Following the runaway success of creator and choreographer Michael Keegan-Dolan with his fabulous Loch na hEala there’s been a sense of excitement about his work and originality.
Performed by his twelve strong company of international contemporary dancers, Teac Damsa, MÁM is the first work since Loch na hEala Keegan-Dolan has brought to Sadler’s Wells from where he lives and works in County Kerry. Created in collaboration with his dancers it’s intended to reflect that place from which it originates.
It’s another very original piece. Set in a village hall in traditional Ireland in which the dancers are villagers accompanied by one child. Ellie Poirier-Dolan is a doll-like small girl who dances with astonishing verve. She brings with her an innocent eye to the adult going’s on, a sense of vulnerability and she is the future watching what is the present but will one day be the past.
The barefoot dancers are in black with white shirts. One wears shoes and that’s for rhythm. They’re a group that splits into smaller groups of those connected in some way, lovers, one alone, all in the same place that’s life. They’re where they’re from but also bring universal human stories.
The music has the same dynamic. The show is led by its glorious music which the dancers follow as if they’re so many musical notes dressed in black with white, moving inside the sound.
There’s the renowned West Kerry concertina player, Cormac Begley, who uses this instrument to play the cycles of traditional music from Ireland with joy, sweetness and a capacity for poignancy that astonishes.
Interwoven between the Irish music is that of Stargaze, a seven-piece orchestral collective from Berlin, playing on stage a melded sequence of different genres of music from the Baroque to classical with emphasis and intensity to jazz influences.
What’s described in this interaction is the ways in which the local musical life of a small village in rural Ireland connects to a wide and deep world of music and dance and emotion in history and place.
There are times in this show when the music creates a depth of atmosphere with just a phrase. And there’s a long segment in which a violinist lets loose a torrent of high notes while the dancers below whirl that will transport you to the sublime.
The gorgeous choreography is Michael Keegan-Dolan’s distinctive lyrical style interspersed with sharp social observation. The little girl sits next to a dancer supposed to be her father as he smokes. A stage rebellion you think until you remember this is supposed to be a village in Ireland and must, in reality, happen to children in life everywhere.
There’s humour too including one scene where one of the dancers becomes a lothario and instead of the focus being on him it’s on the same smitten effect being experienced by those he kisses. Amusing and true.
That this show is part of Keegan-Dolan’s creative evolution towards something else exciting there’s no doubt. There’s the feeling this work might be workshopped into greatness as with Loch na hEala which was changed as it was performed but at present, some sections are repetitive, at least to those not initiated in Irish musical meaning, and focus along with some poetry is lost.
No doubt MÁM plays differently to an Irish audience who understands the emotional history of their music. Here we are the larger audience beyond that village responding without knowing the local code. Which is part of the conversation wrapped up in this show.
It’s also a piece communicating on many complex levels with more to be understood than the one-off sensational communicated on seeing it once.
Being Michael Keegan-Dolan he brings a great finish using one of the more unusual of your senses in the theatre to amaze and energise you.
Review by Marian Kennedy
When Sadler’s Wells Associate Artist Michael Keegan-Dolan covered the stage with a flurry of white feathers for his sublime re-imagining of Swan Lake / Loch na hEala, it earned him a flock of five-star reviews and award wins.
His company Teaċ Daṁsa’s wildly anticipated follow up, MÁM – an Irish word meaning mountain pass, and thus a place of potential meeting – acknowledges how life’s polarities can on occasion come together and play.
Bringing together the renowned Irish concertina player Cormac Begley, the classical, contemporary collective s t a r g a z e and 12 international dancers, including BBC Young Dancer winner Connor Scott.
Michael Keegan-Dolan / Teaċ Daṁsa — MÁM
5 – 7 February 2020
Rosebery Avenue, London, EC1R