

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