PERTH FESTIVAL REVIEW: KEEGAN-DOLAN'S CONTEMPORARY SWAN LAKE WILL DIVIDE AND SHAKE AUDIENCES
Irishman Michael Keegan-Dolan is well known for his raw reinventions of traditional ballets. Since the 1990s, he has won accolades for powerful re-works of famous pieces like The Rite of Spring and Petrushka. With his new company Teaċ Daṁsa (House of Dance) launched in 2016, Keegan Dolan has continued this precedent in explorative stories mostly based in his modern day homeland. Unsurprisingly, his version of Swan Lake/Loch na hEala is a deeply absurd, shocking departure of Tchaikovsky’s ballet.
As soon as the audience entered the Heath Ledge Theatre, we were confronted with a hexed, muted man and tied by rope to a concrete block. This man is later known as the Holy Man and is promoted to narrate the dance-theatre production.
We soon realise that this version of Swan Lake is not told chronologically, and oscillates between the inherent beauty, and eternal darkness of each character. The question lingers - can this be properly characterised as a contemporary portrayal of the classic? Over the course of 85 minutes, a narrative quickly unfolds set in the Midlands of Ireland, with satirical folklore and intensely dark themes. Starting with a Catholic priest attempting to sexually assault a young girl, who is caught in the act by the victim’s three siblings, and transforms all four girls (played by dancers Rachel Poirier, Kim Ceysens, Anna Kaszuba and Carys Staton) into silent swans.
Then meet Jimmy O’Reilly: 36 year old chain smoker, lives with mum, depressed and contemplating suicide. As he prepares to take his own life, he sees a winged apparition which throws his life of course. It follows with powerful dance, intuitive and complex story telling embedded in Irish tradition. Dublin based band, Slow Moving Clouds preside upstage diffusing and sometimes infusing the scene with dreamy tones.
A personal highlight in the show was the dance sequences which developed effortlessly with the storyline. In the absence of tutus and elaborate stage design, the female dancers spiralled, twisted, and flowed with the grace and beauty of swans. This aspect of the production was more sensical in that it was a contemporary, cultural reworking of the ballet. By way of contrast, there were other scenes toward the end of where characters became nonsensical and hysterical which was quite unsettling to some. This rawness was confrontational, reminiscent of a nightmare however the festival program did note, “The darkness in any story is there to teach us something. Don’t be afraid of the dark, it is your friend.”
The final act of dancing in feathers was enough to give the performance a long standing ovation. It was this moment that made me question whether I had witnessed a nightmare or a dream. Perhaps the difficulty in understanding the overall message was the pure absurdity in every scene which rendered it almost satirical. As I expected the production to be more based in dance, I struggled to understand some of the theatrical singling, cackling and acting. Keegan-Dolan very much fused dance, music and dialogue to exemplify the indelible light and darkness in this version of Swan Lake. This production is strange and unsettling however worth attending with an open mind.
WHAT: Swan Lake
WHERE: Heath Ledger Theatre
WHEN: Thur 14 Feb – Sun 17 Feb
HOW MUCH: $75 - $103.