Cork Midsummer Festival
entertainment.ie, 25th June 2012


The one question on everybody's lips at the end of Fabulous Beast's Rian will be, "Where the f*ck's the after party?" A marriage of traditional music with contemporary dance, it's a rousing release of our national spirit, restrained by a Catholic tradition yet chomping ever at the bit to shake off the shackles of oppression through freewheeling, galling and almost pagan play. 

Inspired by Liam O Maonlai's 2005 album of the same name, which itself was inspired by Sean O Riada's seminal and posthumous concert release O'Riada Sa Gaiety, it's a session of sorts, constructed but never constricted. Unbound from a specific narrative, it chooses instead to speak sonically of our soul, So nine dancers and six musicians, lead by O'Maonlai, slip flightily between each others rhythms in a series of solos, duets and ensemble takes on sean nos and traditional music standards.

Irrefutably Irish, an ever-smiling facade masking the fury of subjugation all captured within Keegan-Dolan's emphatically inhibited choreography, his use of an international and multi cultural ensemble bucks off the twee and allows the audience to step back from ourselves. Yet paradoxically it allows us to tap into the very aquifer of our nationality, not what we project but whom we are inside. It does it through stunted, repetitive yet playful, cheeky and exhilarating movement that is, above all else alive, that's not caught drowning in the stagnant honey of our history but pulling fiercely against it.

If this is a hopeful depiction of where we are today, it's a subtle approach. What I felt most overwhelmingly from this combination of ceol and choreography was the performative rush that grips you when you're taken by the dance and their success at transposing this onto the audience was apparent by the array of unique percussive harmonies reflected back at them from the tapped feet in the stalls.

From a flirtatious threesome goading the concertina player, to a comic chase where the hunter becomes the hunted, the occasional savage roar of a dancer to the siren solos by O'Maonlai and Eithne O'Cathain, the whole show felt like a riotous rebellion. Yearning for release like the Mundy Sisters did in Dancing at Lughnasa, they can never truly break free of an imposed convention leaving only this expression through song and dance.

The nearly two hour playing time can't sustain the repetition and a 'one more tune' type approach to encores (following on from the three wonderful, warranted ovations) further lengthens the evening, though the audience participation is inspired. But O'Maonlai's stunning capacity as a vocalist, musician, composer and party boy is well accentuated here by a gleeful ensemble, stirring score and decisive direction. For theatre that reflects Irishness at its most fundamental level, or that's just the best of craic, you're unlikely to get much better than Rian.

EI Team, Entertainment.ie ★★★★★

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