Rian - part of Sadler’s Sampled

Choreography by Michael Keegan-Dolan
Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre
Sadler’s Wells

Rian by Michael Keegan-Dolan

Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre’s Bessie award-winning Rian's return to Sadler’s Wells proves very popular: after a long ninety-five minutes with no interval and a couple of encores, the audience still won’t let the company leave.

Billed as "a celebration of Ireland’s roots and traditions performed by a cast of eight dancers and five musicians", this is an understatement. It is much more than that, incorporating musical influences from around the world into the Gaelic idiom.

Drawing inspiration from Hothouse Flowers Liam Ó Maonlaí’s 2005 solo album Rian, which means "mark" or "trace" in Gaelic, choreographer and founding director of Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre Michael Keegan-Dolan shows us the universal instinct is to dance, to move, to respond to the magical sounds of the piper and the fiddler, to the drumbeat, the squeezebox, piano, plucked strings, and the harp.

Pent-up emotions are let loose in slow soulful spins and fast leaping foot-stamping jumps. Musicians joining the fray, singers too, Rian strikes me as being in the order of a ‘flamenco’ evening.

Unaccompanied narrative songs, instrumental numbers, and songs in languages I cannot identify, though I’m sure a few are Malian (I’ve been exposed to much Malian music by musician friends).

There are no programme notes—I wish there were—so your intelligent guess is as good as mine. But some in the audience must have been familiar with Ó Maonlaí’s album. More of this later.

Dancers in solos, duets, and group get up to dance as the mood takes them, or at least that is the conceit. One gets up, another follows and copies—line dance, and wild dance, introspective and extrovert.

A "Guinness" harp takes centre stage, men in suits and brown brogues get up and dance in shamanistic homage on the green sward. Spontaneous, organic, improvised, as surely Rian was in its creation, essential.

Danced by an international crew whose origins are from all over the world, it’s no wonder I see and hear African, Eastern and Middle-Eastern rhythms that remind me of the Batsheva dance ensemble.

Of course, I could be being fanciful, but input from Sadu Hari from Kerala, Nigerian-born Brit Emmanuel Obeya, Greek Ino Part, French Rachel Poirier, Finnish Saku Koistinen amongst the Irish contingent must count for something.

The traces of our forgotten ancestors must be somewhere in our blood: they must have left their mark. Before language our primeval need to respond to sound, to feel it in our bodies, to express it must have been irrepressible, overwhelming, compulsive.

"A cultural hybrid", Rian is all that: the forerunner to Fabulous Beast’s The Rite of Spring. In trance state, or metaphorically letting their hair down, jackets and shoes come off, ties are loosened, and braces slip down, narratives and abstract emotions are danced out.

Freestyle jigs, windmill arms up in the air, loose and flowing moves (my consort whispers, it’ll be breaststroke next) swim, sway, duck and dive, inhibitions abandoned. Shadows on the wall: this is obviously an all-nighter.

A jam session: the musicians are amazing, and of course, they can dance, music is in the core of their being. We can all dance, and oh how the body needs to dance to that infectious music.

When at last given the chance during the encore, the audience erupts on to its feet. Starts to clap in time, but, no, Keegan-Dolan gestures no, copy me, it’s much more fun. Liberated by permission to move after all that time politely on its collective bum, the audience will not let the company off the stage.

Join in the dance, join in the song: the multi-talented multi-instrument-playing genius Liam Ó Maonlaí leads us in Gaelic song and incredibly the audience is pitch and word perfect.

A long, at times repetitive evening, variations on themes danced and played out again and again, for this passive spectator itching to get on her feet a proper céilí would have been a far far better thing. This was but a fabulous tease.

A matter of personal taste, one for festivals, my companion says, not for him, and he is right, Rian has been performed at many festivals around the world, since premièring in Dublin in 2011, accumulating awards.

Reviewer: Vera Liber

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