The Dance: Cork director captures the wonders of a show made in Kerry

Filmmaker Pat Collins and choreographer Michael Keegan-Dolan combine in a new documentary that offers a window on Teac Damhsa's incredible creative process
The Dance: Cork director captures the wonders of a show made in Kerry

The Dance: A scene featuring Teac Damhsa in rehearsal for Mám in Co Kerry. 

A rousing and immersive love letter to the power of creativity, The Dance follows the development of a major new dance and theatrical work. From the first rehearsal in Corca Dhuibhne, Co Kerry,  to opening night in Dublin, the film documents the preparation of MÁM, the latest work from acclaimed choreographer Michael Keegan-Dolan.

The work teams a group of dancers with famed concertina player Cormac Begley and the musical collective Stargaze as they strive to create MÁM, which went on to receive rave reviews. 

West Cork filmmaker Pat Collins was the perfect choice to bring their process to the big screen. The acclaimed director of films like Song of Granite and Silence has long had a passion for the act of creativity.

“For me it's about following that process of the show,” he says from his home in Baltimore. “It's a combination of Cormac Begley's music, and the contemporary classical music, and then having that modern dance, that combination. I just thought that it's a great place to be, in there following that, and it appealed to me that there was no strict narrative in Michael's show.

“It would have been a very different film if there was that narrative. It was perfect for me in that sense of being able to film and concentrate on each individual dancer and dance and that harmony of music and dance together, and movement.” 

 The director took a very observational approach - the viewer gets to follow the artists as they tease out the final work, through some actions that are very emotional. He even opted to work with just one camera so the viewer would have the same viewpoint as if they were standing in the room.

“I believed it would be very cinematic. And when everything was working in harmony, that you'd get this kind of feeling of exhilaration, and get immersed in it. That's why we decided to shoot with one camera, so that camera would be like the person who's in the room, observing.

“It is was on tracks or it was multiple cameras I think it would distance the viewer from the film. I'm always a little bit obsessed in terms of perspective, what the perspective would be of one person.

Pat Collins.
Pat Collins.

“I'm always a little bit wary of documentaries that are going to be plotted and thinking of a three-act structure. I wouldn't be necessarily interested in following a theatre company staging a Shakespeare play or a Brian Friel play, necessarily. The potential I think for getting lost in it and immersing yourself in it wouldn't be there in the same way.”

 Like his last film about the acclaimed folklorist Henry Glassie, The Dance focuses on people focused on their craft. It has always been an area of interest to Collins - he mentions the acclaimed RTÉ series Hands from the 1970s-80s, focusing on traditional craftspeople, as a work he admired.

“From a cinema point of view, I’ve always liked watching people make things. I stripped all that out really to make it completely about what's happening in the four walls.

“It makes it harder to make the documentary, and I do think that the viewer has to pay greater attention to it. It's about a kind of presence. Cinema at its best, it takes it some place and it's not necessarily another place - it kind of brings you back to yourself. That's what I'm looking for.” 

A scene from the show Mám in The Dance documentary. 
A scene from the show Mám in The Dance documentary. 

 Later this year, Collins is hoping to commence production on a feature film adaptation of an acclaimed John McGahern novel. That They May Face the Rising Sun is well into development, with the filmmaker currently looking at locations in which to shoot. 

Meanwhile, he’s currently in post-production on Songs of the Open Road, a documentary about Irish singer and storyteller Thomas McCarthy, for RTÉ. A Traveller from Co Offaly from a long line of storytellers, McCarthy documented hundreds of traditional songs, many of which may otherwise have been lost over time.

“A lot of the songs are well known, but there's an awful lot of songs even people within the tradition of Irish unaccompanied singing wouldn't even have heard of before,” says Collins.

“They're songs that would probably have been sung in Co Clare 70 years ago, or Co Galway, where they travelled a lot around. The family had all of those songs, big songs from Northern Ireland. People in the south wouldn't have known the big songs in Northern Ireland and vice versa, whereas the travellers would have picked up songs everywhere they went.”

It promises to be another treat.

  •  The Dance is in cinemas from Friday, February 11

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