Sadler’s Wells, London (****)
Anybody going to see Michael Keegan-Dolan’s Swan Lake expecting business as usual is going to be in for a big surprise. But then, few would go unprepared. Keegan-Dolan has been around for a while, one of the wunderkinds of Irish dance-theatre. Previously under the name of Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre, Swan Lake/Loch na hEala represents the first flowering – or, to continue the zoological metaphor – the birth of a new entity to be known as Teac Damsa: house of dance.
A weird and wonderful animalism certainly inhabits Keegan-Dolan’s Swan Lake. Four swans only remain from the original. They sit atop ladders, variously dressed in white smocks with feathered wings, emerging in later stages, like the Tchaikovsky version, dressed in black. They do seem to form some kind of commentary, appearing at moments to comfort, later to tease the poor lost soul, Alexander Leonhartsberger’s Jimmy, the son of Elizabeth Cameron’s farmer’s widow mother.
But at its centre sits the extraordinary Mike Murfi, a gravel voiced master of ceremonies, part story-teller, part songster (with a rendering of Bob Dylan’s Hard Rain that recaptures all the tears and fury of the original) – a penitent whose initial Beckettian appearance is as a goat tethered – a being in white y-fronts forever circling a post who bays pitifully when humans appear.
A desperate vision of terror, it immediately gives way to one of care and tenderness and speaks of the duality that pervades Keegan-Dolan’s vision, darkness and light competing at all levels for ascendancy as Jimmy, drowning ever deeper in depression and sadness, is called to the lake, succumbs in the most delicate of couplings to Rachel Poirier’s swan, is driven mad to follow her but instead, in a typical act of betrayal, is shot dead by the local police chief.
Thus the storyline, with some close parallels with the Russian but everything about this Swan Lake screams of an entirely different world and symbolism, one based in the land and culture Keegan-Dolan loves. Bringing Irish and Nordic into harmony in the music of Slow Moving Clouds, Sabine Dargent’s setting evokes bog and the cruelty in landscape and folklore with its spectral lighting, bare stage, plastic sheeting and wild costuming.
Somehow, Keegan-Dolan pulls off the extraordinarily difficult act of combining spoken word, music, and dance – a leaf out of the Pina Bausch school of dance-theatre but intensely more text driven as befits the gaelic-Irish oral heritage.
And his choreography is at once whippet-like, light and airborne, arms outstretched, wispily exuberant.
At the end, in a balletic snow-storm apotheosis, the dancers return with handfuls of swan feathers, rambling seemingly at will around the stage and shafting the feathers into the air, in all directions, into the stalls, into the heavens…totally itself, totally original, totally distinctive.
London Swan Lake/Loch na hEala ran at Sadler’s Wells, Nov 25 & 26, 2016
Swan Lake/Loch na hEala
Elizabeth Cameron Dalman
Director and Choreographer: Michael Keegan-Dolan
Set Design: Sabine Dargent
Costume Design: Hyemi Shin
Lighting Design: Adam Silverman
Music: Slow Moving Clouds
Producer: Johnny O’Reilly
Co-production by Michael Keegan-Dolan; Sadler’s Wells, Colours International Dance Festival, Theaterhaus Stuttgart; Dublin Theatre Festival; and Les Théâtres de la Ville de Luxembourg.
With support from The Civic Theatre, Tallaght and South Dublin County Council Arts Office.
Created in County Longford by `every member of the company’ – Michael Keegan-Dolan.
Michael Keegan-Dolan is funded through the Arts Council Ireland’s Regularly Funded Organisations funding programme.
This review published on this website, Nov 27, 2016