Gaeity Theatre, Dublin Theatre Festival
The Irish Times, 8th October 2011
Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre and the musician Liam Ó Maonlaí have come together in Rian to create a fusion of contemporary dance and traditional Irish music. The production is framed as a staged session of sorts, with the ensemble taking turns to perform solos before uniting in group numbers, where the musicians dance and the dancers take up instruments to play. It is the sort of scene you would be lucky to come across in an Irish pub these days, and Doey Lüthi’s 1950s house-dress costumes deliberately evoke a more rustic past.
With such an informal framing structure, however, Michael Keegan-Dolan’s production seems a bit arbitrary. There are few connections established between the sections, and neither the dance nor the music ever seems to build to a cathartic climax the way you might expect a considered performance to. Neither is there any connection made between the music and choreography beyond the obvious inspiration of rhythm. In fact, the choreography seems more interested in making contemporary dance as accessible as possible, particularly in the tribal elements called forth for the livelier numbers. It is a refreshing approach, but there are few bravura set-pieces, and, without narrative structure or technique to appreciate, the dancing veers towards the underwhelming.
In addition, Keegan-Dolan’s choreography mostly draws from a modern international register, and there is little trace (rian) of the influence of Irish dance. This may be deliberate: Irish dance is, after all, an invented tradition, whose contemporary manifestation bears faint similarity to the way dance was practised before the monolithic cultural nationalist movement sought to define it. This neglect of influence seems, however, to be a missed opportunity both to reinvent common perceptions of Irish dance and for Fabulous Beast to stake a claim for itself as part of a more authentic free-form tradition than the familiar manufactured one that infiltrates popular culture.
Ó Maonlaí’s musical direction and the corporeal energy of the multinational cast certainly make for an invigorating, entertaining evening, but it is ultimately a shallow celebration where interrogation might have been more interesting. The show travels to Sadler’s Wells (a co-producer), in London, at the end of the month, and it will be interesting to see how an international audience responds to the twinned cultural specificity of the score and the more global appeal of the dancers’ performance.
Sara Keating, The Irish Times ★★★★