Swan Lake/Loch na hEala is a story about power and the transformative qualities of magic versus those of true love; in the classical story Princess Odile is abducted by a sorcerer, her mam cries a lake of tears and the sorcerer magicks it so that she is a girl by night and a swan by day. True love’s first kiss is the ONLY THING that can release Odile from the swan curse, so when local kiss-virgin Prince Siegfried comes on the scene, the pressure is on for them to lock lips ASAP.
In Michael Keegan-Dolan’s version, a priest takes the place of the sorcerer and transforms a 17 year old parishioner’s identity through sexual assault. Re-interpreting the original themes of power and control in this way provided a rich opportunity to give voice to an experience which too often remains unvoiced and/or silenced by contemporary cultural stigma around rape and assault, so I found it disappointing that the narrative of the assault was mediated solely through the view-point of the priest. Questions are presented to us in the contradiction between the power of the male characters with small town status declaiming their positions and ordering others into action, and the power we see in the highly skilled but silent dancing women. But these questions remain on the surface and the contradictions fall into stagnation over the 90 minute show. Exceptions to this ‘rule’ are the mute Jimmy Reilly and his wheel-throne-bound, talking, plot-affecting mother, and although they were interesting propositions they seemed to stay stuck as two-dimensional ideas more than characters.
Swan Lake/Loch na hEala presents us with beautiful dancing women in girlish white frocks who moan, howl, sound emotively but never speak for themselves or of their experience. We see their bodies trapped under plastic/under male bodies/contorting in struggle/submission… and we see men who dance and also tell gags, portray women, sing, speak, knock concrete blocks over to make loud sounds and direct and mediate the plot. It gets old and the Disney-esque finale comes as a relief.
Emma for DRAFF
Swan Lake/Loch na hEala by Teac Damhsa runs at the O'Reilly Theatre as part of the Dublin Theatre Festival until October 9th. Image: Colm Hogan