Life lessons from Talking Heads to flying feet – The Irish Times

How to become a dancer in seventy-two thousand easy lessons

Gate Theater
Rating: 4/5

At the start of Michael Keegan-Dolan’s bewildering, enchanting dance theater piece, a wooden box sits on a bare stage while Dolan and Rachel Poirier sit on plastic chairs on either side of the proscenium, waiting for the audience to calm down for the show to begin.

The box contains the elements they will use to construct their chimeric performance. Like a magician’s top hat, it contains an unlikely collection of props they’ll use to tell their story: tails and plastic bags, concrete blocks and a helium cylinder, microphones on long loose wires, and a bright pink kid’s bike. If the objects are familiar to fans of Keegan-Dolan’s work, it’s because they’re the choreographer’s trademark. How to Be a Dancer is – in a way – a personal story of Keegan-Dolan’s dancing life; These are the magical objects that helped him get to the point where this story is worth listening to.

The narrative that Keegan-Dolan has pieced together from fragments of his past makes him a perpetual outsider. As the youngest in a large family, he struggles to be heard. Pigeon footed, he finds contact with his peers through sports difficult and is gently pushed out of ballet school because of the same poor foot shape. As an Irishman in 1980s London, he is exposed to racist attacks. The chronological line charts show his coming of age, and the anecdotes are brought to us by Keegan-Dolan with pleasant amusement and a set of hilarious wigs.

What is perhaps most challenging about the storytelling form is the lack of dance. For the first two-thirds of the performance, Keegan-Dolan and Poirier conjure up poems by William Blake and sing songs by Talking Heads and Rodgers and Hammerstein, a musical register that is both classical and pop. There’s smooth movement, but a lot of it on chairs.

In Adam Silverman’s confident, slow-moving production, however, a larger narrative is slowly being revealed. As Keegan-Dolan and Poirier subtly swap costumes (designed by Hyemi Shin with tasteful restraint), the relationship constructed by the two actors becomes apparent. Finally, when Keegan-Dolan intervenes and frees Poirier from the wooden box, which is now a coffin, a 14-minute dance sequence begins. Ravel’s bolero provides the perfect level of uplifting energy and cathartic release, while the choreographed routine demonstrates the precise and joyous looseness that is the hallmark of Keegan-Dolan’s work and Poirier’s somatic style. She is his energy, his purpose in life, his calling released.

However, the production ends with the two performers sitting side by side in the center of the stage for an extended moment of absolute silence. Nothing happens, but we watch them closely and notice how alive their bodies are in their composed stillness. We also realize how alive we are as an active audience, both emotionally and physically.

— Runs through October 8 as part of Dublin Theater Festival

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