Mám opens with low-hanging clouds of smoke hanging over the stage and extending into the auditorium. With them comes a smell, a deep woody, fungal scent that drowns the audience in its perfume.
Director Michael Keegan-Dolan’s second production for Teaċ Daṁsa, following his award-winning Swan Lake/Loch na hEala, this piece was created in Corca Dhuibhne (the West Kerry Gaeltacht). The rural location played a crucial role in the work’s devising, including its title, a word with three meanings, one of which is ‘mountain pass’. It also, presumably, inspired the hazy stratus clouds dangling above the audience’s heads.
Performed to live music by the Berlin collective Stargaze, plus Cormac Begley on accordion, Mám takes the traditional set-up of a formal dance – musicians on a raised platform, dancers down below – then blows the whole thing apart.
As various combinations of the musicians play Irish folk music and snatches of classical repertoire, the large group of dancers shake, rattle and roll through choreography featuring moves straight out of a retro disco, woven into an inescapably elegant whole. Throughout it all, a young girl in a white confirmation dress impassively watches the adults, her expression impervious.
The complete piece is formatted as a consecutive series of dances. Some of them, including one where a single performer careers around the space kissing all the other performers while leaving one lone dancer unloved in the centre, have a loosely discernible narrative.
Others, particularly one where dancer Aki Iwamoto violently vibrates and thrashes in the centre of the stage, evoke only pure emotion or a basic primal need to express physically what cannot be conveyed verbally. Moments involving the entire group echo images of mass hysteria in response to ecstasy or fear.
The figure of the silent child is an enigma. The adults care for her in obvious ways, giving her bags of crisps and orange pop, carrying her from chair to chair. Sometimes they appear to be performing to her, either trying to make her laugh or playfully jolting her into reacting to their games. There’s also the faint suggestion throughout that all this is somehow for her, that the adults are running ragged, panting, stamping and reacting as an act of love towards the girl who could potentially inherit what they leave behind.
The piece feels like a dance party for the end of the world, one massive discharge of energy in the face of ruin. There’s a ritualistic aura to the child-like shedding of inhibition, the syncopated thudding of feet, and the rapid switching between hilarity and terror. Despite the distinctly modern aspects of its choreography, Mám possesses the energy of an ancient rite, the type designed to conjure memories, emotions and spirits from the earth.