REVIEW: Loch na hEala (Swan Lake)

Michael Keegan-Dolan’s Loch na hEala opens with the spectacle of a nearly-nude man roped to a cinder block at the stage’s center. The man bleats like goat as he circles his anchorage. From this moment, the audience finds itself gripped with a foreboding curiosity as we are introduced to a small ensemble who guides us through a layered and winding three-pronged retelling of Swan Lake.

Included in the bulletin is a piece written by Keegan-Dolan himself as he reflects on the nature of change, “No matter how unwelcome, [change] is an inevitable part of life: nature’s forces are constantly moving, seeking balance so that life can continue to endlessly unfold.” The spirit of this excerpt was something I observed to be an underlying current in this narrative of moving parts; ultimately, a commentary on the sickness of depression that brings imbalance to life.

The formlessness of this performance keeps one on the edge of their seat, for the troupe distracts and enchants through technical proficiency and the dissonance of chaos that rings consistently. We are told that the darkness in any story is there to teach us something, and that lesson from Swan Lake is that the inability to will change and a failure to know one’s deeper hungers can ultimately lead to the corruption of your spirit. The dark tone of this show left a poor taste in my mouth, but I still felt uplifted by the music and choreography that could be found amidst a show that ultimately seems to appeal to more depraved inclinations.

The choreographed numbers weaved throughout this piece proved to be crafted and technically stunning. I found myself drawn in by these sweeping movements up against a backdrop of potential demise held at bay. Another great highlight was the musical score provided by Slow Moving Clouds, a Dublin-based folk band that combines Nordic and Irish traditional music with minimalist and experimental influences. Often their music was a prominent influence of a scene yet remained well-hidden, otherwise providing tension or joviality to a dynamic.

The evening ended in a standing ovation, and as I rose to join them mid-clap, I paused and asked myself, exactly what are we celebrating here tonight? While Teaċ Daṁsa pours itself out to express the reality of depression and a life’s potential for tragedy, is praising a work that frames dread as the true reality something that deserves to be called beautiful? While it is true that stories that focus simply on the light often do not fully express what it means to be human, it is not enough to celebrate the darkness without conceding that light does outshine it. A praise-worthy work of art should be something that not only acknowledges darkness and pain, but shows us its true value, to point us to the light.

It was a privilege to attend Teaċ Daṁsa’s crafted work, for few performances have truly invited me to enter into such deep reflection of art and form such as Loch na hEala, an experience that I will not soon forget.

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