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Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Darkness and Delight: The Choreography of Michael Keegan-Dolan

Photo: Marie-Laure Briane


By Susan Yung

The highest compliment to Michael Keegan-Dolan’s choreography? It makes you want to get up on stage and dance alongside his company, Teaċ Daṁsa. Its kinetic simplicity and emotional lucidity are irresistible and highly relatable. Swan Lake/Loch na hEala (Harvey Theater at BAM Strong, Oct 15—20) presents a rare chance to catch this internationally praised director/choreographer’s work stateside.

In Swan Lake, big chunks of dance—performed to hypnotic, live Irish/Norwegian music by Slow Moving Clouds—intermix with searing dramatic scenes to spin out a modern variant on the classic tale, albeit comprising several narrative strands (Keegan-Dolan cites the classic source; the Irish myth of King Lir, whose wife transforms their four children into swans; and the contemporary tragedy of a downtrodden man, John Carthy). It’s engrossing dance-theater in which ensemble movement sections—healing rituals, greek choruses—play a major part, acting in effect as the work’s heart.

Keegan-Dolan’s movement could be called “emotional weather.” It captures whatever pathos is conjured by the drama at hand, either amplifying it or, alternately, acting as a method of healing or bonding. The dance is so entwined with the music as to be inseparable. They whirl, blend, and expand, suffusing the space with a feeling or thought, and engulfing the audience. In a key duet, the pair first expresses timidity and apprehension at engagement; this evolves into physical tests of trust, romantic delectation, and sheer bliss. The man’s childlike physical reaction to this bliss is sublime, clearly novel to him, and bereft of any physical or psychological artifice.

Keegan-Dolan, of Ireland, studied classical forms of dance, but you might not necessarily garner that from watching Swan Lake. Passages of spinning, pulsing, and snaking torsos evoke an ecstatic rave with everyday movements and folk dance. The similarly folk-infused music’s rhythms play out through stamping, hopping, and hands flicked to the beat. The dancers often face the audience and move as one, or they pair off and focus on one another, reinforcing the idea of the ensemble as an empathetic community. As phrases build and repeat, a contagious sense of abandon and delirium takes hold. Make no mistake—there is plenty of darkness in Swan Lake, but it’s fairly balanced by delight.

In an interview for Sadler’s Wells in London, where he is an associate artist, Keegan-Dolan noted that while learning his style, “sensitivity is a huge thing, and takes time to cultivate... the ability to perform these big external gross movements, and the ability to perform the finest, smallest, tiniest movements and to have the ability to project those tiny movements over big spaces.” It’s this combination of grand gesture and filigree—plus a generous, essential sense of community—that make viewers want to join in.

Swan Lake/Loch na hEala will be at BAM Oct 15—20.

Susan Yung is associate director of editorial at BAM.
© 2019 Brooklyn Academy of Music, Inc. All rights reserved.

1 comment:

  1. What a superb synthesis of theater, dance, and music! Thank you for introducing us to the creative force of Michael Keegan-Dolan. And thank you for the live performance of gorgeous music by Slow Moving Clouds. Do suggest ignoring the clueless NY Times reviewer who got stuck on the first stark image of a goat transmogrified into a human- transmogrification being sort of a core theme in Swan Lake- yes? No less, the negative symbolism that goats represent as lascivious and damned- the animating principle of this character.

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