Michael Keegan-Dolan, Swan Lake / Loch na hEala

Posted: December 14th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Michael Keegan-Dolan, Swan Lake / Loch na hEala

Michael Keegan-Dolan, Swan Lake / Loch na hEala, Sadler’s Wells, November 30

Zen Jefferson, Saku Koistinen, Mikel Murphy, and Erik Nevin (photo: Colm Hogan)

Michael Keegan-Dolan’s Swan Lake makes a journey through the reductive division in Christian culture between light and dark, and between God (good) and the devil (evil) to lay bare what he calls ‘the root of much suffering and confusion’. He sets his story around his home in County Longford in Ireland whose many lakes are home to flocks of migrating swans but his principal characters — the overbearing mother who wants her introspective son to marry, the woman he falls in love with and the magician who has cast a spell on her — have much in common with the plot of the ballet of the same name produced in Moscow in 1875 to Tchaikovsky’s famous score. It is as if Keegan-Dolan has taken the Russian myth and re-mythologized it in the image of Ireland, and because the lakes and swans are tangible and the narrative is taken from local news and national history, his Swan Lake is grounded in a conflictual social and political reality of a kind the romantic ballet of Imperial Russia could never have acknowledged.

There is in actor Mikel Murphy, whom Keegan-Dolan casts as The Holy Man, a distant relation to the wicked magician, Von Rothbart, though at the beginning of Swan Lake he is the one who is under a spell, stripped to his underwear and tethered by the neck to a concrete block, bleating like a goat. It is not hard to see the image of a plundered Ireland tethered to England’s oppressive rule. Then three ‘watchers’ (Saku Koistinen, Zen Jefferson and Erik Nevin) release him, wash him down, beat him dry with red towels and prepare him for interrogation. In Keegan-Dolan’s psychological landscape it is only those representing the dominant culture of oppression — be it political, religious or matriarchal — who speak; while tethered Murphy can only bleat but once freed and offered an informant’s seat at the oppressor’s table, he talks the talk — but not before he’s had a cup of tea and a few biscuits.

It’s an enigmatic but brilliantly staged beginning to what is in effect the re-telling and re-enactment of a story in which Murphy is the sole narrator because the other principal witnesses are the victims of his crimes: one drowned and the other shot. Under Adam Silverman’s lighting and with Hyemi Shin’s evocative costumes, Sabine Dargent’s set is a makeshift restaging of the events with trusses, curtains, ladders, plastic sheeting, theatre boxes and props for the benefit of the audience whose role is to listen and to pass judgement: morality with its oppressive mores and prejudices is on trial.

To make up for having to leave the condemned family home for a new build, the ailing Nancy O’Reilly (Dr. Elizabeth Cameron Dalman) gives her son Jimmy (Alexander Leonhartsberger) his father’s rifle as a birthday gift. It becomes for him an inert symbol of power in a life that has little promise as a result of depression, both mental and environmental. Finola (Rachel Poirier) is one of four sisters (with Anna Kaszuba, Carys Staton and Molly Walker) in the village along with three burly, bisexual watchers and a fine band of musicians (Aki, Mary Barnecutt and Danny Diamond) playing the music of Slow Moving Clouds. In his narrative, Murphy recalls the characters in relation to his various roles as parish priest, local politician and police chief revealing his determinant role in their lives and destiny. As the priest he admits to sexually abusing Finola and threatening her sisters if they were to reveal the truth; as a politician he takes advantage of Nancy and Jimmy for a photo opportunity and as police chief he pressures the depressed Jimmy into a fatal showdown. Within this narrative, but beyond Murphy’s control, Finola, the only village girl to express an interest in Jimmy, makes a fateful connection with him. Keegan-Dolan gets inside the psychology of his characters and expresses it in raw body imagery with overtones of traditional dance; at the beginning Jimmy doesn’t speak and barely moves, but when he senses love from and for Finola he unlocks his reticence and awkwardness with a freedom of gesture that is a first sign of healing. But that reductive division in Christian culture claws back any such redemption, shaming Finola into drowning herself in the lake which sends Jimmy back into deep depression with a rifle at his side. As police chief, Murphy forces a faceoff with him and has him shot by his officers (recalling the tragic shooting of John Carthy, a depressed Longford man who refused to be evicted from his home). Murphy has finished his worldly story but Swan Lake continues in an afterlife with clouds of feathers where the lovers are reunited and dance among their friends with the freedom of unconstrained, unfettered bodies in an environment without hypocrisy, connivance and political ill-will. It’s not so much the idea as the jubilant choreographic conviction that suggests there is hope.

Neon Dance, Empathy

Posted: February 22nd, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Neon Dance, Empathy

Neon Dance, Empathy, The Lemon Tree, Aberdeen, February 13

Neon Dance in Empathy (screen shot from filmmaker Tom Schumann)

Neon Dance in Empathy (screen shot from filmmaker Tom Schumann)

“The story is a machine for empathy. In contrast to logic or reason, a story is about emotion that gets staged over a sequence of dramatic moments, so you empathize with the characters without really thinking about it too much.” – Ira Glass

Empathy is a work that I have already danced with a little. I invited the artistic director of Neon Dance, Adrienne Hart, and dancer Annapaola Leso to Bournemouth in 2014 for two research residencies, saw snatches of a duet at Tony Adigun’s The Factory during Dance Umbrella in late 2015 and viewed the video series released in the run-up to the première of Empathy in 2016. This ensured a proximity to the ideas and flavours prior to stepping into the theatre and this exposure influenced my receipt of the work and not necessarily in a way I was expecting. Being closer to Empathy I felt partially blunted, encountered less discovery on the evening and it made me question whether I want my pre-information appetite dry, whetted or drowned.

Hart and her creative co-conspirators in sound (composers Mads Brauer, Casper Clausen, Shahzad Ismaily and Gyda Valtysdottir) and design (Numen and Ana Rajcevic) have deftly woven a seamless environment that sits equally between the choreographic, sonic and scenographic. Letting the performance grow over two years has imbued it with a depth and rigour that is missing in many works that are constrained by a 3-to-4 week rehearsal process. With five human performers and an insentient laser feeding our eyes, Empathy executes Hart’s aim of asking us to think about this state of being through an elaborate, dense and stimulating world. With a tight choreographic palette of amorphous floor-dwelling bodies, melting into each other and the floor, I found it hard to like and yet easy to admire – but the work is still resonating.

Technology is making gestures precise and brutal, and with them men.”– Theodor Adorno

Hierarchies are consistently present: human vs. human and human vs. laser; the invisibility of power is enhanced through the (wo)man/machine battles. The behaviour of the laser oscillated between playfulness and brutality; ambushing movement and suffocating extensions whilst framing the dancers with an incisive clarity. I couldn’t help but project emotional narratives on these duets and at those moments I’m looking at the empathy spectrum and deciding who should I side with? The lasers acted as a metronome, carving the stage, dictating the pace and in its more flighty moments slowing down my perception of the dancers.

There were resonances for me on the tender spectrum; when Annapaola stepped slowly towards the laser wall and waited with the tips of her hairs brushing the edge of the light as her breath settled suggesting a possibility to move through and beyond. There was emotional dissonance too; Carys Staton (a glacial technician) during her glitching laser tunnel duet failed to connect as it narrowed, slowly constricting her space — I felt nothing. This spectrum of emotional attachment to and between the performers was a large part of the success of the work; however, there were two late arrivals into this cast who weren’t present throughout the making period and were (re)presenting movement that had been generated and embodied by other bodies and this lack of investment was telling.

“Empathy is the faculty to resonate with the feelings of others. When we meet someone who is joyful, we smile. When we witness someone in pain, we suffer in resonance with his or her suffering.” – Matthieu Ricard

Rajcevic’s costume pieces enhanced the notion of empathy; mouth pieces and masks disguised areas of the body that are usually used to convey emotion challenging the dancers to present alternatively through their bodies. The arm extensions worn by Annapaola affected her movement quality, masked the hands and helped attune her to her surroundings and other bodies in her orbit.

Hart is playing the long game and her extended practice and approach to collaboration, inquiry and audience ensures Empathy remains with you long after you’ve left the theatre. She’s an architect, commentator and conductor of an orchestra of empathy, with human instruments revelling in her excavations.