How To Be A Dancer in Seventy-two Thousand Easy Lessons – Gate Theatre – Review
by Frank L.
Runs until Saturday, October 8th 2022
The title of this piece gives an indication that what is being offered will not be easy to categorise. The Gate programme (and it is a beautifully produced document) states that Michael Keegan-Dogan and Rachel Poirier are “the choreographers and performers”. The brief trailer which appears on the Gate website has Poirier reciting lines from the Auguries of Innocence By William Blake.
“Every night and every morn some to misery are born
Every morn and every night some are born to sweet delight
Some are born to sweet delight
Some are born to endless night”.
This refrain is quoted early in the piece and towards the end. It is therefore important to keep this text in mind when following the twists and turns of this elegantly presented performance. The stage is without a set and the entire back wall of the theatre is visible. There is a large wooden box on the stage and a few chairs, tables and ladders, along with spotlights and a rope hanging at the centre of the stage. The performers appear each wearing a mask and sit in the chairs. Before each speaks their mask is removed.
The first main activity for the two performers is unpacking the large box. It contains an eclectic collection of objects including a couple of bottles of coke, four breeze blocks and a well-used child’s bicycle and much else besides. When the box is emptied, Keegan-Dolan gives glimpses of his family and their hopes and ambitions. It is clear that his parents were not hoping for a dancer. Keegan-Dolan is a gifted storyteller and has excellent comic timing which he uses to good effect. He recounts the challenges that he faced in London as he trained to be a dancer and then he reflects on some aspects of his career in the world of dance. Outside his career, he shows off a moment of relaxation when he and Poirier dance in a disco. We hear music from his youth, with Talking Heads and Bronski Beat featuring. There is self-deprecating humour and many poignant moments. It is all part of the generous way in which Keegan-Dolan and Poirier see the world and portray it.
‘Basically, I am trying to construct a spell – or a recipe or incantation – based not only on words but on working with objects and actions, with light, sound and music. We have chosen a structure. We are building a spell around that structure’ – Michael Keegan-Dolan
Initially, Keegan-Dolan appears as a mop-haired young man but by the end, he is something less hirsute. Poirier appears initially dressed in a skirt but switches back and forth with male attire. Poirier’s identity is not fixed. The piece also changes gear in the last third when Poirier dances solo to Ravel’s Bolero. It was hard not to let the mind wander to memories of Torvill and Dean and their 1984 performance in the Olympics but Poirier’s interpretation was one of a free spirit. In stark contrast, while Poirier dances Keegan-Dolan holds the box at an angle of approximately forty-five degrees without twitching a muscle. The final relatively brief section is somewhat disappointing due to its sedentary nature.
This text-based piece will surprise many that are familiar with Keegan-Dolan’s previous work. While there is dance and movement throughout, the focus is on the choreographer’s life to date, with elements of his story ‘illustrated’ by Poirier. It is not possible to say whether there were or were not seventy-two thousand lessons in this approximately eighty-minute long piece. But it is possible to say Keegan-Dogan and Poirier create a theatrical interlude which gives some inkling of the challenges that an individual encounters when they seek to pursue a life in dance. It is a creation which at times is contemplative but is mostly joyous. It is the product of two creative souls working harmoniously in unison to make an intriguing piece of theatre.