The word ‘mám’ has a number of meanings in the Irish language; the meaning that Keegan-Dolan adopted as the inspiration for this work is ‘mountain pass’, both an escape route and a place of danger, beset by violent winds.
Over the past couple of years the 12 Teaċ Daṁsa dancers, the concertina player Cormac Begley, seven musicians of the Berlin-based s t a r g a z e collective and Michael Keegan-Dolan immersed themselves in the powerful atmosphere of Ireland’s wildest countryside, beneath the dark slopes of its second highest mountain, Cnoc Bhréanainn.
There, in the far west of Ireland, they drank deeply from the powerful emanations of untamed nature and the ancestral culture to which it gave birth to create MÁM.
What they came up with is an abstract work heavy on atmosphere, full of powerful, if deliberately vague, suggestions, buzzing with energy, at times just about tamed into collective dancing, at others running wild.
All this is watched impassively by a little girl in a pure white confirmation dress, whose symbolism is open to interpretation. We first see her standing on a table, slowly turning to face a man who sits on a platform upstage and wears the dark, menacing head of mountain goat, not unlike some representations of the devil.
As Cormac Begley slowly removes his mask and starts playing his concertina – and what a remarkable musician he is – the dark curtain behind him is slowly drawn aside to reveal a line of 12 dancers dressed in black: the men in formal suits, the women in dresses.
They let out a collective cry that is like a wild release of pent-up energy. And then they come down off the platform to dance. To the contagious one-two beat of Irish folk music, their choreography subtly blends movements and gestures from Irish folk dancing with contemporary steps and nods to disco dancing, the arms prominent in tracing ritualistic patterns.
In the latter part of MÁM, another curtain is drawn aside to reveal the musicians of the s t a r g a z e collective aligned on a higher platform; and they join in with a medley of classical and seemingly improvised music.
There isn’t a narrative as such, more a sequence of little self-contained narratives that communicate themselves through suggestion, rather than sequential story-telling.
The whole thing is pervaded by disquieting intimations of apocalypse. At its best MÁM is exhilarating, grabbing you with its evocation of the deepest, most instinctual feelings. It does, however, occasionally sag, so that it doesn’t hold your attention for all its 85 minutes.
But when it does, oh, what a ride!
|What||MÁM, Michael Keegan-Dolan/Teac Damsa review|
|Where||Sadler's Wells, Rosebery Avenue, London, EC1R 4TN | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Angel (underground)|
05 Feb 20 – 07 Feb 20, 19:30 Dur.: 1 hour 25 mins no interval
|Price||£15-£50 (+ booking fee)|
|Website||Click here to book|