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Swan Lake/Loch na hEala by Michael Keegan-Dolan

Swan Lake by Michael Keegan-Dolan.
Swan Lake by Michael Keegan-Dolan. Photo by Colm Hogan

Sometimes a review is the easiest thing in the world to write. Everything works with a show and the words flow so fast I can’t type them fast enough. At other times, it is the opposite. For whatever reason, or reasons, the words don’t run smoothly. Michael Keegan-Dolan’s Swan Lake/Loch na hEala at Sadler’s Wells is an example of the latter type. Loosely based on the traditional tale, this version has been transferred to contemporary times and moved to a small town in Ireland.

Loosely based on the traditional tale, this version has been transferred to contemporary times and moved to a small town in Ireland. The princess is a thirty-six-year-old man (Alexander Leonhartsberger), with mental illness, living with his mother (Elizabeth Cameron Dalman) in a run-down house in rural Ireland. Unusually for what is ostensibly a dance piece, the show also includes an actor, Mikel Murfi, who changes roles throughout the performance. A lot of the traditional elements of Swan Lake are in this production, particularly the idea of the white and black swans being played by the same person, though the image of white and black being good and evil respectively are definitely challenged as they are in the reality where shades of grey have to exist in order for the world to function.

When you enter the auditorium, the first thing you see is Sabine Dargent’s eclectic set with Mikel tethered to a stone in the centre of the stage. The show starts with the arrival of various characters on stage and the raising of the backcloths at the rear and side of the stage. As the production continues, Mikel is released from his tether and moves to become the narrator and authority figure in the guise of a priest and local councillor and guides the story along. The production has a total of thirteen world-class performers who really throw themselves into the intense and demanding choreography. The music, written and performed by Nordic-Irish trio Slow Moving Clouds, is a nice mixture of styles with many influences and is a fine accompaniment to the dancing and movement of the performers.

I have to say that this production of Swan Lake/Loch na hEala was not easy to watch. There were some scenes which, whilst they could be considered brave choices by Michael Keegan-Dolan, did not resonate with me at all, and felt that they were there purely to shock and were not entirely necessary. Of course, this is personal opinion and, going by the resounding applause and partial standing ovation at the end, not everyone in the audience will agree with me on this. There were some really wonderful elements though and I have to say the final scene was really quite beautiful both in its conception and delivery.

As I’ve said, Swan Lake/Loch na hEala didn’t really work for me. Over the roughly seventy-five minutes running time, I found myself continually changing my mind about the show. I can fully appreciate the work that has gone into putting the show together and the dedication and skill of the performers in translating the story to a powerful and definitely thought-provoking production.

3 Star Review

Review by Terry Eastham

Performed by a company of 13 world-class performers including actor Mikel Murfi, this new production is interwoven with storytelling, song and live music. Dublin based band Slow Moving Clouds has created a new score, combining Nordic and Irish traditional music with minimalist and experimental influences.

With beautiful dancing and powerful imagery, this new Swan Lake is rooted in the Midlands of Ireland, where ancient mythology and the modern world collide.

Sadler’s Wells
Rosebery Avenue, London, EC1R
25 & 26 Nov 2016


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