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Mám review – spellbinding gathering of music and memories | Stage


It starts out like a sinister cult: the mask of a black ram, a curl of sweet-smelling smoke, a girl in a white communion dress confronted with a severe lineup of adults in black formal wear and paper-bag balaclavas. But then comes Cormac Begley and his enchanting concertina, with its mournful drone and scampering rhythms, its sound of tough lives and strong bonds. And it’s a spell. Music is a spell that runs right through this wonderful piece.

Irish choreographer Michael Keegan-Dolan has spent the last two years living in the Dingle Peninsula and Mám is marinated in its landscape and community. Compared with his previous piece, Swan Lake/Loch Na hEala, a brilliantly searing attack on the abuses of the Catholic church, Mám is more abstract and instinctive, but it effectively plays out a story of modernity intruding on traditional life.

The first light-footed, shoulder-shrugging dance looks like guests at a wedding – or more likely a wake – and Keegan-Dolan’s organic choreography grows out of his eclectic community of dancers, including BBC Young Dancer winner Connor Scott – bringing a looseness to offset his sharp-angled precision – and the remarkable James O’Hara, an elastic dancer who doesn’t seem to have any straight lines in his body.





Abstract yet anchored … Mám by Michael Keegan-Dolan.



Abstract yet anchored … Mám by Michael Keegan-Dolan. Photograph: Ros Kavanagh

Sometimes they move as if the music is in their heads, dancing on a memory; more often rhythm finds a foothold and drags everyone into the present, and the pure connection of movement, music and people.

But that’s only one side of the story. The scene is upturned by the arrival of outsiders, a new batch of musicians (the contemporary ensemble Stargaze). This invasion of traditional sound is cleverly done, with curiosity and impertinent challenge, the two sides in mad competition or shifting suspiciously around each other, and eventually finding concord, enrichment and some gorgeous, soaring chords floating over Begley’s restless jigs.

Mám feels like a gathering unravelling into the wee hours, and all along the girl (Ellie Poirier-Dolan, the choreographer’s daughter) is an impassive observer, until a final coup de theatre points to where the future lies. Mám is full of engrossing dancing, fantastic music, subtle meanings and real humanity. This is a choreographer on a roll.

At Sadler’s Wells, London, until 7 February.

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