Fabulous Beast, Sadler's Wells, London
Friday 28 October 2011
Michael Keegan-Dolan's Fabulous Beast dance company is best known for its sense of drama. His versions of Giselle and Irish mythology turned them into lurid contemporary stories, confrontations between huge personalities. Rian, his new collaboration with the musician Liam Ó Maonlaí, has no plot. Musicians and dancers get together, with a joyful sense of community.
Ó Maonlaí is best known as a founding member of the band Hothouse Flowers. Rian, which means "trace" or "mark" in Irish, is named after his 2005 solo album. The production is traditional Irish with a multicultural cast.
Sabine Dargent's set is bright green, a curving wall enclosing a round dance area. Utilitarian chairs, bigger instruments and an old-fashioned standard lamp are set against the walls. Dancers and musicians step forward to perform, or croon or shuffle from the edges. Everybody joins in, Ó Maonlaí and his musicians getting up to dance, dancers singing or playing percussion.
At its best, Rian has a shared, spontaneous warmth. The dance steps are simple. Keegan-Dolan lists 108 named moves in the programme, with names like "Kicking the sleeping rabbit" or "Thank God for yoga". They're loping, relaxed moves, sweeps of the upper body or springy little steps. The intricacy comes from shifting rhythms, dancers moving in and out of unison.
There's a wonderful duet for Louise Mochia and Mani Obeya. A prance from side to side becomes a teasing chase, full of unpredictable dips and changes of direction. It all looks casual and easy, but the twists of rhythm are sharp enough to make the audience giggle. There's a sense of banter in the dancing, ending with a gleeful chase round the curving set, until you lose track of who leads, who follows.
Rian is a long show, almost two hours without interval. A few of the bouncy group dances lack variety, and some numbers spend too long making a simple point, becoming ponderous. But all the performers have a chance to shine. Singer Eithne Ní Chatháin stands on a chair to perform a folk lament; soloists step forward in group dances.
It's an evening of buoyant rhythms and happy atmosphere; it really does feel like a party on stage.
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