“For some motive I needed to be a dancer,” Michael Keegan-Dolan stated of his youthful self. “After which I spotted I used to be actually unhealthy at it.” Keegan-Dolan, a choreographer and director, was speaking on a video name from his house in Dingle, a distant spot on the southwest coast of Eire the place he lives with the dancer Rachel Poirier, and the place his dance firm Teac Damsa relies. “I used to be this type of tragic character.”
Sitting subsequent to him, Poirier chuckled. “I didn’t see him dance then,” she stated, “so thank God I don’t must remark.”
Keegan-Dolan’s dance-theater work “Methods to Be a Dancer in 72,000 Straightforward Classes,” which opens at St. Ann’s Warehouse on Saturday, springs from the strain between this factor he liked past all others — dance — and the realities of his physique.
In a mixture of tales and dance, he and Poirier hint the dogged efforts of a younger Irishman, based mostly on Keegan-Dolan, now 54, coming of age within the Nineteen Eighties and ’90s, struggling to seek out his place on this planet of dance. It performs out towards a backdrop of ingrained concepts about masculinity, I.R.A. violence and his emotions of being an unwelcome outsider in England, the place he went to advance his coaching.
In ballet college Keegan-Dolan was advised that his pigeon-toed toes have been hopelessly untrainable. Within the present he remembers being requested by a instructor, with as a lot kindness as she will muster, “Is there the rest you may love to do along with your life?” He can’t consider something.
His salvation, it turned out, can be choreography, and thru it, theater. After his final look onstage as a dancer in 1994, he turned to creating dances and ultimately rose to acclaim as a choreographer, first in opera and later in ensemble works of his personal.
In 1997 he based Fabulous Beast Dance Theater within the Irish Midlands, which, after its relocation to Dingle, grew to become Teac Damsa. (The identify means “home of dance” in Gaelic.) With these corporations Keegan-Dolan has explored themes from Irish historical past and fantasy in well-received works that mix stay music, theater and dance, like “The Bull,” “Rian,” a reimagined “Swan Lake,” and “Mám,” recently presented at Sadler’s Wells.
In “Methods to Be a Dancer” he turns his lens inward. There are simply two characters, the Dance Man and the Dancer, performed by Keegan-Dolan and Poirier.
The work’s intimate scale is partly a product of circumstance. “Methods to Be a Dancer” was created in the course of the pandemic and rehearsed at a theater down the street from Keegan-Dolan and Poirier’s home. (It premiered in 2022 on the Gate Theater in Dublin.)
For Susan Feldman, the creative director at St. Ann’s, the small scale provided a possibility. “I’ve been conscious of Michael for a few years,” she stated in an interview, “and I’ve seen a lot of his works, however our house isn’t actually conducive to presenting giant dance items.”
Feldman was struck by the honesty and humor of the present. “I used to be actually that it might be him dancing,” Feldman stated of Keegan-Dolan, who hasn’t carried out in many years and seems in a collection of wigs. “At first I didn’t even notice it was him.”
The fabric that makes up “Methods to be a Dancer” started to emerge earlier than the pandemic, Keegan-Dolan stated, however the interval of pressured inactivity gave him time to look again on recollections that had dogged him for years. The quantity within the title comes from yoga practices that maintain that 72,000 channels, referred to as nadis, flow into vitality by the physique.
The tales within the present draw upon the sorts of recollections — small revelations, in addition to shameful or painful experiences — that assist form our internal lives. Keegan-Dolan describes sitting in his house in Dublin, the youngest in a big household, watching Gene Kelly on tv as his mom ironed. And the way he felt when he took his first dance class, at 18, towering over the barre in rugby sweats in a room filled with “9-year-old ladies in pink leotards,” he says. He ought to really feel ridiculous, he provides, “however as an alternative I really feel like I’m in precisely the suitable place.”
After transferring to London within the ’80s, a interval of lethal bombings by the Irish Republican Military, he remembers being known as a terrorist and worse. Typically he reframes such painful experiences as absurdist comedy. However the sting continues to be there.
Onstage, the tales roll out of him like well-worn yarns. And like all such tales, they include some fabrication. “I like the concept which you could change a reminiscence, like you’ll be able to change a narrative,” Keegan-Dolan stated. He’s a pure storyteller, energetic and humorous, “un peu cabot” (a little bit of a show-off), as Poirier put it in her native French.
The storytelling is layered with snippets of motion and dance, as when Poirier and Keegan-Dolan re-enact a happy-awkward dance at an Irish disco within the ’80s, whereas bullies hurl insults from the sidelines. “I look ahead to him to go,” Keegan-Dolan says of one among them, “and when he’s gone I begin dancing once more.” Nothing can deter his pleasure in motion — not even the worry of being punched within the face.
The extra technical dancing within the present is left to Poirier, who has danced with the Rambert dance company and the Merce Cunningham Repertory Understudy Group amongst different troupes. She is the dancer he would have appreciated to have been, Keegan-Dolan stated — together with Rudolf Nureyev, Fred Astaire and Jacques d’Amboise.
The climax of the piece is a 15-minute solo carried out by Poirier that the pair choreographed collectively to Ravel’s “Boléro.” Right here, the recollections that rise to the floor are hers.
“There are bits of steps hanging there, dance recollections,” Poirier stated, “and the sensation of what it’s wish to be a dancer, all of the struggles and the dearth of cash, and the greatness and the poetry that comes with doing the job we do.”
And whilst she pushes by exhaustion, the liberty and drive of her actions, sustained by Ravel’s music, counsel one thing concerning the energy of dance, the factor that has stored Keegan-Dolan in its thrall all these years.
“It connects you to part of your self that’s in any other case completely inaccessible,” he stated. “And also you don’t even should be good at it.”