By David Walters
Birthed in the isolation of Covid, and first presented in 2022 at the Gate Theater in Dublin, How to be a Dancer in Seventy-Two Thousand Easy Lessons by Michael Keegan-Dolan and Rachel Poirier has just opened at St. Ann’s Warehouse for a limited run. Not known for presenting dance, this is the first theater/dance piece ever presented there. It’s a good choice in opening up this type of work for its audiences.
Michael has not been on the stage as a performer (his fame is as a choreographer) for twenty years. How to be a Dancer is an autobiographical piece, with some poetic license, about his pigeon-toed upbringing in Dublin in a large family and understanding his desire to be a dancer (but not a Riverdance dancer) that took him to London. The story is interlaced with his loss of innocence about many things in the world reflected in touching coming-of-age moments. The piece casts a spell on its audience that they do not wake from until the curtain call. Beginning from the opening moments of sparks flying from the electric grinder cutting through the lock on the coffin size crate on stage that opens up a Mary Poppinsesque (have I invented a new word?) trove of props from within used to illustrate, mirror, and counterpoint the compelling monologue of Michael’s life.
As a life cannot easily be categorized, How to be a Dancer cannot be pigeonholed. It is many things all at once being presented through stories, movement, and dance. There is a pause of the monologue for a 15-minute section of the piece where Michael holds up the crate teetered on its corner while Ms. Poirier dances solo, with a true sense of freedom, to exhaustion, with the drumming of Ravel’s Bolero as accompaniment that reflects this inability to label this piece as does a part of Auguries of Innocence by William Blake that bookends the performance and adds a depth of poetry and fate to Michel’s life stories.
“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.”
(I’ve noticed that in writing this I’ve fallen into using Michael Keegan-Dolan’s first name through most of this writing. Upon closer scrutiny, I believe this is reflective of the comfort, self-deprecating humor, and ease he established with the audience from the beginning of the piece that cut through formality.)
The show is choreographed by Michael Keegan-Dolan and his close collaborator Rachel Poirier, and directed by Poirier and Adam Silverman. Michael and Rachel are the two performers onstage, acting and dancing the work that they created together.
Now playing at St. Ann’s Warehouse until November 5.
Running time 90 minutes with no intermission.
As always, this is just one person’s opinion in a world filled with them.