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Reviews/Dance/Perth Festival/Theatre

A joyous collision

27 February 2020

Teac Damsa is back for another Perth Festival, and its new show, MÁM, takes Nina Levy on a wild and crazy ride.

Review: Teac Damsa, MÁM ·
Heath Ledger Theatre, 26 February 2020 ·
Review by Nina Levy ·

It’s unusual to see an international company invited back to Perth Festival, particularly in consecutive years, but watching Teac Damsa’s MÁM, I can see why festival director Iain Grandage couldn’t resist.

In fact, this is the third time the work of Irish dance theatre director Michael Keegan-Dolan has been presented at a Perth Festival. Last year we saw Swan Lake/Loch na hEala, and a decade earlier, Giselle. Both are dark and disturbing, gritty re-writings of Gothic narratives in contemporary settings.

But MÁM takes us on a very different and more abstract journey, one that sits in harmony with Grandage’s focus on works that bring together Aboriginal language and culture, and Western artistic practices.

For starters, the title word has many meanings – “mountain pass” perhaps the most pertinent here – from the language of Corca Dhuinhne, in West Kerry, Ireland, where the work was created. At the centre of MÁM, too, is a collision between the area’s folk music traditions and those of more formal classical music.

Driven by the folkloric strains of the concertina, played live and centre stage by West Kerry concertina player Cormac Begley, the first half of MÁM is wild and celebratory, but underpinned by something dark and mysterious.

To begin, there’s a child of maybe eight years (Ellie Poirier-Dolan), who is watched by Begley, wearing a satanic-looking ram’s head mask. She has a bag of chips (a recurring theme), which lightens the mood, but then a curtain falls to reveal a line of 12 dancers, who launch into a series of rhythmic stamps, claps, clicks and chants, as though casting a spell on the silent child.

A mass of seething, writhing bodies’. Photo: Ross Kavanagh

It’s when they break out of that percussion that my heart leaps in delighted recognition. There is something about Michael Keegan-Dolan’s movement style, the way he marries the fluid expansiveness of contemporary dance with the vigour of folk dance, that is joyous to witness.

Perth born and trained James O’Hara delights with sweeping and swirling solos. A quartet of women dance in spirals of elbows, arms, torsos. It’s not all light-hearted: dancers fall and are not saved, they divide in two and rush at each other with aggressive war cries. The mood shifts again, as Rachel Poirier leads a laughing revolution, urged on by Begley’s tossing and tumbling notes.

Then a second curtain falls to reveal the Berlin-based orchestral ensemble, s t a r g a z e. As a violinist (Maya Kadish) plays a Telemann sonata, the backdrop is a luminous, luxurious blue, the mood icy and formal. The dancers and Begley are motionless, as though stunned.

As at the start, however, this chilling scene is superseded, this time by scenes of surreal exaggeration.

In contrast to the Telemann solo, the music of s t a r g a z e (co-credited in the program to Begley) is often discordant, a melange of keyboard/organ, double bass, flute, violin, oboe, electric guitar, French horn and drums. Into this blend jumps Begley with his concertina and together they go on a crazed ride.

In a mesmerising moment that, coincidentally, recalls Colossus, the dancers are arranged in rows like a class photo that slowly but surely becomes a mass of writhing, seething bodies that pulse on s t a r g a z e’s percussive command. Often the absurdity tips into comedy. Communal chip eating is a surprising touch, while James Southward’s kissing extravaganza is a comical highlight.

But it’s the final scene that steals the show, first with plaintive, poignant stillness and then with a storm that leaves the audience breathless.

MÁM is a bravura work performed by 21 exemplary artists. Like Colossus, it has sold out. If you haven’t secured a ticket, my condolences.

MÁM runs until 29 February 2020.

Pictured top: Aki Iwamoto and James O’Hara, in Teac Damsa’s ‘MÁM’. Photo: Ross Kavanagh

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Author —
Nina Levy

Nina Levy has worked as an arts writer and critic since 2007. She co-founded Seesaw and has been co-editing the platform since it went live in August 2017. As a freelancer she has written extensively for The West Australian and Dance Australia magazine, co-editing the latter from 2016 to 2019. Nina loves the swings because they take her closer to the sky.

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