For fans of the terpsichorian arts, this documentary about the creation, rehearsal and early days of the 2019 work Mám, by Irish dance and theater troupe Teac Damsa, will be a treat. This is especially true given that the pandemic has disrupted Mám’s planned tour, so this may be one of the rare opportunities for people to see some, but certainly not all of it. Instead, slow-moving maestro Pat Collins (last seen with the ethnological documentary Henry Glassie: Field Work) and no doubt editor Keith Walsh extracted an assortment of moments and passages from the version. final staging which they skilfully put together, although sometimes the music heard does not match the dance seen.
Mám lacks any type of story, and its creation was more about process than product for choreographer Michael Keegan-Dolan and his ensemble, and so the film’s piecemeal, cut-out approach works very well. Keegan-Dolan, best known for his ballet and choreography work for the Royal Opera House, explains to his collaborators at the start that he wants to do something outside the usual hierarchies of dance, opening up space for performers to be also played a key role in the creative process as Keegan-Dolan or his main collaborator Rachel Poirier (she is also his wife). Equally essential to the process, meanwhile, is the contribution of bravery concertina player Cormac Begley, who brings the score together in a parallel collaboration with look at the starsa musical combo using traditional instruments to create a heady sound that comes closest to contemporary classical, but with jazz and folk bits.
For all the abstraction of the show, which involves animal masks, slouchy shoe mixes, manic twirling and an interlude where dancer James Southward kisses everyone on stage, there are some surprisingly moving moments. For example, Keegan-Dolan enjoins dancers to move as if showing a beloved, dying relative all about their craft in a frenetic performance, and it elicits strong feelings. Elsewhere, Collins’ camera watches the catering team prepare to feed everyone as they work in the troupe’s rehearsal space in Kerry, helping to reinforce the sense of community that is somehow sort of deeply rooted in the show’s ineffable themes.