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Dance Review: TEAĊ DAṀSA’s Swan Lake/Loch na hEala at the National Arts Centre

By Madeline Paiva on November 2, 2019

Under the direction of Michael Keegan-Dolan, TEAĊ DAṀSA is a company that hails from Ireland. Their highly anticipated, and sold out, show Swan Lake/Loch na hEala, played at the National Arts Centre on October 30th.

This show is a beautiful, and often chilling, refiguring of Swan Lake, set in modern Ireland. With no intermission and no breaks to change the set, the audience is forced to steep in the performance for the entire duration of the show. The set design, while seemingly simple, is an intricate array of moving chairs and tables, a small platform stage in the back for their three live musicians, and four ladders with hanging white wings.

This show is a beautiful, and often chilling, refiguring of Swan Lake, set in modern Ireland.

Before the show even begins, the audience sees a man, in only his underwear on stage, tethered with a rope noose to a cinderblock in the centre, pacing. People are still finding their seats, talking amongst themselves, only to be interrupted by this man on stage bleating like a sheep. While we steep in this visual and sound, the NAC message plays instructing the audience to turn off their cellphones and reminding us that photography is not permitted during the show—the man continues to bleat during the announcement, and the audience erupts into laughter.

The multiple storylines of the show are heightened by our narrator, Mikel Murfi—the once bleating sheep-man,—and his phenomenal talents in voice acting. He seamlessly takes the audience through the story as a bleating sheep, a blabbering and simple police sheriff, a rugged and assaulting man of God, and a radio—voicing both the host and each channel and snippet of song.

The story is that of Jimmy O’Reilly, a man in a deep depression after the death of his father. Danced by Alexander Leonhartsberger, Jimmy is a tortured man who attempts suicide twice with his father’s shotgun, a gift from his mother on his 32nd birthday, and is later killed in a police shootout outside his house. Lenohartsberger brings so much depth and physicality to the character, often depicting emotions with just three cinderblocks. He sleeps atop 2 of them, changing positions often, and stands atop them stacked with unbelievable balance.

Lenohartsberger brings so much depth and physicality to the character.

The birthday party is full of the visuals and sounds of nightmares. What seems to start off as a lighthearted celebration in an attempt to lift its main character Jimmy out of his deep depressive episode with all of the town’s eligible bachelorettes, quickly turns into a horror scene. The on-stage messy beer drinking, with beer-soaked dresses, the chilling laughter of Jimmy’s mother over-applying her dark lipstick, and the screaming of the women at the party, is enough to send someone into sensory overload.

While the man bleating like a sheep, who later becomes our narrator and most importantly the man of God, doesn’t seem to make much sense at the beginning, I have one running theory about it. The sheep-man is a visual depiction of animalistic intentions. While the man of God claims to be holy, his unhealthy obsession with Fionnuala leads to his assault of her and the disappearance of her and her three sisters. The four become the white swans we see throughout the performance, who interact with Jimmy in meaningful and beautiful ways after his suicide attempts. The man of God himself says that “nature is stronger than will” and later “I died inside when I was 51 and all I could think about was Fionnuala.”

The show ends with feathers—a lot of them.

The show ends with feathers—a lot of them. The audience is full of feathers, being thrown and blown around with tarps by the expressive and joyful company. This impeccably well done and profound show explores the psychological and physical repercussions of death, loss, and darkness. The show is immersive and obscure, combining beautiful dancing, with chilling scenes of thrashing during assault, and wonderful theatrical elements to produce a show of dreams and nightmares. The show is often distressing, and had me at moments with chills or goosebumps. I will never forget the screams of Fionnuala, as she struggles to prevent her assault by the Holy Man and is dragged off stage. It’s no wonder a show like this was sold out so far in advance!