Sadler’s Wells Theatre
Reviewed – 5th February 2020
“a piece that carries a buoyant energy”
The curtain goes up to reveal a young girl in a white dress and a man wearing the mask of a bull playing the accordion. It’s an ominous picture – one that hints at an extensive genre back catalogue of folk horror and pagan-inspired historical stories. But that is not what MÁM is. When the audience has taken their seats and the lights have dropped, the bull mask is removed and the girl takes out a packet of Tayto crisps and munches on them lavishly. This – folk that are rooted in real and everyday people and experiences – is the true heart of Michael Keegan-Dolan’s wild and whirling dance show.
Along with his company Teaċ Daṁsa, Keegan-Dolan has created a piece that carries a buoyant energy. The dancers soar and fall as one breath. Their spirit is infectious, and indeed it is through the medium of infection that the performers often interact with each, causing one another to fall, laugh, or swoon with a beautiful interconnectedness. From moving fluid solos to high-tempo group stomping and twirling, the choreography showcases a range of the performers’ talents, but also allows pockets of stillness for the audience to take in the music.
The music is another thematic success and draws on multiple inspirations. Concertina player Cormac Begley begins the show on his own with some initial lilting melodies, but he is soon joined by Berlin-based collection s t a r g a z e who add more depth and liveliness. Amidst the many refrains they perform are some recognisable folk songs, but they also use their instruments at some points to create more abrupt and stuttering sounds – emblematic of harsh lives and rugged landscapes. The music is best overall when quick and lively, where the dancers form smooth lines and embody a wonderful leaping vitality.
Black and white is the palette of choice for the costumes (Hyemi Shin), but it is not a harsh black, more a faded workaday black that works to make the simple suits and dresses timeless yet also reminiscent of a stripped-back, more rustic era. The lighting (Adam Silverman) largely bathes the scenes in warmth to bring this out, but dips and dims to match when the mood changes.
Inspired by the history and landscapes of Corca Dhuibhne in Ireland, MÁM enacts a vivid retelling of universal themes – war, romance, sickness, and friendship. Although there are some serious mournful sequences, there are also several moments likely to tug up the corners of your mouth (and let me additionally hint that the opening is not the only appearance of Tayto crisps). The set (Sabine Dargent) works cleverly to peel away layers throughout the show, until all is exposed at the end. And the way the movements of the dancers and the band intertwine towards the end mirrors this. As the work progresses, shoes, ties, and jackets are all abandoned to leave the dancers barefoot and free to show what the work wants to enact – a raw, deep-rooted exploration of the emotive history of a place.
Reviewed by Vicky Richards
Photography by Ros Kavanagh
Sadler’s Wells Theatre until 7th February
Previously reviewed at this venue: