Drawing inspiration from folk tales and one of the most famous classical ballets, Irish choreographer and Sadler’s Wells Associate Artist Michael Keegan-Dolan, presents a mind blowing piece that combines dance with storytelling and live music in a poetic mix of ancient and modern.
Swan Lake/Loch na hEal is not the fairy tale someone might expect. Set in the Midlands of Ireland, Keegan-Dolan’s version reinvents the original story from an unusual point of view, bringing to the foreground critical issues of depression and abuse investigated through a sort of daring and magical ‘madness’.
Performed by his recently established dance company, Teaċ Daṁsa (House of Dance), the cast features incredible dancers and performers, including renowned actor Mikel Murfi, and Elizabeth Cameron Dalman, the oldest member of the company and founder of Australian Dance Theatre.
Forget about Tchaikovsky’s original score, Slow Moving Cloud’s soundscape is even more sublime! The Dublin-based band combines experimental sounds with Nordic and Irish traditional music and chants, accompanying the performers through a sensational and inspiring journey that intends to give voice to complex social issues.
The scene opens with Mikel Murfi in white underpants, anchored to a concrete block with a rope around his neck and bleating like a goat. A rather disturbing image that introduces the character of an abusive priest that has lost his humanity. Three obscure watchers surround him dancing in circles, fluid phrases of raw movements unfold, with shaky hands and quick little jumps. He is dragged away to then reappear as the narrator of the events, taking on different roles throughout the entire show. Murfi’s astounding versatility and charismatic storytelling ability takes the performance to the next level.
A series of stepladders with feathered wings, scaffolding and lots of plastic material contour the stage, creating a desolated bleak atmosphere where prince Jimmy and his mum sit on the sides. Keegan-Dolan portrays the prince (Alexander Leonhartsberger) as a 36 year-old depressed man that hasn’t managed to get over his father’s death and still lives with his mum Nancy, the elderly woman in a wheelchair (Elizabeth Cameron Dalman), who has sold the family home to move into a council house. In order to cheer things up and find him a girlfriend, she plans to organise a party for his birthday and gives him his father’s shotgun as a present. Jimmy goes to the lake with the intention of committing suicide, but the encounter with Finola (Rachel Poirier) and her sisters turned into swans by the abusive priest, changes the whole plan.
An exquisite lyrical pas de deux unfolds; timidly one tries to reach for the other with intriguing expressiveness, followed by an hypnotic interaction that reveals a fragile and delicate connection. The swans dance is also enchanting, especially in the arm gestures; flapping straight arms combine with slow and gentle turns to imitate the act of flying – sequence of phrases in contrast with the classic idea of Swan Lake. There is great intensity in their movements.
The birthday party is comical; all performers wearing colourful cone hats have a go at improvising articulated dance sequences with incredible theatrical expression. Jerking and shuddering movements, hands stretched towards the sky and random laughs contribute to turn the atmosphere into a triumph of hilarious madness.
At the end, after disappearing in a lake of darkness, the two lovers re-emerge for a joyous collective final where all performers dance and cover the stage with feathers in a mesmerising and delicate cathartic moment. It is a visually enchanting scene that brings back a glimmer of hope, and as Michael Keegan-Dolan said “The darkness in any story is there to teach us something. Don’t be afraid of the dark – it is your friend.”
Swan Lake/Loch na hEal won the Irish Times Theatre Award for Best Production in 2017 and has now been nominated for Best Modern Choreography at 18th National Dance Awards.