Mám – Michael Keegan-Dolan: Sadler’s Wells, 5 February 2020

Feeling sheepish

Ramming it home. Michael Keegan-Dolan’s Mám.

Michael Keegan-Dolan and his company Teaċ Daṁsa (House of Dance) shot to fame with their debut production – Loch na hEala, a fresh take on Swan Lake. Mám is their follow-up and although it got a pretty universal standing ovation on its London premiere at Sadler’s Wells, it bored me silly.

It promised much. When you walk into the auditorium you’re presented with the intriguing sight of a young girl in a white dress being lulled to serenity by a ram playing a concertina. It’s a fabulous image and when a curtain is pulled away to reveal twelve people sitting on wooden chairs wearing paper-bag masks, it looks like it’s going to be a hell of a night.

Mám has a dark Irish flavour (deliberately so) and the ambiguity of the setting (is the girl celebrating her First Communion, her Confirmation, or maybe she’s at a wake?) initially lends a fascinating poignancy to her actions, lost as she looks in a world of strangely behaving adults. But that’s as far as things get. The adults continue behaving strangely and the girl sits down and observes it all. For an hour and a half.

The problem for me is that the choreography doesn’t progress. In itself, it’s enjoyable to look at and has an easy swing that shines particularly brightly in the synchronised ensemble work Keegan-Dolan does so well. But the skipping feet and cheeky little arm shakes go on and on, broken up occasionally by short comedy skits, but they remain as intact and unchanged with ten minutes to go as they were five minutes in. Say something once, why say it again?

Cormac Begley and stargaze’s music was terrific – Begley was magnificent on the concertina – and the small band conjured up a dazzling array of sounds that didn’t deserve the maniacal laughing and screaming that sometimes interrupted it. The dancers showed tremendous stamina and had a satisfying lightness of movement that never left them, but Mám didn’t touch me at all.

Mám runs at Sadler’s Wells until 7 February 2020. Check out their website for tickets.

Gerard Davis

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