Ceilidh Briscoe was barely three years old when Riverdance first took the world by storm. Fast forward twenty years and she is now traveling the world on the show’s 20th anniversary tour. Her road to Riverdance appears to have been written in the Irish stars.
In 2011, at the age of sixteen, Briscoe attended the Swannanoa Gathering, an Irish arts week in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, when she met longtime Riverdance fiddler, Patrick Mangan.
“A few years later, Pat wasn’t able to accept a tour and they were looking for somebody else and he put forward a recommendation for me,” she says. “I sent in all of my material and got a call back, which was really great.”
While Briscoe joked about eventually taking over as the show’s fiddler in 2011 with Mangan, it would be another three years before she saw the show for the first time.
“I’d been over helping out at a classical music week for students, and afterwards, my mom and I went to Dublin and I saw the show for the first time,” she recalls. “I remember being absolutely obsessed with it and thinking, this would be so cool if I could do this one day. Obviously I never imagined that I would make that happen, which is super, super neat.”
Born in Vancouver and raised in Victoria, Briscoe comes about her abilities on the fiddle from being surrounded by music growing up as her her mom played, and her dad was a singer-songwriter. It isn’t surprising though to know she started out studying classically on the violin.
“We’ve had generations of violinists in my family and not necessarily professional, but there was always an interest,” she says. “And so for a while I was playing my grandfather’s violin, when I first transitioned into a full sized instrument.”
Using fiddle and violin interchangeably during the interview, Briscoe laughs when asked if there is a difference between the two.
“No actually, and that’s a question I get a lot,” she says. “Basically, it’s just the style of music that you’re playing. If you’re playing classically, it’s more likely to be called the violin because of its background. But I’ve met classical musicians that call it a fiddle and Irish musicians that call it a violin, and vice versa. But they are the same thing, there’s no change in the instrument.”
Vancouver will be the closest Briscoe will get to her native Victoria on this tour, and is thrilled to know there will be family and friends in the audience.
“I’ve never actually performed with the show anywhere near home, so it’s going be quite amazing,” she says. “I’m pretty sure my mom sold out the Sunday night show.”
One of four musicians in Riverdance, Briscoe says it is the show’s opening number filled with smoke and a sunrise which continues to be the highlight for her.
“It’s really kind of this cool starting point. It’s a really beautiful moment and it gets me every time. I’m excited every time the show starts,” she says.
For Briscoe, it is the magical amalgamation of dance and music that keeps Riverdance so popular.
“It’s got a lot of things that people can relate to, and watching people move and dance and having people listen to music and everything,” she says. “It just really brings out the best in people and it makes people feel alive. That’s how I felt the first time I saw it.”
It is somehow fitting the 20th anniversary tour will conclude in Vancouver for Briscoe, who has traveled to China and across the United States with the show over the past couple of years. As the show comes to end, she may be looking to her next plans, but not without some hope of continuing to do what she loves.
“I’ve also been working with classical music and everything obviously for quite some time, so I might go back to doing something along those lines,” she says. “I’m really enjoying my time with the show right now though, so I hope to keep working with the company for a while longer at least.”
Riverdance opens at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Vancouver on April 13 and runs until April 15. Visit https://broadwayacrosscanada.ca for tickets and information.