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.
Pure Dance is a curated evening of seven pieces, designed to showcase Natalia Osipova’s talent and versatility. Osipova came from the Bolshoi to be a principal dancer with the Royal Ballet, and in this evening’s programme, she was paired with three male dancers, Jonathan Goddard, David Hallberg and Jason Kittelberger.
The first piece was the delicate and delightful ‘The Leaves are Fading,’ from a ballet by Antony Tudor. Osipova and Hallberg wove a lovely pas de deux, full of a gentle longing like leaves swirling in an autumn breeze. The technical artistry of the two dancers and the lyricism of their movements was mesmerising.
Next came ‘Left Behind,’ a powerful contemporary piece, passionate and full of feeling. Osipova danced with Kittleberger, her real life partner, who was also the choreographer. The connection between them was electric. This story of a couple in the final stages of a tempestuous relationship showcased Kittleberger’s amazing fluidity, at times he seemed to be sliding through a liquid slow motion breakdance, where every gesture was full of feeling. Osipova was transformed from the graceful ballerina into a very real, connected and bold contemporary dancer. She has been criticised in the past for a lack of emotional connection with her partners in contemporary pieces, but in the seven minutes of this dance she proved herself, completely inhabiting the character and drama of the dance. The audience roared it’s approval. It was one of the stand out performances of the evening.
In ‘Flutter,’ by Ivan Perez, Osipova was partnered by Jonathan Goddard. This piece was a little uneven. The first half, with music composed by Nico Muhly, was true to the title, the two dancers fluttering and skipping into and out of the light to a chorus of women’s voices. There was a lovely touch of 1967 San Fransisco in the childlike playfulness. But Osipova had lost the emotional connection she’d found so deeply in the previous piece.
The other standout piece of the evening was ‘In Absentia,’ a solo danced by the astonishing David Hallberg. The only light came from a low source, disguised as a television, throwing a huge shadow of the dancer on the back wall. Hallberg gave us a masterclass in how to dance with emotional power and commitment. It was wonderful.
The first piece in the first second half was ‘Six Years Later,’ a rather loo long exploration of a couple’s relationship after a six year absence. Kittelberger was back, and there were moments of true connection and feeling between him and Osipova, and some clever choreography by Roy Assaf.
Ave Maria was Osipova’s solo, choreographed for her by Yuka Oishi. It was rather lovely.
The final piece was Valse Triste, and it paired Osipova and Hallberg in a graceful, lyrical pas de deux, the perfection of their technique and interpretation displayed in classical style as in ‘The Leaves are Falling’. Two dancers at the top of their profession, leaving the audience with a charming end to the evening.