Feather weight: Irish adaptation of “Swan Lake” lands at BAM

Reimagined: Michael Keegan-Dolan’s adaptation of “Swan Lake,” coming to the Brooklyn Academy of Music on Oct. 15, combines the original story with an Irish folktale and a tragic event in recent Irish history.
Marie Laure Briane

A strange, serious new show is taking wing.

White-feathered figures, evil priests, and corrupt cops will leap onto the stage next week, when an avant-garde adaptation of Tchaikovsky’s classic ballet “Swan Lake” debuts at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Harvey Theater on Oct. 15. The production, from Irish dance company Teac Damsa, fuses the ballet’s haunting story with Irish folklore and recent events in that country, making its mythical story feel compelling to modern audiences, said its creator.

“By mixing three stories or myths together … we can see a connection between what we perceive as ancient, and mythological and what we perceive as contemporary and real,” said Irish choreographer Michael Keegan-Dolan.

“Swan Lake/Loch na hEala,” which runs Oct. 15–20, re-imagines the ballet’s original love story between a prince and a woman turned into a swan by an evil sorcerer. It reinvents the prince as a depressed 36-year-old, based on a man shot to death by Irish police in 2000, and the sorcerer as a sexually abusive priest who transforms his victims into swans so they cannot accuse him. The leading lady is one of those silenced swans, and shares a name with the lead character in “The Children of Lir,” an ancient fairy tale about four siblings who turn into birds.

The show draws on prevalent themes in modern Ireland, including oppression, state power, and corruption of the church, said Keegan-Dolan, and even its narrative style has Irish influences.

“The show is built around a narrative structure, a structure that I would have inherited from my ancestors, who were also storytellers,” he said. “The Irish are a people who have always valued stories, as ways of passing on valuable information, from young to old.”

The show’s 10 dancers will combine classic ballet moves with modern dance, and the show discards Tchaikovsky’s score for traditional Irish and Nordic music, played on fiddles, cellos, and guitars by the music trio Slow Moving Clouds.

The show may draw on the history and folklore of Ireland, but its characters will resonate with people across borders and eras, said Keegan-Dolan.

“Every society, ancient or modern, has its evil sorcerers — some of them politicians or religious leaders,” he said. “As with any powerful myth, [the characters] speak to us today as strongly as the day of their origin. We simply need to learn how to listen again.”

“Swan Lake/Loch na hEala” at BAM Harvey Theater [651 Fulton St. between Rockwell and Ashland places in Fort Greene, (718) 636–4100, www.bam.org]. Oct. 15–19 at 7:30 pm; Oct. 20 at 3 pm. $30–$95.

Reach reporter Rose Adams at radams@schnepsmedia.com or by calling (718) 260–8306. Follow her on Twitter @rose_n_adams
A classic tale: In “Swan Lake/Loch na hEala,” a depressed man goes to the lake to commit suicide when he meets Fionnghuala, a woman turned into a swan.
Marie Laure Briane

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