Review: SWAN LAKE /Loch na hEala (as part of Luminato)

by Lynn on June 7, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer

Part of Luminato.

At the Bluma Appel Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Written, Directed and Choreographed by Michael Keegan-Dolan

Set design by Sabine Dargent

Costumes by Hyemi Shin

Lighting Design by Adam Silverman

Music by Slow Moving Clouds

Company: Mikel Murfi

Rachel Poirier

Alex Leonhartsberger

Elizabeth Cameron Dalman

Anna Kaszuba

Carys Staton

Molly Walker

Saku Koistinen

Zen Jefferson

Erik Nevin


Mary Barnecutt

Danny Diamond

The always dazzlingly creative Michael Keenan-Dolan brings his latest creation to Toronto for Luminato, a dark re-imagining of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, but nothing like it really. It’s pure Michael Keenan-Dolan. And there are a lot of goose down feathers.

Note: Tchaikovsky’s ballet, Swan Lake about a princess who is turned into a swan by an evil sorcerer’s curse.

The Story. A Holy Man (Irish) has fallen in love with one of his young parishioners—a 17 year-old named Finola. He forces himself on her and tells her and her three sisters who witnessed it that he will put a curse on them if they tell anyone, turning them into filthy animals if they do. This sets in motion all manner of dark, angry deeds.

The Production.  The stage is bare except for a man tethered by a long rope around his neck that is then attached to a large bolder on the floor. He is dressed only in white underpants. He paces the length of the rope around the bolder. He makes guttural bleating sounds like a sheep (a ram?).

Behind him is a stage wide raised platform on which are three musicians who will play fiddle, cello and nyckelharpa. They provide the music and sound effects. Sitting in front of this platform, on either side of it is a brooding man and an older woman in a wheelchair. A huge ladder is on the platform. There are ladders elsewhere and there are large swan’s wings on the floor.

As the man paces three man dressed in black, wearing black gaucho hats come on to the stage from the audience. They look forbidding as they dance around him. They get him down on the floor, splash him with water, dry him off and dress him in a black shirt, jacket and pants. He then sits in a chair (he is the Holy Man) and tells us the story of brooding Jimmy O’Reilly, his mother, Finola (the young woman the Holy Man falls in love with). I assume our narrator is the Holy Man and perhaps his transformation from that almost naked bleater into a clothed narrator, is Keenan-Dolan’s way of telling us what happened in flashback.

Young women in white dresses become swans with large feathered wings as the movement and dance progresses. The narrator says part of the story takes place by Swan Lake a body of water close to the town. Great swaths of a clear plastic sheet is used by the ‘swans’ to suggest the water. They wrap themselves in it, submerge ‘under’ it, and thrash around in it. When matters become darker and the curse has been put on the young women, a black swath of a plastic sheet is used to suggest the forbidding nature of the curse and the effect of darkness and depression on the story.

In the end the company throw fistful of goose down feathers in delicate patterns in the air and on the floor. It looks like a blanket of snow. Magic. There is a kind of fitting retribution. It’s a brooding, dark tale told with clarity, insight and muscularity.

Comment. Teać Darhsa is Michael Keenan-Dolan’s new company. I was able to see some of his brilliant work with his previous company: Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre (The Bull comes to mind—stunning). His work is razor-sharp inventive, witty, dark, brooding and often very funny. He creates images that will stay with you for a long time. His mastery of storytelling through movement and dance is astonishing. Don’t waste another minute. Get a ticket and see it. We don’t see this kind of creative work from elsewhere often enough. When it comes around, grab it!

 Co-produced by Michael Keenan-Dolan, Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London, Colours International Dance Festival,  Theaterhaus Stuttgart: Dublin Theatre Festival; Theatre de la Ville, Luxemburg

Opened: June 6, 2018.

Closes: June 10, 2018.

Running Time: 75 minutes.

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