Review: Michael Keegan-Dolan/Teaċ Daṁsa's Loch na hEala (Swan Lake) Ultimately Proves Childhood Joy is Universal

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Review: Michael Keegan-Dolan/Teaċ Daṁsa's Loch na hEala (Swan Lake) Ultimately Proves Childhood Joy is Universal

From the imagination of Michael Keegan-Dolan, one of Ireland's foremost dance and theatre makers, a new adaptation of one of the most famous of all story ballets, Swan Lake was forged. Working with the Dublin based band Slow Moving Clouds to create a new score that combines Nordic and Irish traditional music with minimalist and experimental influences, and his dedicated new performance troupe Teaċ Daa??sa (House of Dance) formed in 2016 as a means to forge deeper connections with the traditions, language, and music of Ireland, the resulting debut of Loch na hEala (Swan Lake) became a critical smash in Dublin and at Sadler's Wells, winner of best production and best costume design at the Irish Times Theatre Awards 2017.

Review: Michael Keegan-Dolan/Teaċ Daṁsa's Loch na hEala (Swan Lake) Ultimately Proves Childhood Joy is UniversalNow on a national tour of the United States, -Dolan's searing new vision for this beloved tale is rooted in a place where ancient Irish mythology and modern Ireland collide, creating a world of magical realism, compelling imagery and potent storytelling, infusing its viewers with a raw, majestic and empowering energy, rooted in the meeting of ancient folklore and the modern world, worlds in which mental illness can destroy lives.

No doubt we have all experienced a form of depression in our own lives, which often winds up as the vicious center of the darkness in life. As Keegan-Dolan shares, "Depression like most illness, can be a consequence of a continued state of imbalance, often connected with unresolved events from our lives. Review: Michael Keegan-Dolan/Teaċ Daṁsa's Loch na hEala (Swan Lake) Ultimately Proves Childhood Joy is UniversalThe accumulated sadness eventually immobilizes us and can make us sick, often requiring a fundamental change to move it. Change is an inevitable part of life, causing us to seek and find balance so that life can continue to endlessly unfold. So, don't be afraid of the dark. It is your friend."

While I found his program message motivational, encouraging us to move through the darkness to reach the light, I had no idea how that lesson was going to play out during Michael Keegan-Dolan/Teaċ Daa??sa Loch na hEala (Swan Lake) during the troupe's only West Coast appearance, presented by UCLA's Center for the Art of Performance (CAP UCLA) on Saturday, November 9 at the university's Royce Hall.

To get ready, especially as an American writer who has never been to Ireland or studied its mythology, I did a bit of research before attending the ballet to better comprehend the evolution of his modern interpretation.Review: Michael Keegan-Dolan/Teaċ Daṁsa's Loch na hEala (Swan Lake) Ultimately Proves Childhood Joy is Universal I soon discovered The Children of Lir, a famous legend from the Irish Mythological Cycle. This sad tale about the love of one family, jealousy, magical spells and a curse of 900 years, centers on a jealous second wife, Aoife, who ordered her servant to slay her step-children. But when he refused, she decided to do it herself but found that she didn't have the courage to do the deed. So, instead, she decided to use magic upon them by conjuring up all the power she could and cast a spell upon the poor children, turning them into swans and binding them to live 300 years on the waters of an Irish Loch (hence "Swan Lake") followed by another 300 years flying between the coasts of Éire and Alba. She also cast the spell so that it would not be lifted until the children would hear a bell ring announcing the arrival of a new religion.

Review: Michael Keegan-Dolan/Teaċ Daṁsa's Loch na hEala (Swan Lake) Ultimately Proves Childhood Joy is UniversalCombining this sad tale of four sisters doomed to live together silently as swans with a modern tale of a man suffering in silence from debilitating depression, living alone in a house soon to be lost after the death of his beloved, now wheelchair-bound mother on the shore of that same lake, is the essence of the Keegan-Dolan's tale, reminding us to do what it takes to reach the light and joy when the bell rings in our mind and allows us to express the release of negative emotions and let childlike joy enter our lives.

Performed by nine incredibly athletic performers and talented musicians, three on string instruments and visible on a riser throughout the performance, we first see Review: Michael Keegan-Dolan/Teaċ Daṁsa's Loch na hEala (Swan Lake) Ultimately Proves Childhood Joy is UniversalMichael Murfi as a tied-up sacrificial lamb before being washed clean to assume his role as narrator of the story. Hence, the religious nature of the story was brought into focus, reminding us to go with the flow and not let fear and confusion prevent us from taking that first, most difficult step toward change.

Performed in what seem to be a succession of moving photographs in a storybook, the tale culminates on the young man's 36th birthday, just as his depression is pushing him to take his own life, especially since his mother has given him his father's prized shotgun as a present. Review: Michael Keegan-Dolan/Teaċ Daṁsa's Loch na hEala (Swan Lake) Ultimately Proves Childhood Joy is UniversalIt is then that the white swans intervene to prevent his suicide, while others dance about in party hats gleefully celebrating without him. There are instances when the sisters become black swans, perhaps representing the dark side of life as it interacts and changes life's lightness.

And of course, that bell does ring and then the unexpected happens as the dances go offstage and return with large garbage bags, which turn out to be filled with white feathers! Playing with them and creating a world in which snow seems to be cleaning the darkness from the air was a joy to behold both figuratively and literally, with those seated in the first few rows showered with the feathers as well. And even though it creates a big mess to clean up, Review: Michael Keegan-Dolan/Teaċ Daṁsa's Loch na hEala (Swan Lake) Ultimately Proves Childhood Joy is UniversalI could not help myself but join many others in dancing and throwing the feathers around me after the performance ended, a practice which was encouraged and must certainly follow all shows around the world. Yes, childlike joy is universal.

Many thanks to the entire ensemble and production team for such an extraordinary evening of theatre, including writer/director/choreographer Michael Keegan-Dolan, set designer Sabine Dargent, costume designer Hyemi Shin, lighting designer Adam Silverman, composer/musician Aki, and performer/musicians Awen Blandford, Dr. Elizabeth Cameron Dalman, Danny Diamond, Zen Jefferson, Anna Kaszuba, Alex Leonhartsberger, Michael Murfi, Erik Nevin, Keir Patrick, Rachel Poirier, Latisha Sparks and Carys Staton.

Performances run 75 minutes with no intermission with Ann Arbor, Michigan as the next stop on the national tour of Michael Keegan-Dolan/Teaċ Daa??sa Loch na hEala (Swan Lake). For more information on cities, dates and tickets, visit https://ums.org/performance/teac-damsa/

Photo credit: Reed Hutchinson and CAP UCLA



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