Written, directed, and choreographed by Michael Keegan-Dolan
Produced by Teaċ Daṁsa
Part of BAM's Next Wave Festival
Off Broadway, Dance / Theater
Ran through 10.20.19
BAM Strong - Harvey Theater, 651 Fulton Street
by Asya Gorovits on 10.16.19
Alex Leonhartsberger, Rachel Poirier, and Mikel Murfi in Swan Lake / Loch na hEala. Photo by Marie Laure Briane.
BOTTOM LINE: Irish dance company Teaċ Daṁsa brings a familiar plot into contemporary Ireland, weaving fantasy and reality in a melancholic yet hopeful tale of abusive power clashing with empathy.
Do you remember sweet melancholy followed by excitement when you caught the first signs of fall; the first colored leaves in August, the first chilly morning in September? Very unexpectedly, I had a similar feeling of winter approaching yesterday when a feather landed on my shoe during Swan Lake / Loch na hEala. This production of Teaċ Daṁsa premiered in London in 2016 and was chosen to open BAM’s Next Wave festival under its new artistic director, David Binder.
Even the building of the Harvey Theater has received an upgrade (rough walls preserved, entrance entirely redesigned, and—finally—there's an elevator to the balcony level), not to mention getting rebranded (it’s BAM Strong now). The atmosphere of celebration electrified the air on opening night. And yet there was a dollop of melancholy, inevitable during the celebration of a major transition. What a peculiar choice for an inaugural show. And how interestingly it reads in the context of current political events. Or maybe it’s just my ex-Soviet collective memory that got triggered by Tchaikovsky’s ballet Swan Lake, which played on a loop on TV during the government overturn in 1991?
Ominous nature aside, there is not much of Tchaikovsky left in this adaptation, written, directed and choreographed by Michael Keegan-Dolan. The action is set in modern-day Irish Midlands. The twists of the “magical” plot are quite earthly. Instead of a sorcerer, there is an abusive priest (Mikel Murfi) who has sexually assaulted Finola (Rachel Poirier), and threatens to transform her and her three young sisters into “filthy animals” unless they keep silent. Instead of Prince Siegfried, there is depressed 36-year-old Jimmy (Alex Leonhartsberger), whose only comfort is to smoke cigarettes. “The Queen” is Nancy O’Reilly (Elizabeth Cameron Dalman), a frail woman in a wheelchair crippled by arthritis.
The narrator (also Mikel Murfi) starts the play as a kind of “nasty animal” himself. Tied to a block of concrete by the neck, he walks around in his underwear bleating like a goat, as the audience members take their seats. After the rituals conducted upon him by an ensemble of three men, he receives the ability to speak. Murfi also plays other power-possessing, “speaking” male characters, including a priest, a politician and a policeman. His swift transformation is just enough to signify a change of the “mask” but ultimately, these are all just different sides of the same multi-faced “evil” entity.
The narrative (mostly by Mikel Murfi) is intertwined with whimsical dances performed by the two main protagonists and six ensemble members. Jimmy and Finola barely make any sound but glide noiselessly in their beautiful ballet. Effortless, sometimes playful, choreography by Keegan-Dolan effectively uses symbolic props like wings and concrete blocks. Set design by Sabine Dergent consists of ladders on which the winged girls occasionally climb, along with minimal elements like a table or a piece of tarp pulled in and out for different scenes. Live, traditional Irish and Nordic score from the trio Slow Moving Clouds, seated on the platform upstage, accompanies Swan Lake / Loch na hEala, suspending the action in absolutely magical, eerie music.
In Teaċ Daṁsa's Swan Lake, a glimmer of hope shines upon mundanity and despair. And despite the tragic fate of the protagonists, love and empathy have a chance in a world where there is magic. I am not only referring to the magical realism of falling in love with a swan-girl, but the magic of dance. The humorous absurdity, physical liberation, and visual poetry of Keegan-Dolan’s choreography linger long after the last feather falls down.
(Swan Lake / Loch na hEala played at BAM Strong - Harvey Theater, 651 Fulton Street, October 15-20, 2019, as part of BAM's Next Wave festival. The running time is 75 minutes with no intermission. Tickets started at $30. For more information visit bam.org.)
Swan Lake / Loch na hEala is written, directed, and choreographed by Michael Keegan-Dolan. Produced by Teaċ Daṁsa. Set Design by Sabine Dargent. Costume Design by Hyemi Shin. Lighting Design by Adam Silverman. Music by Slow Moving Clouds.
The cast is Rachel Poirier, Alex Leonhartsberger, Mikel Murfi, Elizabeth Cameron Dalman, Zen Jefferson, Anna Kaszuba, Saku Koistenen, Erik Nevin, Latisha Sparks, and Carys Staton. Musicians are Aki, Mary Barnecutt and Danny Diamond.