Dublin Theatre Festival review: Joyous fare from Michael Keegan-Dolan 

The Kerry-based dancer is joined by his partner Rachel Poirier for How to Be a Dancer in Seventy-Two Thousand Easy Lessons, a hugely-enjoyable show inspired by his own life experiences 
Dublin Theatre Festival review: Joyous fare from Michael Keegan-Dolan 

Michael Keegan-Dolan and Rachel Poirier in How to Be a Dancer in Seventy-Two Thousand Easy Lessons at the Gate. Picture: Fiona Morgan

How to Be a Dancer in Seventy-Two Thousand Easy Lessons

Gate Theatre

★★★★★

Don’t look back, whatever you do. That’s what Michael Keegan-Dolan tells us was the advice of a mysterious man in Guatemala. But here he is: looking back on his life and career, unpacking it all just like the large wooden crate that sits on the stage.

 He’s joined by his partner in life and art, Rachel Poirier, who also co-directs with Adam Silverman. One of her first acts is to send sparks literally flying, wielding an angle grinder against the crate’s lock. The stage soon clutters with what she pulls out: a child’s bicycle, a helium cylinder, balloons, microphones, plastic bags, cement blocks, two cokes, and so on.

These are the props and mementos for reminiscences delivered brightly, disarmingly, by a bewigged Keegan-Dolan, kitted out like an 80s David Bowie persona, with a pinch of David Byrne. It’s a look that chimes with tunes like We Can Dance and Psycho Killer, in a soundtrack that ranges from these to Elgar, Brel and Verdi. By contrast, Poirier is an enigmatic, dark, powerful, sometimes impish presence. Are these things she brings to this creative partnership? Or things Keegan-Dolan must unlock in himself? It could be both.

Keegan-Dolan’s story is both typical and deeply personal. We get religion, education, nationalism, the outsider status of the boy who won’t catch the rugby ball, who insists on “dancing like a queer” at the disco in the face of violent philistinism. He neatly evokes that strange way British cultural life seeped into an Irish childhood via Top of the Pops, Legs and Co, the Proms. Soon, it’s that old reversal, as he leaves for London, his Irishness politically problematic amid IRA bombings, or simply the butt of jokes and racism.

Rachel Poirier in How to Be a Dancer in Seventy-Two Thousand Easy Lessons at the Gate. Picture: Fiona Morgan
Rachel Poirier in How to Be a Dancer in Seventy-Two Thousand Easy Lessons at the Gate. Picture: Fiona Morgan

A hilarious, profane sendup ensues, as a taxi driver’s “you Irish c**t” is gaily repeated to the tune of The Laughing Policeman. There is success, eventually, but professional dissatisfaction. Yet these memories, the identity we’ve had sketched before us, these are the ingredients for a transcendence, for an artistic maturation, the starting point for the interrogation of myth, history and a complex Irishness that define Keegan-Dolan’s mature work.

That key part of the story, fittingly, and thrillingly, is told here in symbol, movement and music, not words. Keegan-Dolan and Poirier gracefully swap costumes. She’s placed in the crate, then released. She dances solo for the full 14 minutes of Ravel’s Bolero, Keegan-Dolan rapt by what’s been unleashed. Her power and grace describe something elemental, so much so that we’ve imagined the digging, the artistic excavation, even before she drags a bag of compost onto the stage.

It’s all there. Now we’re looking back too. Maybe the man in Guatemala was wrong. Maybe it’s OK to do that. We leave uplifted, Poirier and Keegan-Dolan having conveyed by the chemistry of music and movement an intangible, lingering, joyous energy.

  • Until October 8
  • Michael Keegan-Dolan and Teac Damsa tour in October and November with their show Mám, kicking off in Siamsa Tíre, Tralee, on October 21. See teacdamsa.com/mam-the-2022-irish-tour

More in this section

Scene & Heard
Newsletter

Music, film art, culture, books and more from Munster and beyond.......curated weekly by the Irish Examiner Arts Editor.

Sign up
Execution Time: 0.219 s