Michael Keegan-Dolan's adaptation of Tchaikovsky's ballet is a stirring allegory of the Irish Midlands. Photo: Colm Hogan
O'Reilly Theatre, Dublin Theatre Festival
Separating real from imaginary isn’t always easy. There are less obvious distinctions in Tchaikovsky’s ballet than that between princess Odette and her cursed persona: a white-feathered swan. However, the black swan, a witch in disguise, is well capable of impersonation and misleading Odette’s saviour. It takes particular genius by choreographer Michael Keegan-Dolan to realise that both swans, in contemporary Ireland, could be two sides of one human. In this decade of reports and enquiries, it’s no longer possible to ignore people who have survived abuses but transformed entirely.
Keegan-Dolan’s adaptation is a stirring allegory of the Irish Midlands, where hack leaders run riot (a dark and absurd Mikel Murfi) while isolation goes unaddressed (Alex Leonhartsberger cuts a forlorn figure, hunched over a shotgun). Yet, there is a poignant feeling that transformation is possible, that the coarse materials of Sabine Dargent’s set can become elegant, that the slow tableau of dancers can give way to uniformed and celebrated turns, and that musicians can trade classical airs for a more colloquial rush of traditional Irish music.
It’s a terrible curse that a sorcerer places on a princess, or, in this case, a priest on an abuse victim threatened with a fate as a hideous animal if they don’t hold their tongue. But Keegan-Dolan puts as much energy in exposing Ireland’s painful histories as helping us to move forward. Judging from the beauty of its feathered finale, it may well be invested in helping us heal.
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