Dublin Theatre Festival 2019: MÁM
Daring To Dance With The Fairies
There’s a story told in the west of Ireland of a lone musician leaving a pub, walking out into the night, and never arriving home. Only to turn up several days later with no recollection of where they were. Knowing only that they'd been with the fairy people who danced and sang in the otherworld. From where the musician brings back the memory of the most sublime music, leaving everyone enraptured as he plays. In something of the same spirit, Teaċ Daṁsa’s wildly anticipated "MÁM," evokes a similar, otherworldly journey to a magical, mythical dimension. One in which, like the lone musician, we might not always know quite where we are. Yet there's no escaping the excitement of the dancing. Or the ecstasy of the music. Or the uniqueness of the experience which is often close to rapturous.
From the outset, a dark otherworldliness looms over "MÁM," with an initial stage image unlikely to look amiss on the cover of a Korn album. A young, red haired girl, asleep in her white child’s dress, is stirred from slumber. She reaches for some Irish sustenance. She hears a sound, like a long, heavy breath. Then the opening chords of the devil’s music, played with an Irish traditional lilt; both being musical styles that have many lovers. Like a curious Alice, the girl turns to find the ram headed devil playing his concertina as he pulls back the first curtain. Faced with a line of faceless creatures stomping, clapping, snapping and shouting, the girl stands her ground. For this is just fairy mischief, or maybe a test. For these creatures, like the devil himself, soon reveal their all too human faces as they transport her, and the audience, to their other world.
In what follows,”MÁM" unearths a treasure throve rich with interpretive possibilities as tradition and innovation collide. Take Hyemi Shin’s superb costumes, black dresses and black suits evoking a 1950s Catholic funeral. Clothes designed to suppress the expressiveness of the body beneath a restrictive formality. All reclaimed as dancers carve an earthy release whilst sitting, swirling, raging, or charging. Or looking, at times, like stars in a Thriller video shot after an Irish wake, all loose limbed, full of wild gestures, and utterly unpredictable. Formality reasserts itself as another circle of the otherworld is disclosed, inhabited by a rag tag band of musicians. Here, the overbearing formality of classical music doesn’t suit the Irish dancers soul. A group routine, like a demented family photo, sees the call of the wild and the constraints of the will do battle in one of many stunning strokes of genius by creator Michael Keegan-Dolan. As is the breaking free of the choreographic restraints imposed from without. Resolving into a sort of homecoming of the heart, wherein everyone, eventually, receives the restorative kiss of life, dancers begin moving forward into an organic collaborative convergence. As does the lone concertina player and the musicians, crafting tunes fuelled by classical, dissonance, funk, and Horslips, colliding with a wonderful vivaciousness. The final image, in which the future conducts the past, seems to summon the winds of change howling back through the mountain pass, bringing with it a forgetting dark, and the memory of something magical to take back with you.
Created by Keegan-Dolan, in collaboration with the company, "MÁM" overflows with depth and soul for daring to dance with the fairies. Seeing and seeking beyond the obvious, it choreographically allows for a punk-like expressiveness of unique signatures to cohere into something collaboratively wondrous. Sabine Dargent’s spartan set, and Adam Silverman’s lights, ensure “MÁM" never distracts its focus from the body. Helen Atkinson sound design strings all the dissonant and harmonious moments into a strange accord, with a superb s t a r g a z e duelling, then cohering, with Cormac Begley’s superlative concertina playing. Igniting some well known classics and breaching a gap into the future with startling original compositions, Begley and s t a r g a z e ensure music is never dance's poor relation. Throughout, a cacophony of dancers and music, pure in their unvarnished vitality, conspire into a performance brimming with a dark, delightful magic to illuminate the way home.
There have been many resurrections in Irish music and dance over the decades. Yet "MÁM" might prove to be something of an ascension. A heavenly, glorious, wildly whirling dervish, “MÁM" is not to be missed under any circumstance.
“MÁM” by Teaċ Daṁsa, runs as part of Dublin Theatre Festival 2019 at O’Reilly Theatre until October 5.