MÁM @ The State Theatre Centre
Thursday, February 27, 2020
As the curtain crept upwards to begin the show, eyes were drawn to a pair of figures on the stage. In a scene akin to that of a wake, a young girl lay on a table, motionless and clad in white, her red hair a rare splash of colour on a set drenched in black. Silence hung in the air punctuated only by the savage hiss of a concertina, its goat-masked player impassive in the background. Above them, emanating from his person, rose a thick cloud of smoke. The atmosphere was sinister and eerie, and the audience fell silent and watched, rapt.
What unfolded thereafter was MÁM, the latest offering from the considerable combined talents of Michael Keegan-Dolan, Teaċ Daṁsa, and composer and concertina virtuoso Cormac Begley. Described as “A meeting place between soloist and ensemble, classical and traditional, the local and universal”, MÁM is a potent blend of emotion, music, and dance that originated in the wildest reaches of Ireland.
Actualising such a vision would have taken considerable time and effort, and it was clear in the immeasurable talent of the 13 dancers this production was carefully crafted. Clad in a contrast of ivory shirts and ebony tuxedos and dresses, the lithe and graceful ensemble commanded the stage. Dancing like ecstatic devotees in a primordial cult, the whirling, free-flowing movements embodied a primal ambiance. Their attention arrested, the audience sat captivated as moments of profound mourning were interspersed with frivolity as the dancers whirled and leapt about the stage, skin and hair dripping with sweat, faces simultaneously radiating zeal and tranquillity.
The haunting presence of the girl was notable and fascinating. Oft, she stood motionless, her presence ignored by the ensemble as they moved about her. At other times, she flitted between them, acknowledged but not welcome. And finally, sometimes she was warmly embraced, treated as a sibling. Perhaps the girl stands as a personification of grief and is a palpable concoction of both humankind’s denial and acceptance of grief and our fond memories of those who have passed. Irrespective of what she represents, her capacity to perform both wild and precise movements and yet remain impassive was laudable and beyond her years.
The music was not your expected Irish export. Whilst there were the clear motifs of the traditional jigs and dirges, the music incorporated a variety of modernist elements and even forayed into blues and funk. Here, Begley’s abundant ability – as both composer and musician – commanded attention. Solo, Begley’s concertina delivered sounds so rich and robust that it was as if he were ten men. Later in the show, the fall of another curtain revealed a small ensemble that included brass, woodwinds, strings and percussion. The talent was again on display here, with many of the musicians displaying their capacity to perform on several instruments. Alongside them, Begley’s signature tones sung loud and clear.
Notably, the violin – with tones that were near-cacophonic, harsh, and abrasive – delivered a tense, sinister, and palpable edge to the music that melded seamlessly with the wild and passionate movements of the dancers. Conversely, the music was often minimalistic, its melodies punctuated by guttural yells, hand claps, and forceful foot stomps that accentuated the primal force delivered by the dancers.
MÁM was a truly furious and captivating 90 minutes that appealed equally to young and old, a fact evidenced by the well-deserved standing ovation they received.
Photos by Ros Kavanagh