Swan Lake/Loch na hEala, Sadler’s Wells, London
“ ‘Dazzling’ Michael Keegan-Dolan’s ballet is a stunning exercise in theatrical sleight of hand”
Clement Crisp, The Financial Times, November 28, 2016
Now here’s an astonishment, a heart-stirrer. The Irish choreographer Michael Keegan-Dolan has shown us amazing theatrical things in the past — his The Rite of Spring an unabashed masterpiece; such stagings as The Bull and his deconstructed Giselle of marvellous verve and insights into Irish life. Now he has taken on ballet’s most popular text. Yes: Swan Lake. Abused in theme, choreographically maltreated and mindlessly danced by ballet troupes worldwide, it is here turned inside out, given a new score, new text, new dramatic implications, new urgency, new life, in a ferocious, heart-rending and beautiful recension.
A bare stage with ladders and a vast swan’s wing hoisted above; three musicians; lurking accessories; a woman in a wheelchair; a man in middle-life, roped to a heavy block, gabbling in despair; another — isolated — man. Three men and four young women emerge, as — so subtly, so deviously — does an eventual narrative which old Swan Lake hands will recognise as a skeletal relic of the ballet’s themes. Keegan-Dolan introduces his own concerns: about Irish country life, about a priest’s infatuation with and abuse of a girl (the Odette/von Rothbart theme in the ballet), about political manipulation of situations, and then contrives to give us a manic display of vile social manners, which is the ballet’s third-act ball. And poor hero-victim Jimmy — inert with depression, frustration, and armed with a shotgun (the ballet’s hapless Prince Siegfried and his crossbow) — must ever suffer. There is much more to echo in our understanding of Dolan’s skeletal text, his hallucinatory staging, his reverberant and dazzling dramatic effects. This is a stunning exercise in theatrical sleight of hand, in deconstruction as creation, and it is superbly made and superbly performed with, at its centre, Mikel Murfi as a dazzlingly cussed von Rothbart figure. In everything, the splendid musicians and actor-dancers command our admiration. The final theatrical trick — and this is a staging where austerity is the cleverest trick of all — is a tremendous storm of white feathers thrown by the cast. A snowfall, and the last surrender of the old ballet’s identity.