Fabulous Beast

Choreographer Michael Keegan-Dolan interprets Stravinksy in Belfast

Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre visit the Grand Opera House in Belfast with imaginative interpretations of two of Igor Stravinsky’s most iconic scores: The Rite of Spring and Petruska.

Their eye-opening interpretations of music through dance and theatre have attracted awards and critical acclaim. Such kudos could be given to this company if assessed for originality alone.

As it happens, in addition to director and choreographer Michael Keegan-Dolan’s fresh approach to movement, he has assembled a very fine company of dancers, all of whom are supremely skilled in delivering the surprising, complex and innovative choreography in these works.

It absolutely is Keegan-Dolan’s dancers that give these interpretations their edge. And, as opposed to the regimented, classically informed or acrobatic movement of even the most avant-garde dance companies, these Stravinsky pieces allow the physical personality of each dancer to emerge.

There are fascinating, small differences in the way the dancers execute their moves, even in ‘unison’ passages. The result is fluidity and spirit; a personality to the works that is infectious and beguiling, most particularly in The Rite of Spring, which is performed first.

An introduction is delivered by an actor from the company, in front of the curtain: 'On yonder hill, there sits a hare...' Once the curtain opens, and the music of Stravinsky takes over, the narrative proceeded in much less direct ways.

The mysterious figure of an old woman appears, along with men carrying boxes, each marked ‘fragile’. When the meandering opening theme breaks into Stravinsky’s fierce irregular rhythms, the performers move in perfect synchronicity with the accents, stamping or jumping on each one.

Throughout the work, cross rhythms, shifting meters and melodic patterns are delineated with movement in exact reflection of the rhythmic pulse and melodic impulse. Each dancer knows the score, quite literally, with the forensic clarity of a conductor, and the power of this reflects the power of Stravinsky’s notation.

As well as the basic original narrative of the Rite – which is about the earth forces of spring interpreted through pagan ritual – this production takes on what seem to be social and ecological issues, a logical enough extension of the original.

Sexual violence is portrayed; power plays, machismo, and the dynamic of weak versus strong, along with metaphors of hares and dogs. The original outline is here as well, including a rather graphic representation of the concept of ‘becoming one with the earth’ (simulated sex with the floor).

The section in which the male dancers strip naked, and exchange their dull clothes with flowery dresses, can be read on a number of levels. The thought-through choreography is matched by technically excellent props; especially the hare and dog heads, which have a beautiful, disturbing realism about them.

The second half of the evening is Petrushka, which is rather less directly connected to the original. The Old Woman character re-appears seated on a high pillar; a puppet master of sorts. This interpretation engages mainly with the emotional concepts of the work, themes of alienation, transformation and emotional authenticity.

Again, Fabulous Beasts’ dancers bring a terrific energy and individuality to Keegan-Dolan’s choreography, but, although charming in its way, Petrushka is a much less challenging work that Rite, and his attempts to draw connections between the two pieces seem forced and unnecessary. It may have been better to present them in reverse order, which would have, in fact, been chronological in terms of their composition.

Regardless, this is a company and a concept to be reckoned with. Rumour has it that Fabulous Beast is working on a new interpretation of Swan Lake. Imagine what that will look like, because you can be sure Michael Keegan-Dolan already has, and it is certain to be fabulous.

Visit the Grand Opera House website for information on forthcoming events.