Teaċ Daṁsa: Loch na hEala (Irish Swan Lake)

I don’t see much dance but Teaċ Daṁsa (at the Walker) came highly recommended by a good friend in Dublin and it earned the reputation. It is a very Irish take on the Russian ballet.

It starts bleakly with a man in his tidy whities tied to a cinder block, pacing around like a sheep. The stage is sparse and industrial. Ladders, draped with large swan wings, corner the stage. Musicians play at the back of stage. Characters appear on stage as the sheepish man get increasingly irritated. The action starts when three of the male dancers corner him and in a highly stylized way seemingly sacrifice him lovingly, as if perhaps for a Passover meal. It’s hard to watch. It’s scary. Yet it’s beautiful.

Several stories are intertwined in the show. There’s a priest and the young girl parishioner. He attacks her sexually. Her three younger sisters walk in. He threatens that if they tell, they will turn into animals. He leaves. The girls turn to swans. It mirrors the swans of the original ballet, who spent their days as swans swimming in the enchanted lake of tears. Then there’s the story of Jimmy who lives with his aged mother. The father has recently passed away. They are building a new home and plan to then destroy the generations-old home where he was born. He is distractedly distraught to the point of clinically depressed. And has recently been given his father’s gun. The local mayor is tormenting him. He is akin to Prince Siegfried from the original.

Jimmy meets the lead swan and falls in love. His mother throws a party to marry him off. That party is the darkest part of a play that is, to use a phrase, darker than the Irish themselves. The men are dressed as women. Everyone is drinking. The mother is cackling. The girls screech unexpectedly like banshees. It is the best demonstration of grotesque I have ever seen – rivaling the Nighttown episode in Ulysses. So creepy and compelling. Like a train wreck with a million moving pieces.

Spoiler alert.

In the end, everyone passes into a happier, lighter place. It’s an implosion that leads to swan feathers everywhere, including the first few rows. It feels like a weird celebration after so much trauma. But then that’s life – on a good day, in a good life joy will follow sorrow. There is a light even in the darkest path.

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