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Reviews/Dance/Perth Festival

A human experience

13 March 2020

Daring and playful, Teac Damsa’s MÁM provides more than enjoyment, discovers young writer Alice Fittock.

Review: Teac Damsa, MÁM ·
Heath Ledger Theatre, State Theatre Centre of WA, 26 February 2020 ·
Special guest review by WAAPA 2019 graduate by Alice Fittock * ·

An expectant audience files into the Heath Ledger Theatre, awaiting the much anticipated return of Irish dance theatre company Teac Damsa to the Perth Festival stage, with Michael Keegan-Dolan’s MÁM. Artistic director of Teac Damsa, Keegan-Dolan is deeply rooted in the land of his birth-place, West Kerry in Ireland. In MÁM he explores notions of energy, tradition and personality, and how these meet and merge in ways that can determine our experiences and our relationships.

Patrons are met with an unsettling sight; a slowly raising curtain reveals a body lying across a table, watched quietly by a concertina player (Cormac Begley) whose head is hidden by a ram’s head mask. A slow, swirling haze is suspended in the air above, and Begley pauses occasionally to flex his hands. It is a child (Ellie Poirier-Dolan) who sits up from the table and proceeds to open and eat a packet of chips. Up until this point the concertina has been playing silently, though now it emits a slow, spine-tingling creak. The back curtain tips and falls to reveal a line of 12 dancers. With clicks, stamps and other forms of body percussion, the dancers assert a kind of command over the child.

What follows is a sensuous feast, a merging of dynamic, sinuous movement with traditional folk style dancing that creates a joyous and magnetic energy on stage. The dancers move in spirals, extending limbs with longing as they weave in and out of one another. Much of Keegan-Dolan’s previous work has been grounded in narrative, but MÁM explores a far more ambiguous method of storytelling. As a second curtain tips and falls, light is shed upon an ensemble of musicians (Berlin-based orchestral ensemble s t a r g a z e). The end of each piece of music sees the dancers reset, only to be flung straight back into movement as a new song begins; creating an ever-evolving experience in the way the dancers engage with sound, space and each other.

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Relationships between the performers continue to develop throughout the work, displayed in a playful duet which tests trust between the pair and the group in a series of falls and catches. An accumulation of chip packets finds the humour and relatability in sharing, and wanting to be shared with. This idea is extended in a wild kissing scene lead by James Southward; the solo that follows expresses his euphoria through surrender and release, in upward gestures.

MÁM could simply be seen as a fierce enjoyment of music and movement, a daring and playful work that is full of life. These dances of utmost joy and release are intoxicating to watch on this level, but look a little deeper and you will find a story of cultural meeting points and human connection, that I’m sure will keep Perth talking until Teac Damsa returns.

MÁM played Perth Festival 2020, 26-29 February.

Pictured top are Teac Damsa dancers in MÁM. Photo: Ross Kavanagh.

* Alice Fittock is a 2019 graduate of the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA) and the winner of the WAAPA Dance Prize for the most outstanding written review of a dance performance, 2019. This is a special award for the WAAPA dance student who made the most outstanding contribution to the field of dance criticism throughout their studies at WAAPA. The award, made possible by Seesaw Magazine and Perth Festival, allows the award winner to review a 2020 Perth Festival dance work, and have that review published in Seesaw Magazine.

Read Seesaw editor Nina Levy’s review of MÁM here.

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