Sounds From A Safe Harbour in Cork got off to the perfect start with the astounding Loch na hHeala, writes Ellie O'Byrne.
A staggeringly beautiful reimagining of Swan Lake that fuses myth and magic with close-to-the-bone commentary on modern-day rural Ireland, Teaċ Daṁsa’s Loch na hEala is paying a brief flying visit to Cork Opera House as part of Sounds From a Safe Harbour (SFSH) Festival, leaving a flurry of feathers in its glorious wake.
Opening to the arresting sight of a pacing, bleating Mikel Murfi, clad only in y-fronts and tethered to a breeze block, Loch na hEala builds on its early visual promise throughout, with inspired choreography, a sensitive score by Irish-Nordic experimental folk trio Slow Moving Clouds, and elevating moments of humour and tenderness.
A melding of theatre, dance and music, the performance sees familiar elements from the plot of the Tchaikovsky ballet interwoven with the legend of the Children of Lir and a thoroughly modern tragedy set in the bleak hinterlands of Co Longford, the home county of creator Michael Keegan Dolan.
Mikel Murfi’s priest swears a group of siblings to secrecy on pain of their being transformed into animals; they take to the wing as swans, only to meet with Jimmy O’Reilly (Alex Leonhartsberger) on the occasion of his 36th birthday, a day that has taken a further dark turn.
A cast of familiar characters – the aforementioned priest, a local politician, inept gardaí and an Irish mammy (Rosaleen Linehan) - draw a grim but occasionally funny picture of the oppressive power structures of small-town Ireland, which seed repression and depression at best, trauma and tragedy at worst.
Leonhartsberger and Rachel Poirier’s duets are heartrendingly lovely and poignant: two doomed souls, shattered by these structures, that fleetingly find comfort together.
The staging is ingenious, the supporting corps of dancers utterly dedicated, and the music is a highlight throughout, but most especially during the ecstatically uplifting finale, accompanied by the dreamlike composition 'Swansong/Starfall'. The group behind the music, Slow Moving Clouds, are also on the roster of free gigs for the Safe Harbour festival, playing in Crane Lane on Sunday.
While there are only two more performances of the extraordinary Loch na hEala, it bodes well for the quality of the offerings for the rest of SFSH 2019.
Loch na hEala has two further showings at Cork Opera House, on Wednesday and Thursday. SFSH runs until Sunday. See soundsfromasafeharbour.com/