Friday, January 18, 2013

Rian co-produced by Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre and Sadler’s Wells

                                                              Photo: Ros Kavanagh
Rian co-produced by Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre (Ireland) and Sadler’s Wells, London.  Director and choreographer, Michael-Keegan-Dolan; Music Director, Liam Ó Maonlaí.  Sydney Festival at Theatre Royal, January 17-23, 2013.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
January 17

I rather wish that highly expert directors/choreographers, like Michael Keegan-Dolan, and equally highly expert musicians/composers, like Liam Ó Maonlaí, would refrain from writing deep and meaningful romantic guff in program notes.

Rian stands, or rather dances, sings and plays, on its own two feet, without the need for justifications like “We dance to be reunited with the creative core from which we came” or “Myth describes the marriage of heaven and Earth again and again.  And so it is.  The sun and the Earth give us life....”

And the audience on opening night stood, not just to applaud the artistic quality of this Irish based World Music and Dance creation, not even in simple response to the emotional ebb and flow, culminating in energy pouring off the stage, but even more in thanks to a company who drew us all into an understanding of community.  The externalised world of our “modern” society was gently, and often amusingly, put to one side to allow our imaginations the freedom to see the world differently.

Here am I, a critic, ironically of course, writing: Just do it; don’t write program notes to tell us beforehand what we are supposed to experience.

What isn’t explained in the program is the title ‘Rian’, meaning trace or mark, in Irish.  My Irish ancestors probably escaped their west coast poverty for the bright lights and industrial poverty of London about 250 years ago.  Watching Rian makes me regret the move and imagine what I might have become.  I don’t have the language, or even the pronunciation, but I do still have ‘Rian’ – the trace that made me enjoy playing Australian folk tunes on my mouth organ after the latest move of our family to this country, where the lilt and rhythm of Irish song and dance has been a major part of the culture since the days of the convicts, many of whom were political prisoners.

What Liam Ó Maonlaí has done is to explore the world beyond Ireland, with, in this show, a particular focus on Mali, seeking the musical connections with ancient traditions, while Michael Keegan-Dolan has found a choreographic style of movement using traditional elements of Irish dance as a basis for expression of the joy, the fun, the sadness, and the exuberance of the music. 

This is nothing like the commercialised simplicity of ‘Riverdance’.  This is art reflecting real life back to us, with a cast representing many different cultural backgrounds.  The traces are in their names: Saku Koistinen, Saju Hari, Keir Patrick, Hannes Langolf, Anna Kaszuba, Louise Mochia, Ino Riga and Louise Tanoto.

Rian is an exemplar of the best presentations for this international Festival, currently directed by Belgian-born Lieven Bertels.  Bryce Hallett has written that he is “bold, eclectic and surprising” and is “driven to connect with audiences in meaningful ways, with an unconventional approach that promises to add even more colour to Sydney Festival’s much-loved palette.”  Rian definitely fits the bill.

See for more from Bryce Hallett.

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