St James Theatre 2, Wellington

14/03/2018 - 17/03/2018

New Zealand Festival of the Arts 2018

Production Details

“It is utterly original, it is utterly brilliant” – Irish Independent 

“A show of terrible beauty and extraordinary craft” (The Guardian), this is not Swan Lake as you know it. 

Rooted in the midlands of Ireland, ancient mythology and the ills of the modern world collide in this extraordinary adaptation of the beloved classic.

Combining soaring dancing and boundary-busting theatre, song and live music, acclaimed director Michael Keegan-Dolan swaps Tchaikovsky’s original score for Irish folk music with a Nordic noir twist.

Stunning and hard-hitting, yes. Yet good things arise out of the bad, as this extraordinary, magical performance transports you along an imagined dark path towards the light and resounding redemption.

★★★★★ The Guardian
★★★★★ Financial Times (UK)
★★★★★ Evening Standard (UK) 

“Keegan-Dolan deploys the traditional myth to clever and devastating effect,” writes former ballet dancer Charlotte Graham in ARTicle.

“I feel like one of my jobs through being a storyteller is to share … that we’re all kind of dealing with the same stuff and it’s okay, that someone will walk out of the theatre and go ‘it’s okay!’” Michael Keegan-Dolan in The Neighbourhood Paper.

St James Theatre 
Wednesday 14 Mar – Saturday 17 Mar
Post-show Artist Talk: Thu 15 March, St James Theatre auditorium
$39.00 – $99.00
Contains strong language and sexual themes

The Holy Man   Mikel Murfi
Finola   Rachel Poirier
Jimmy O’Reilly   Alex Leonhartsberger
Nancy O’Reilly  Elizabeth Cameron Dalman
Finola’s Sister / Swan   Anna Kaszuba
Finola’s Sister / Swan   Carys Staton
Finola’s Sister / Swan   Molly Walker
The First Watcher / Lyudmilla  Saku Koistinen
The Second Watcher / Winnie  Keir Patrick
The Third Watcher / Margaret    Erik Nevin
Musician (nyckelharpa)   Aki
Musician (cello)   Mary Barnecutt
Musician (fiddle)   Danny Diamond

Writer, Director & Choreographer   Michael Keegan-Dolan
Set Design   Sabine Dargent
Costume Design   Hyemi Shin
Lighting Design   Adam Silverman
Music   Slow Moving Clouds

Producer   Johnny O’Reilly
Production Manager   Michael Lonergan
Company Administrator   Catherine Finn
Company Stage Manager   Marina Kilby
Deputy Stage Manager   Sinead Cormack
Costume Supervisor   Amanda Donovan
Sound Manager   Sandra O’Mahony
Lighting Manager   Stephen Dodd
Production Assistant   Eimear Reilly  

Dance-theatre , Music , Dance ,

1 hr 15 mins (no interval)

The apolitical made political - dance theatre with a social bite

Review by Chris Jannides 15th Mar 2018

What a crowd pleaser this performance is! Stamping and whistling at the end! It’s a hit! Helped considerably by a maelstrom of white feathers and a danced finale to a highly seductive and rhythmically potent piece of music. Feathers billow, swirl, rain, explode all over the stage and are blown out into the auditorium! It is a Christmas rampage of feathered snow! And like Christmas, the audience is made very merry and joyous by this theatrically powerful NZ Festival offering!

The stars in this performance, for me, have Alex Leonhartsberger at the top of the list, but I wish he danced more. Mikel Murfi as the narrator of many characters and voices impresses for his sheer virtuosity and range as an actor and storyteller. Rachel Poirier as Finola stands out superbly when she’s the demented and distressed black swan. Elizabeth Dalman’s laughter during the birthday party is eerily affecting; hers is a visually enticing presence throughout. The music does its job beautifully and masterfully, as do the rest of the male and female cast of dancers in their supporting roles as ‘corps’.

Choreographer Michael Keegan-Dolan with this production is adding his stamp to the Swan Lake legacy. Like practically every other major contemporary dance-maker, he is tackling one of the most timeless of ballet classics. Modernised and set somewhere in Ireland, he updates and retells the original story. The linking of Catholic priests and sexual predation is a theme. As too is that of lonely, mentally unstable white men with guns. This is topical given the recent school shooting in America (along with all the others preceding it).

Except for its finale, Keegan’s work is dark and oppressive. Episodic in structure, it alternates spoken narration with danced interludes. There is a contemporising of gender play with male dancers used as female suitors to the protagonist. The staging aesthetic and design are in the style of poor theatre. Big sheets of black or clear plastic are used to create a lake or to capture a memory. Tall aluminium ladders are there to climb or suspend large feathered wings. Props, tables, trunks, a wheelchair, concrete blocks and other paraphernalia are exposed around the stage. Three musicians with various stringed instruments sit in front of microphone stands on a raised area behind the action. The overall effect is hard-hitting with lots of grit, dinginess and grunge. This is the not-pretty version of Swan Lake.

Keegan, in his programme notes, speaks much about depression and advises, ‘Don’t be afraid of the dark – it is your friend.’ The dark in this performance is portrayed in numerous ways and extremes. The lust-driven priest is an obvious source and manifestation of darkness. As too are the expressions onstage of isolation, loneliness, ostracism and withdrawal. The damaged state of sexually abused vulnerable young women is portrayed clearly by both the acting and costume of Finola in her guise as the black swan. The ‘friendly’ nature of darkness to which Keegan alludes takes form and is sentimentalised somewhat in the tender duet between the traumatised Finola and the central male character, Jimmy O’Reilly. Of course, true to the original synopsis, tragedy triumphs. The black plastic lake swallows Finola and then deposits her corpse at Jimmy’s feet, exposing him as her possible killer and to the inevitable hail of police bullets that he invites. A grim friend this darkness!

The images, logic, modernising, referencing and layers of meaning that can be read into this production make it complex. The original Swan Lake is a parable about the blurred lines between good and evil. It aims at symbolism and was created at the same time as the birth of psychology in the hands of Freud, with his controversial theories about the repressed sexualised nature of parent-child relationships. Keegan’s updated rendition of this ballet treads similar territory. Finola as the black swan to which Jimmy is drawn is a lookalike for his mother. The otherworldly fairy tale nature of the original is also grounded and expanded into the ‘everyday’ with references to religion, community, cultural specificity and societal impoverishment. This also involves an inversion, loftiness is made low, the Prince is now an isolated man in working-class Ireland. There are slippages in his psyche between his internal and exterior worlds. The work suggests a weakening of his grasp on reality: is the lake real or an interior place to which he retreats?

The apolitical of the original is, by all of this, made political. The goal here is dance theatre with a social bite. We come away with thoughts. We come away sober, buoyed only by the joyous abundance of a feather storm finale involving a beautifully crafted group dance for the entire ensemble, made possible from god knows how many slaughtered bird carcasses. 


Tania Kopytko March 15th, 2018

I am looking forward to seeing this on friday.. but previous reviews suggest a more irish rooted story https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2016/nov/28/swan-lakeloch-na-heala-five-star-review-sadlers-wells

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