Fabric talks to Swan Lake – Loch na hEala creator Michael Keegan-Dolan about his latest work – a meld between Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, an Irish legend and modern-day stories of corruption.
FQ: What influenced you to change the name of your company, from Fabulous Beast to Teac Damsa?
MKD: I decided to change the name of my company because I had changed. Fabulous Beast (who brought a production of Giselle to the Perth Festival in 2009) was founded in 1997 but by 2015 it was obvious to me that I was now a completely different person from the person who named the company Fabulous Beast. The new name of the company needed to somehow reflect that fundamental shift in perspective.
FQ: Swan Lake is Teac Damsa – why did you decide to tackle this dance classic?
MKD: I had a strong sense that the version of Swan Lake that I could imagine would be a very positive and life-affirming start to this new adventure that was Teac Damsa – House of the Dance. And as it turned out, Swan Lake is our most successful creation to date in every way imaginable. It has the most cohesive and joyful ensemble I have ever worked with, it has toured more than any other show I have made, and it sells out almost everywhere it goes.
FQ: What inspired your version of this classic ballet?
In Ireland we have a parallel legend/myth involving a curse, swans and human transformation, called The Children of Lír. There was also a much more recent event that happened in Ireland in 2000, in the county where I lived for 14 years, which I found easy to connect to the Swan Lake story. It was a very well documented event, which involved a young man losing his life because he suffered from depression. I have always been fascinated by the idea of opposition; between the dark with the light, the heroic and the anti-heroic. I liked the idea of the prince not being a royal prince with white tights, but being a regular, thirty something-year-old man who lives at home with his mother.
There were also endless stories in the news at the time of writing (2013-2016) about corruption in the Catholic Church involving the abuse of women and young children, and this narrative found its way into our production. All these different strands are there because they needed to be there. It was as much of a case of these stories choosing me, as me choosing them.
FQ: How does Swan Lake and Teac Damsa help connect audiences to Irish tradition, language and music?
MKD: By the very fact that I am Irish; that our lead actor, Mikel Murfi, is Irish; and the band Slow Moving Clouds, which created the music in our Swan Lake, have strong influences from the Irish musical tradition. The show was made in the heartlands of Ireland. Many of the team are Irish and everyone who worked on the creation spent weeks upon weeks living and working here. I tell stories from the perspective of me and I just happened to have been born in Ireland, 50 years ago. I lived in London for 12 years and in many ways that heightened my sense of being Irish, as sometimes I encountered some nasty anti-Irish prejudice, which of course just galvanised my profound love of this magical Island, floating in the Atlantic Ocean.
I think this love I have of Ireland is communicated through the culmination of all the decisions one makes along the path to making a work like Swan Lake – Loch na hEala. The audience can sense this strongly when they experience the work. The love of place is a powerful force and if you can weave it into your work, your work will resonate with the people who make the effort to come and meet it.
FQ: Tell us about working with Slow Moving Clouds.
MKD: I met Danny Diamond, who was the fiddle player in Slow Moving Clouds at the time, back in the spring of 2016. We got along very well. I knew he was working with a musician from Finland, named Aki, who played the nyckelharpa, which I love as an instrument. They were working with a musician named Kevin Murphy who started off playing and singing in several, successful rock bands before picking up the cello. It sounded like a great musical combination of energies and I could sense it was going to work.
Slow Moving Clouds brought so much music, experience and virtuosity to our process. It was a joy, from the first moment to the last, working with them. They also brought this amazing philosophy of work. We improvised a lot for more than half of the creative process and Slow Moving Clouds would join in, sometimes with tunes they had worked on and at other times, just entered into the flow, into the madness of the world we were creating, and responded musically. The score they generated reflects both of these ways of working. I think they could have generated 10 times as much music if we had needed it. They had music coming out their ears.
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