Cork Midsummer Festival
Irish Examiner, 23rd October 2012


Fabulous Beast’s Rian is a collaboration between choreographer Michael Keegan-Dolan and musician Liam Ó Maonlaí. The show is inspired by Ó Maonlaí’s 2005 album Rian (the Irish for imprint or trace), which was an homage to Sean Ó Riada’s legendary recording, Ó Riada sa Gaeity. Ó Riada would surely approve of this stage show, which re-imagines Irish music and dance as modern forms, living and breathing, and far from the stultification of ‘tradition’.

Rian opens with the musicians and dancers seated along the back of the stage, bathed in an eerie green light. Ó Maonlaí rises and walks the front of the stage, singing as Gaeilge. He plays a second tune on a harp, and then the other performers row in. Before long, multi-ethnic dancers are swirling about in their bare feet. Their movements are primal, pagan, and wildly energetic, and far from the stilted image of Irish dancing. The show unearths synergies between Irish trad and the blues of the southern states of America. What stands out is the sheer exuberance of  folk music: at several points, the audience breaks out in laughter

Ó Maonlaí is in his element, whether singing or performing on the piano, guitar or harp, but he also has the grace to let the other musicians, Cormac Begley, Maitiu Ó Casaide and Peter O’Toole and singer Eithne Ni Chathain, have their moments in the light.

The show seems to end with Ó Maonlaí raising his bodhran in the air to a standing ovation from the crowd. But, soon, the music and the dancing kick off again. This time, men and women leave their seats and stream on stage to participate.

One hates to trot out a hoary old cliché, but this may well be what Eamon de Valera had in mind when he spoke of  “the contest of athletic youths and the laughter of happy maidens”.

Perhaps not, but, you know, it was that kind of night.

Marc O'Sullivan, Irish Examiner ★★★★★