MÁM Review: It’s not a funeral, it’s a celebration of life

After a triumph with Swan Lake/Loch na hEala, Michael Keegan-Dolan and Teaċ Daṁsa return with a new modern myth

The star performer, Ellie Poirier-Dolan, deserves congratulation for her masterful opening of a Tayto packet at the beginning of the show. Using the air in the bag, she skillfully opens it with a resounding ‘pop’. A difficult task — especially while performing to a crowded theatre  — superbly executed, with no spillage. The next challenge, which the whole production faces this time, is even more difficult: having to follow an incredibly hard act. 

Swan Lake/Loch na hEala (2016) was the debut piece of choreographer Michael Keegan-Dolan’s new contemporary dance company Teaċ Daṁsa. This breathtaking spectacle is still touring to international acclaim, and was recently voted the second-best dance production of the 21st century so far by The Guardian.

“Keegan-Dolan’s new venture is MÁM, which in Irish means ‘mountain pass’, ‘obligation’, or ‘handful’.”

Keegan-Dolan’s new venture is MÁM, which in Irish means “mountain pass”, “obligation”, or “handful”. These are all words which help establish the piece in the same genre of modern rural Irish mysticism as Swan Lake. As they enter the theatre, the audience are met by Poirier-Dolan as she lies motionless on a kitchen table wearing a communion dress. Behind her, on a platform, sits the renowned Irish traditional concertina player Cormac Begley, wearing the head of a ram as he plays. 

The ram in certain belief systems symbolises rulership and judgement — is the young girl lying in repose on a wake table before some sort of deity? You might not think this is the case when she wakes up and opens the table drawer to fetch her crisps. But then moments later, when the curtain behind Begley flies back and falls to reveal twelve dancers, all seated, dressed in black funeral garb, wearing bags on their heads — so begins the party.

The type of traditional Irish celebration that this is, such as a First Holy Communion, a wedding, or a funeral, is unclear. Recognisable features on display are Club Orange to wash down the Tayto, sorrow, fighting, hysterical laughter, smoking, undesired hands on knees, posing for a group photograph, and shifting galore. But of course, the main familiar attributes are music and dancing. A short while after the dancers take over the stage, a second curtain suddenly disappears to unveil the esteemed European classical and contemporary music collective s t a r g a z e, who complement Begley’s atmospheric sounds with their lively tempo. 

“…they mingle together life’s polarities into something strange, shadowed and joyous.”

Together with the dancers, they mingle together life’s polarities into something strange, shadowed and joyous. Strong, stirring and often hilarious performances are presented by all dancers, with particularly virtuosic movement from Rachel Poirier and James Southward. 2015 BBC Young Dancer Competition winner Connor Scott, with his notably vibrant stage presence, is a welcome new addition to the company. 

Unlike Swan Lake, this is a production with minimal verbal narrative. But that does not hinder the delivery of the pathos, the glee, and the beauty. Each concertina heave, Tayto crunch, and dancer’s sweep are reminders to be thankful for Teaċ Daṁsa and the art that they make.

MÁM by Teaċ Daṁsa plays at the O’Reilly Theatre, Belvedere College until 5 October as part of Dublin Theatre Festival.