Keegan-Dolan’s Swan Lake/Loch na hEala Fails to Transcend or Redeem


Michael Keegan-Dolan’s Swan Lake/Loch na hEala: Sadler’s Wells, London, 30.11.2017. (J.O’D)

Austrian dancer Alexander Leonhartsberger (L) and Canadian dancer Rachael Poirier perform a scene from Michael Keegan-Dolan's adaptation of Swan Lake (Loch na hEala), during a press preview at Sadler's Wells theatre in London on November 25, 2016. / AFP / Justin TALLIS / EDITORIAL USE ONLY        (Photo credit should read JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP/Getty Images)

Alexander Leonhartsberger & Rachael Poirier in Swan Lake (Loch na hEala)
(c) JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP/Getty Images

Cast: Mikel Murfi, Rachel Poirier, Alexander Leonhartsberger, Elizabeth Cameron Dalman, Anna Kaszuba, Carys Staton, Molly Walker, Saku Koistinen, Zen Jefferson, Erik Nevin

Musicians: Aki (nyckelharpa), Mary Barnecutt (cello), Danny Diamond (fiddle)


Writer, Director and Choreographer – Michael Keegan-Dolan
Set Design – Sabine Dargent
Costume Design – Hyemi Shin
Lighting Design – Adam Silverman
Music – Slow Moving Clouds

‘I’m not saying anything until I get a cup of tea,’ declares Mikel Murfi towards the start of this reworking of Swan Lake, set in Ireland’s County Longford. When supplied with one by a fellow performer, Murfi barely stops talking for the next seventy-five minutes. As the child-abusing ‘Holy Man’, as a local councillor, as voices coming out of the radio, his amplified brogue is almost ever-present. After using movement so eloquently with his own, defunct, Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre company in The Rite of Spring & Petrushka (2009), and with the National Youth Dance Company in In-Nocentes (2016), choreographer Michael Keegan-Dolan decides, here, not to let dance speak for itself.

Swan Lake/Loch na hEala was performed to much acclaim at Sadler’s Wells a year ago. The audience, this year, greeted it with standing ovations. For this reviewer, Murfi’s role overwhelms the work, making its focus unclear. No single piece of music, such as the Stravinsky scores for The Rite of Spring and Petrushka, or Max Richter’s ‘The Four Seasons’ for In-Nocentes, provides a unifying framework. Only when Rachel Poirier, as the sexually abused Finola (Odile/Odette) encounters Alexander Leonhartsberger, as the depressed Jimmy O’Reilly (Siegfried), does the dance become poetic. In their ‘white’ and ‘black’ pas de deux by the lake, these veteran Keegan-Dolan performers embody the sweep and depth of the choreographer’s movement style.

The programme notes refer to awards for Best Production and Best Costume Design. In its use of black and white the piece is striking. Pairs of white wings hang from metal step ladders as the cast gathers on the stage. Velvety black curtains rise up at the sides and back to indicate that the action, proper, is about to start. Finola and her sisters (the Swans) wear First Holy Communion dresses. The white wings they put on at the start will be exchanged for black wings later on. The ‘lake’ is a sheet of black plastic.

Much of what happens, though, seems extraneous. Keegan-Dolan borrows from his own The Rite of Spring and Petrushka, but the tea and cigarettes and men changing into women’s clothes onstage have less effect, here, than in the earlier work. ‘Brr-Brr’ noises by three dancers, to indicate the sound of the local councillor’s car, are simply childish. The piece works best in references to Swan Lake. Jimmy’s widowed mother gives him a shotgun for his birthday, just as the Queen gives Siegfried a crossbow. A potential bride is to be looked for in the cleaning woman, rather than in a visiting princess.

The Holy Man’s confession of his abuse of Finola, and threats to her sisters who witness it, is harrowing. At the end of the piece, Jimmy lies dead. For reasons of his own, Keegan-Dolan rushes everyone off to a lengthy coda, redolent again of The Rite of Spring and Petrushka, which sees them throwing what looks like white feathers about the stage and out into the auditorium. The feathers are beautiful. The coda is wordless. But the transcendence or redemption it seems to suggest has not, for this reviewer, been earned.

John O’Dwyer

Print Friendly


Leave a Reply

Recent Reviews


Season Previews

  • NEW! The Cleveland Orchestra’s 2018 Blossom Music Festival __________________________________
  • NEW! LA Opera’s 2018/19 Season __________________________________
  • NEW! Buxton Festival 2018 and its New CEO __________________________________
  • NEW! Classical Music at the Barbican in 2018/19 __________________________________
  • NEW! Violinist Liza Ferschtman Celebrates Bernstein’s Centenary in 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! The Piccadilly Chamber Music Series in 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! Opera and More in Buenos Aires in 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! Gloucester Choral Society’s Hubert Parry’s Centenary Celebrations in May 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! Spend a Penny for Grange Park Opera’s Lavatorium Rotundum __________________________________
  • NEW! Bampton Classical Opera in 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! The 2018 Lucerne Summer Festival __________________________________
  • NEW! Leeds Lieder’s Forthcoming Schubert Song Series in Leeds and Sheffield __________________________________
  • NEW! Contemporary Music from Manchester’s Psappha in 2017-18 __________________________________
  • UPDATED! I Musicanti’s Alexandra and the Russians at St Johns Smith Square in 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! Anna Netrebko and Yusif Eyvazov’s Return to London in May 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! St John’s Smith Square announces its 2017/18 Season __________________________________
  • NEW! The Pierre Boulez Saal’s 2017/18 Season in Berlin __________________________________
  • Subscribe to Review Summary Newsletter

    Reviews by Reviewer

    News and Featured Articles

  • NEW! A Q&A WITH ANDREA CARÈ AS HE RETURNS TO COVENT GARDEN AS DON JOSÉ __________________________________
  • NEW! Chelsea Opera Group to Perform Rossini’s Mosè in Egitto at Cadogan Hall __________________________________
  • NEW! A Celebration of the Work of Dai Fujikura at Wigmore Hall on 17 February __________________________________
  • NEW! Rafael de Acha Introduces Some of Cincinnati’s New Musical Entrepreneurs __________________________________
  • NEW! ENB’s 2018 Emerging Dancer will be Chosen at the London Coliseum on 11 June __________________________________
  • NEW! Akram Khan’s Giselle for ENB Can be Seen in Cinemas from 25 April __________________________________
  • NEW! BARRY DOUGLAS IN CONVERSATION WITH GEOFFREY NEWMAN __________________________________
  • UPDATED! SOME OF OUR REVIEWERS CHOOSE THEIR ‘BEST OF 2017’ __________________________________
  • NEW! Dénes Várjon Talks to Sebastian Smallshaw About Budapest’s __________________________________
  • R.I.P. IN MEMORIAM – DMITRI HVOROSTOVSKY (1962-2017) __________________________________
  • NEW! Ann Murray’s Masterclass at the V&A Part of Opera: Passion, Power and Politics __________________________________
  • NEW! A Composer Speaks Up for the Environment: An Interview with Margaret Brouwer __________________________________
  • Archives by Week

    Archives by Month

    Search S&H