On Thursday evening, moments before the curtain rose on the opening of “Rian,” a work by the Irish company Fabulous Beast Dance Theater, Michael Keegan-Dolan stepped onstage at the Gerald W. Lynch Theater to tell a story. He is the show’s director and choreographer; the tale, as he pointed out, was a sad one. Two months ago a ship with the sets, costumes and props for “Rian” left Sweden for New York City. Alas, there was a storm; the ship was diverted to Philadelphia, where it remains.
For the engaging Mr. Keegan-Dolan, the predicament made him reflect on a word that performers used in the creation of “Rian”: confidence. “That self-assured sensation that rises from within, based on the ability to be flexible and adaptable,” he said. In a spirit of confidence, he introduced “the version of ‘Rian’ that will be seen nowhere else in the world.”
It was a lighthearted moment in an otherwise confusing, ponderous evening, which was full of false endings and choreography that was both frustratingly repetitive and limited in scope. In the end it wasn’t the dancing, but the evening’s assortment of traditional Irish music, led by the charismatic Liam O MaonlaI, that gave “Rian,” part of the White Light Festival, its spine.
In “Rian,” which means “to trace” or “to etch,” a steady stream of songs, both lilting and sedate, gives the work a mystical, spiritual edge. The musicians, seated on a platform at the back of the stage, also mix with the dancers, which creates an intimacy; likewise, the dancers, wearing sweat pants and T-shirts, possess an innocence that costumes might have erased.
Yet this fusion of traditional music and contemporary dance has a stale feel, mainly because of its swirling movement, which loops over and over again, but never transports. As the dancers shift from side to side, they reach their arms in opposition to lunging legs and either remain fixed in one spot — bouncing in place — or weaving among one another.
Within the choreography, which is most likely more invigorating to perform than to watch, there is a palpable sense of counterbalance, but not much in the way of dynamics, even when the dancers burst into the air in quick, two-footed jumps, as their hands open up like star bursts. The structure is also on a loop: often, one dancer starts a phrase, and others join in, until unison is established. Despite their carefree, relaxed attitude, the dancers don’t get inside the music, but replicate its sound.
Throughout “Rian,” the leader of the pack is Mr. O Maonlai, a founder of the band Hothouse Flowers, who performs a number of instruments and also sings. The dancing never catches up to his stirring voice, and after a while the movement differs little from the warm-up exercises in a modern-dance class. The feet plant into the floor. The body twists. The joints remain fluid. And all the confidence in the world can’t substitute for choreographic craft.
GIA KOURLAS, The New York Times