Review: MÁM, Sadler’s Wells

‘MÁM’ is a primal scream that oscillates from sensitivity to invasiveness. Creator Michael Keegan-Dolan leaves us with impressions, rather than narratives, marking a departure from his previous adaptation of the fabular Swan Lake. Keegan-Dolan’s unmooring from the safety of storytelling proves entirely successful, as the company of dancers and musicians subsume us with pure sensation. The choreography succeeds in capturing that which language cannot. 

‘MÁM’ is born out of a very particular Irish locality; the movements, the myths, and the music all meld together to inform the production’s sense of place. Situated in the Dingle Peninsula, beneath the slopes of Cnoc Bhréanainn and above the shores of Traigh Na Feothanai, there’s a community hall that incubated this terrible beauty. Producer Teaċ Daṁsa lifts the parameters of this spiritual corner of Ireland from its historic origins and translates the space into a series of climactic moments.

Whilst no words are spoken, language underscores the performance. The word MÁM comes from An Ghaolainn, the dialect spoken in the southwest of Ireland, and can be variously defined as an obligation, a yoke, a handful of goodies, and most notably, a mountain pass that provides the easiest way of surmounting a large geographical obstacle. Keegan-Dolan forges this last definition into a particularly striking image that seems to echo the Troubles – Keir Patrick’s body provides a bridge that surmounts the gulf between two chapel chairs posed in a Protestant-Catholic stand-off.

As the performance progresses, I feel as though I’m being initiated into a cult. A young girl, dressed in a white confirmation dress and enshrined in an envelope of light, begins the proceedings by disinterestedly munching on a packet of crisps. She grounds the ritualised ecstasy unfolding on stage by acting as a beacon of innocence who bears silent witness to the decadent horrors of adulthood. Yet by the end, she moves with the pack. Her transition from passive to active provides us with a reference point, as we too get sucked down the rabbit hole into a manic other world. 

The music, performed by the Berlin orchestra s t a r g a z e and written by Cormac Begley, steers the ensemble into the delicate, the depraved, and the dangerous, dislocating bodies from their aloneness so that they can be re-located within the unifying energy of the collective. 

I always leave Sadler’s Wells with a similar feeling; it’s almost as if I’ve gained an undiagnosed strain of joy. The performance asked nothing of me, yet it gave everything to me. Without even realising, I’d unconsciously participated in a meditative trance for an hour and a half. The piece commands the status of an ancient rite, dancing in defiance of impending ruin.

MÁM was playing until February 7th. For more information and tickets, see the Sadler’s Wells website.