Michael and Matthew Gardiner, two dancers from Denver, grew up watching recordings of Riverdance and dreaming of joining the dancers on stage. Now, years later, they are returning to their hometown and fulfilling their childhood dream by performing in Riverdance 25th Anniversary Show at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts May 31 through June 4.
Ahead of the show's Denver run, we caught up with the Gardiner Brothers to talk about their careers, their passion for Irish dancing, and what it feels like to be touring the country as siblings.
Westword: How does it feel to be returning to Denver? Are there any places around town that you're planning to visit?
The Gardiner Brothers: It is so exciting to finally be returning to Denver once again! We have been looking forward to Riverdance coming back to Denver since we first auditioned for the show in 2015, and can’t believe that it is finally right around the corner. We know it's going to be very emotional to return all these years later and to have our parents in the audience (all the way from Ireland). That is going to be the most special aspect for us, because without them, we wouldn’t be in the position we are today. We definitely want to visit our old house that we grew up in. We think that would be very special to see where we grew up again. But I think a big one on our list is to visit Ball Arena, where the Nuggets are going to be playing in the NBA finals the week that we are there! We are huge fans, and are so excited that our week of shows lines up with the Nuggets’ first-ever trip to the finals! We even have a couple of special dance videos lined up to post on our social media channels for them, to wish them luck!
What initially drew the two of you to Irish dancing? When did you first see Riverdance, and what do you recall about that experience?
Both of our parents are Irish, and while living in Denver, they thought it was really important for us to have a little bit of the Irish culture growing up. So they put our older sister, Anna, into a dance class with the Wick School of Irish Dancing, and when Michael was about four years old, he did his first class and never looked back. By the time Matthew came along, he thought it was part of your everyday education! So he started at the age of three, and the three of us danced our way around the country, competing all the way to the national championship level while in Denver. Our love really grew for Irish dancing when we got to see Riverdance when they came to Denver in the early 2000s. It was amazing to see the entire troupe on stage, and since we had been watching the original VCR from 1995, we were bursting out of our seats getting to see it live! It really pushed us to follow our passion in Irish dance all the way through our competitive career and onto our eventual professional career with Riverdance.
What made each of you decide to audition for Riverdance in 2015, and how have things gone since then?
It was a goal of ours to be the lead dancers in Riverdance ever since we saw Michael Flatley burst out of the wings in the original 1995 Riverdance VCR. We would dance around the living room pretending to be Flatley, each trying to do our very best impression of him for our parents. So it was always a dream of ours, and we had our eye on auditioning when we were coming to the end of our competitive careers.
After winning over forty major titles along with five world titles between us, Michael decided that he wanted to hang up his competitive shoes and move into the professional world, so in 2015, both of us decided to audition for Riverdance together. Matthew was too young to be accepted, so he kept competing, but we both passed the audition, and Michael started touring in the summer of 2016. He was able to tour North America two times, as well as a tour of China before finishing his degree in college in 2019. Both of us had goals of finishing our college degrees [Michael studied architecture at the University of Limerick and Matthew studied civil engineering at National University of Ireland in Galway) and when they were both finished, we were finally able to tour together in 2021.
Since the pandemic ended, we have been able to tour the U.K. and the U.S. two more times, along with two summer runs in the Gaiety [Theatre] in between each tour. We have been so lucky to be able to tour together and not only live out our dream of dancing with Riverdance together, but also take our Gardiner Brothers social media on the road with us! In 2022, we both auditioned for the lead role in Riverdance and both were successful, becoming the first brothers ever to both be leads in Riverdance. This year has been the highlight of our Riverdance career, getting to tour the U.S. as lead dancers together with a week in Denver to top it all off! We are so proud to be returning to Denver and performing the lead role for our friends and family, right where it all began for us all those years ago!
Readers may recognize you from your widely popular social media accounts, which have received over 350 million views. How has it felt to share your passion for dance with a global audience online?
It was always a goal of ours to post our dancing on social media, and when we finally got the chance during the pandemic, we decided to go all out on our social media channels. We wanted to showcase how modern, versatile and athletic Irish dancing could be along with doing our part to keep the art form alive during the pandemic. By posting our choreography to different artists such as Eminem, Michael Jackson, Ed Sheeran, AC/DC, the Bee Gees and many more, we were able to reach a global audience who loved our take on Irish dancing. It has felt very special to share our Irish dancing online, and we’re very humbled to have such a massive and global audience across our social media. The Irish culture has always been important to us, and to be able to share it with the world is very special to us.
When the pandemic struck, you were performing on opposite sides of the world — Michael at Radio City Music Hall in New York and Matthew at the 3Arena in Dublin — before you both returned to Galway. How has the pandemic affected your relationship with your work, and what has it been like to embark on this tour as brothers?
The pandemic has made us appreciate our work more than ever. We are very lucky that our work is our passion, but when the pandemic hit, we were stripped of the opportunity to get out on that stage every night. It has made us even more grateful to be able to perform on stage, and getting to share each of those moments together has been unbelievably special. It has made it even more incredible to get to tour this year as lead dancers and watch each other perform the role that we used to attempt in our living room when we were little boys in Denver.
What are your roles in the production, and what can people expect from the show if they haven't seen Riverdance before?
We are both male principle dancers in the show. The audience can expect a high-octane performance with Grammy Award-winning music by composer Bill Whelan. This is reimagined to create the 25th-anniversary spectacle with new costumes, sets, visuals, lighting, projections and dances. It is a family show that everyone will love and enjoy; they will laugh and cry throughout the entire performance and are sure to be standing on their feet at the end of the show.
What are you looking forward to most about performing Riverdance 25th Anniversary Show for Denver audiences?
We always dreamed of dancing Riverdance and performing the lead role some day. To be able to come ‘home’ to Denver and perform as lead dancers in the show in front of friends, family and Colorado natives will be an incredibly emotional moment that will definitely be a career highlight and full-circle moment for the two of us.
Riverdance 25th Anniversary Show, Wednesday, May 31, through June 4, Denver Center for the Performing Arts, 1101 13th Street. Find tickets, times and more information at denvercenter.org.