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  • Chris O'Rourke

Dublin Theatre Festival 2016: Swan Lake/Loch na hEala

Swan Lake/Loch na hEala.  Photo by Colm Hogan


A swan song in a snow storm

Mikel Murfi, dressed only in white underwear, bleating like a lamb and tethered by the neck to a block. For a moment one could be forgiven for thinking they’d rambled into a production of ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.’ For Michael Keegan-Dolan‘s radical reimagining of the tragic tale of Siegfried and Odette, ‘Swan Lake/Loch na hEala’, sees the renowned director and choreographer use their story to explore the darkness surrounding depression. Slow to find its feet at first, like a new born cygnet, ‘Swan Lake/Loch na hEala’ stumbles to rise initially. But once it rises, it soars and takes flight, delivering one of the most moving, magical and memorable of endings.

Utilising structural elements from the original tragic tale, ‘Swan Lake/Loch na hEala’ transplants them to a County Longford in which Church and State, resonant of Patrick McCabe’s ‘The Butcher Boy,’ are dangerous for the young. Jimmy, celebrating his thirty sixth birthday, is dealing with the wound of losing his father. His wheelchair bound mother, who has sold their home without telling him, thinks a birthday party attended by all the eligible females might be the solution. After Jimmy receives his birthday gift the world begins to change frighteningly about him, yet he remains unchanged. Until he meets Finola and her swan like sisters. Love, or something like it, draws them both together in their mutual need. But others have a say in how, or if, they live. As events draw towards an inevitable close, all might be lost down the barrel of a shotgun, or set free to run wild like feathers swirling in a snow storm.

Throughout, narrative plays a close but definite second to ‘Swan Lake/Loch na hEala’s’ visual and physical identity. Sabine Dargent’s excellent set design playfully and imaginatively engages with space and objects to suggest myriad possibilities, all ably assisted by Adam Silverman’s lighting design. Hyemi Shin’s costumes are also excellent, with the clever wing design showing genuine inspiration.

At the centre of ‘Swan Lake/Loch na hEala’s’ deeply moving tale, lies an outstanding performance by Mikel Murfi, around which everything and everyone revolves. Performers Zen Jefferson, Saku Koistinen and Eric Nevin do wonderfully well in supporting roles, but dancers Anna Kaszuba, Rachel Poirier, Carys Staton and Molly Walker are show stealingly good as the doomed swan sisters in some stunningly beautiful sequences. Elizabeth Cameron Dalman is excellent, though often seeming under used, and Alexander Leonhartsberger bravely tackles the uphill task of making the depressed Jimmy engaging. But in the absence of dialogue and with movement often restricted to standing atop concrete blocks, Leonhartsberger shines best during ‘Swan Lake/Loch na hEala’s’ beautifully articulated dance sequences. All of which are performed to a remarkable soundtrack played live by musicians Aki, Danny Diamond and Kevin Murphy, whose Irish and Cajun based tunes meld with Finnish tones and textures.

From the first meeting of the swans, to their hell like descent during Jimmy’s party, Michael Keegan-Dolan’s flowing choreography ensures each sequence is wonderfully realised. A deeply moving and flawlessly executed duet between Jimmy and Nicola, with bodies holding and enfolding in wonderful interplay, is stunning in both its beauty and simplicity. Merging dance, music, performance and text, with a heightened sense of theatricality and meta-theatricality, Michael Keegan-Dolan’s directorial choices go from strength to strength, crafting a visually impressive tapestry. With elements from the original 'Swan Lake' integrating with Irish mythological references, such as the children of Lir, the result is a tale of rich complexity whose theme is powerfully realised and whose ending is staggeringly beautiful.

Living with depression can feel like viewing the best of the world trapped inside a snow globe. But what if the snow globe could crack wide open? A tragically uplifting, beautiful winter’s tale, ‘Swan Lake/Loch na hEala’s’ is ultimately an act of joy. One which will crack you wide open and leave you longing for more.

‘Swan Lake/Loch na hEala’s’ by Michael Keegan-Dolan runs at The O’Reilly Theatre, Belvedere College as part of The Dublin Theatre Festival until October 9th

For further information, visit O'Reilly Theatre or Dublin Theatre Festival

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