Category Archives: Dance

Review: Romeo a Juliet – Ballet Cymru, The Riverfront, Newport by Jack Hill

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

Infused with that distinctly Welsh edge that sets this company apart from others, the opening night for Ballet Cymru’s 2019 tour of Romeo a Juliet was a breath-taking spectacle of love, loss, power and pain. Featuring choreography from Darius James OBE and Amy Doughty, alongside Prokofiev’s classic score, a number of new dancers to the company (and to Wales) joined the more experienced faces that will be familiar to followers of Ballet Cymru. This performance demonstrated the real depth of talent that the company attracts, nurtures, and advances.

In her premiere professional performance, dancer Danila Marzili embodied Juliet with infectious passion and grace, effectively conveying the playful and childlike elements of the character as well as the inimitable pain and heartbreak leading to her death. In her opening scene, Marzili and Krystal Lowe (portraying Juliet’s friend, her confidante, rather than her nurse) expressed such a tangible affinity with one another that, immediately, I was transported directly from Newport into Juliet’s chambers. The scene ends, along with Juliet’s childhood, as she is introduced to her arranged fiancé, Paris, danced energetically by Joshua Feist in his own premiere performance with Ballet Cymru.

Opposite Marzili as Juliet, Romeo was performed by Andrea Maria Battaggia. Battaggia is a skilful dancer who returned to Ballet Cymru this year from Ballet Ireland. Having portrayed the role in 2013, this performance demonstrated the reasons behind this reprisal in 2019. His strength and passion deliver the character’s impulsiveness, tenderness, and emotion with expert flair.

Two real stand-out performances for me were two characters that are usually side-lined as secondary in the story of Romeo and Juliet. Alex Hallas and Beth Meadway, portraying Lord and Lady Capulet, conveyed strength, coldness, wealth, and power through their bodies in such a way that every time they stepped on the stage, they owned it. The costumes adorning these two characters were highly effective at complementing their status. Meadway’s dramatic poise and striking elegance as Lady Capulet was phenomenal; only to be given more depth by the implied affection between her and Tybalt (performed adeptly by Robbie Moorcroft) and her subsequent breaking down into anguish and distress at his death. This performance makes it vastly clear that these dancers are also capable actors, with every performer fully embodying and embracing their roles on the stage.

Perhaps it’s cliché to mention, but I am unable to write a review of Romeo a Juliet without referencing the balcony scene. Expertly choreographed by James and Doughty, and skilfully danced by Battaggia and Marzili to express curiosity and the passion, this famous and relatable interaction proved hugely popular with the very diverse audience present in the theatre. The setting of this scene took my breath away; the projection of a grandiose window and the stage lighting to define the setting accompanied a simple yet effective podium to demarcate the balcony. For my daily work, I spend a lot of my professional time at the headquarters of Ballet Cymru in Rogerstone, Newport. From the first sighting of this balcony while the company were in early rehearsals, I had a real desire to go full-Romeo with, “but soft, what light through yonder window breaks?” but alas, my acting days were short-lived and I struggle to keep a straight face anymore!

Image credit Sian Trenberth

Minimalistic sets are indicative of the work of Ballet Cymru. Predominantly on the stage were moveable sheets of hanging chains which conveyed elements of wealth, grandeur, and battle. Designed by Georg Meyer-Wiel, this feature was highly effective in delineating space, serving as backgrounds for projection, and expressing the well-known building blocks of the plot of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Meyer-Wiel also designed the dancers’ costumes, with some real stand out pieces (I couldn’t decide which I preferred: the powerful black costumes of Lord and Lady Capulet, or Friar Lawrence and his entourage dressed in leather). One small criticism, however, is that I feel Paris’ green- jacketed costume was too similar in colour to that of the Montagues, and perhaps would have been more prominent if it reflected those of the senior Capulets.

Every piece of work produced by Ballet Cymru that I have seen has had intrinsically Welsh notes running through. Led by Artistic Director and proud Newport local Darius James OBE, it would be surprising to see a show from this company that didn’t include at least a few nods to Welsh culture and heritage! Romeo a Juliet did not disappoint: the title itself, a nod to the Welsh language; the projection of underneath a Newport flyover during one of the fight scenes, open to interpretation but definitely Newport; the incorporation of traditional Welsh clog dancing in time with Prokofiev’s Dance of the Knights/Montagues & Capulets… Admittedly, I wasn’t sure what to expect of clog dancing mashed up with ballet (and neither were my parents, who were visiting from across the border), but when the dancers were clogging in reasonably good time with the music – masked in hoods that covered their whole faces – Lord and Lady Capulet entered, performing in a more classical ballet style befitting of their characters. The strength demonstrated by the dancers – particularly Robbie Moorcroft (Tybalt) – whilst clogging was palpable. It is this kind of flair that sets Darius James and Ballet Cymru as a real formidable force in Wales, because this scene worked. It was memorable; it was powerful; it was Welsh. And it worked.

Ballet Cymru, Artistic Director, Darius James OBE
Image credit Sian Trenberth

An integrally important responsibility of Ballet Cymru, and many other arts organisations around Wales, is to improve diverse representation within their audiences and share their art form with people who may never have entered a theatre, never mind seeing a ballet. Ballet Cymru’s Duets programme, which seeks “to support people to access dance, regardless of background, finances, race, belief, ability, and gender/orientation”, invited a number of its scholars (participants) from Moorland Primary School in Splott, Cardiff to perform the curtain-raiser at both tour dates in Newport.

Students from Moorland Primary School, Splott

Aptly named Romeo and Duets, the young people danced with skill (and to rapturous applause!) to Karl Jenkins’ Palladio, as performed by Escala. To complement this, complimentary tickets for the show and coach travel back to Cardiff were made available for the young people and members of their families. As a male adult beginner of ballet myself (I’m still aching from my second ever class as I write this!), it was refreshing to see how many boys were involved in this curtain-raiser.

It is always stimulating to see audience members experience something for the first time; four people sat on my row had never seen a ballet before, and were supporting their children in the Duets curtain-raiser. Ballet Cymru’s diverse audience, particularly when on home turf in Newport, creates a fresh and responsive feel amongst the audience which in turn connects them to the ballet they are watching. A real audience favourite was the ever flamboyant, provocative, and playful Mercutio (portrayed perfectly by Miguel Fernandes); a real excitement built up in the auditorium when he graced the stage with his presence, and almost tangible grief (at least on my row!) when Tybalt took his life at the end of Act II.

Ballet Cymru’s 2019 tour of Romeo a Juliet will continue across the UK throughout June and into July. In addition to this, in partnership with Wales Arts International, the company will be touring three cities in China throughout September 2019. Clearly, the sky is the limit for this dynamic, engaging, and passionate company and I’m excited, as ever, to see what Ballet Cymru has planned next!

Review Jospeh and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat by Rhys Payne

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

Musical fans often snub Joseph for being like a school production but I challenge any musical fan to watch Jaymi Hensley in the title role and not be blown away. This production of Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at the Wales Millennium starred Jaymi Hensley as Joseph and at first, I was apprehensive. Jaymi is famously known for being one of the members of the English pop band Union J and sometimes, in my opinion, they cast famous pop stars just for them to be a famous face and to sell more tickets. However, this was not the case. Jaymi excelled at this role and really helped elevate the show. His acting helped perfectly balance the campiness and seriousness of the show with his exaggerated facial reactions to the audience and emotional portrayal of being reunited with friends. His singing was flawless. He posses an operatic style voice which at first I thought would be distracting but it actually helped showcase Jaymi’s talented without being distracting. In fact, I would say that this show contained the greatest rendition of ‘Any Dream Will Do’ that I have ever heard. My only issue with his singing was that at the end of the performance there was a ‘sing-a-long’ section and because Jaymi was such a fantastic singer that it made it somewhat difficult to sing along but that is a minor detail. With Jaymi’s inclusion of riffs and high notes that I think were added just for him, it helped elevate this show from its school production roots (which was what Joseph was written for) to high quality, West End ready level.

One of the problems I had from the first time I saw Joseph last year was the almost nonsensical setting of this musical. In last year’s version, we jump from the Wild West with “One More Angel” to France with “Those Cannan Days” and while this was fun to watch it did confuse me somewhat. With this year’s production however the staging and lights were used to suggest a theme rather than a location. Rather than being set in France for “Those Cannan Days” there was simply a illuminated Eiffel Tower on the background of the stage , which obviously was not supposed to look like a real-life in-person version of the tower, which served as a reminder of a French theme rather than stating this is where they are. The other thing that confused me the first time I saw this show was the character of Pharaoh as he appeared to be an Elvis impersonator. It was only after this year that I realised it was a play on the moniker of “The King.”

This year the pharaoh, played by Andrew Geater, was amazing. He looked similar to Elvis, he had his mannerisms nailed down and his impression was fantastic. The brothers in this musical are a vital part of the narrative as without them Joseph would not have ended up in Egypt. Within the show, the brothers also added to the comedy and fun of the show but also had fantastic choreography especially in Potiphar’s song titled “Potiphar” where they performed an intricate dance routine with poles which they used to create key objects in the song which was great to watch. All of the brothers were excellent dancers who combined the seriousness and campiness of each number. However, during “Benjamin’s Calypso” the brothers dressed and performed as calypso dancers. Some of the dancers did look a little uncomfortable with this dance number but it was barely visible, apart from this, they were fantastic. They were hilarious and great to watch. Something that was really interesting to see was the portrayal of Potiphars wife. She appeared on stage dressed as a ‘flapper’ and danced accordingly which was a really nice touch as within the story she is supposed to be ‘free spirited.’  At the beginning of the production during “Jacob and Sons” there is supposed to be inflatable sheep on the top of the stage however they did not inflate as they were supposed to and the members of the production had to sort them out. This was a small distraction for the audience.

Overall, I think the choice of costumes and colours worked perfectly together with the narrator in black and silver (with stars across her top) and the brothers, for the majority of the show, plain block colours. The use of colour reached its climax in the iconic image where Joseph is stood with the multi-coloured coat spread out across the stage. The posters and advertising for this show reflected the use of colour by using the raining drops of the rainbow which encapsulated the drama, colour, and the fun of the show. The designers of the advertisements must have thought about this and should be applauded. The show blended the tradition and history of Joseph while at the same time making it modern and the best performance of Joseph I have ever seen. I rate this production at 4 and a half stars.

Review Awakening, National Dance Company Wales by Helen Joy

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

I am the wrong person to review these pieces. I love NDCWales’ performances like I love good chocolate, I love them like a filthy, dirty, sweet secret, I want to shout this to the world.

Tundra

Tundra I have seen before. Seen? Seen? You don’t just see these dancers on a stage, you feel them in your guts and in your heart. I cannot begin to imagine what it must really be like to sweat and toil over the solid waste ground of the boards, feeling hot but showing cold. It is stunning. Complex, beautiful and stronger than ever. 

I was taught about the tundra, the Russian Steppes, the permafrost and their people in a time when we embraced our differences,  when our clothes and cities and foods and arts were noticeably different. Morau is a visionary unafraid of the past, unafraid of what makes us special, what joins us.

Afterimage

Now this is magic. The audience asks are there mirrors? No – I want to scream – it’s magic, let it be magic. Don’t explain – just enjoy the rolling images of relationships between the dancers, the music and the space they fill.

Melo wants the audience to have an active role in interpreting his piece, not tacit complicit traditional acceptance but think, join in, believe. Visually incredible – as it should be. This is a hungry piece. 

Revellers Mass

A greedy, visceral, writhing display. Gorgeous. I think Greenaway, I see Spanish lace and the bloody colours of fFamenco, I see The Last Supper debauched and blasphemous. I bloody love this. How does Finn do this? I want to cry, it is so so good. It is funny, it is dangerous, it is an orgy and a ceremony.

The music is perfect – deep through to ironic – and the audience sighs and laughs along, cringing at memories of our own revelry. We particularly like the mannequin’s arms groping a dancer’s body as he cavorts on water Fun! Joyous! And there we are, dragged off in disgrace and a fitting end. Brilliant. And as always, I am left wanting more, wanting to see it all again.

Afterthought

Why do these dances make me cry? What is it about them that taps into something so primal, so rooted that when they soar, I do too? Perhaps it is because I could no more do what they do than fly to the moon, perhaps it is because I see what could have been. We are often brought up kindly and carefully, encouraged to train for a proper job but we miss something – art brings life, in all its forms. Do not be afraid to take that different path. Do not be afraid to paint your dreams.

Review Awakening, National Dance Company Wales By Eva Marloes

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

It is with trepidation that I venture in writing a review of my first ever contemporary dance show, Awakening, a three-piece programme produced by National Dance Company Wales. All the three dance pieces have a distinctive style, show a desire to engage with ideas, and are executed skilfully. Watching the show was an interesting experience that left me intrigued, puzzled, and annoyed. I was intrigued by the attempt at using movement to convey visual effects, puzzled by the overall concern for concept, too often fuzzy, to the detriment of emotion, and annoyed at the diminished role of music, especially in the first two pieces, which but conveys a dystopian atmosphere, instead of being integral part of the performance.

The first piece, Tundra, begins with a captivating image of a dancer in a cone-shaped costume in a red light and an otherworldly voice. The stage is plunged into the dark and the figure disappears. As the stage is lit again by a white light, a group of dancers in white and blue cone-shaped costumes appear. They move together as a group and glide beautifully across the floor. This is perhaps the most striking part of Tundra, albeit relatively short by comparison with the main part of the piece, which consists of dancers in a colourful costume moving together as one. Their legs and arms touch to form one continuous shape and move on the stage like a snake. The choreographer, Marcos Morau, found inspiration in Russian folk music and dance, yet the cone-dress seemed much closer to the Korean traditional dress, while the main ‘snake-like’ performance reminded me of the Chinese dragon dance. The performance is smooth and elegant but the parts are disjointed and the music fails to convey any emotion.

Tundra is followed by Afterimage by choreographer Fernando Melo. The piece plays cleverly with mirrors and light to create the illusion of figures appearing and fading away like ghosts. The illusion effects are inspired by the technique of Henry Dircks and John Henry Pepper, which used light and glass to create ghostly appearances. In Afterimage, the dancers dissolve, often into one another, through multiple reflections. The piece is an exploration of different perspectives that never meet. It is well crafted, interesting, and performed gracefully; yet it feels too concerned with a visual effect conveyed through movement rather than dance. Like Tundra, it is too conceptual to convey emotion, and not aided by the dystopian music.

After the second interval, two women came and sat next to me. They could not make anything out of the first two pieces, ‘too symbolical,’ one said; yet they were enthusiastic about the third piece, the Revellers’ Mass. It is easy to see why. The Revellers’ Mass has a narrative, elaborate costumes, prominent music, and a tinge of humour. The piece begins with a male voice speaking Georgian and a priest lighting candles on a long flat surface. The sacred is alternated with the profane. The flat surface becomes a table and the sacred atmosphere turns into a wild party. At one point, the dancers at the table are reminiscent of the Last Supper, yet the reference serves little purpose and is a far cry from the biting irony of the Last Supper in Louis Bunuel’s Viridiana. Choreographer Caroline Finn is perhaps overambitious in seeking to capture ‘ritual and etiquette, and ceremony, as well as primal human behaviour.’ The conflation of ritual, etiquette, and ceremony is irksome and the contrast with partying as ‘primal human behaviour’ highly problematic. Revellers’ Mass is nevertheless entertaining and ends humorously with drunken revellers being dragged across the floor to the notes of Edith Piaf’s Je ne regrette rien.

As a novice, Awakening has been an interesting and thought-provoking experience. I acknowledge my preference for emotional engagement when it comes to all art forms; yet the three dance pieces have opened a door to a way of experiencing art that has left me curious notwithstanding the frustration. The show has perhaps succeeded in raising questions, the most important of which might be ‘does art need emotion to be art?’

Review Pepperland at the Wales Millennium Centre by Lois Arcari

Review of Pepperland at the Wales Millenium Centre by Lois Arcari

2.5 out of 5 stars (2.5 / 5)

I was unsure of what to expect when I sat down to watch Mark Morris’ Pepperland at the Wales Millenium Centre. It’s practically criminal not to know and love the Beatles in at least some tangential way, or not to have one go to song to draw out as your favourite. But I wasn’t watching with the nostalgia of many of the audience who had been there the first time, who could see themselves in the chorus of screaming fans in the opening scenes. I’m also generally unfamiliar with the dance genre and haven’t watched professional dance shows in years. But I thought that the show would be the perfect splash of colour to brighten up characteristically unpredictable Easter behaviour.

The opening scene sealed my unease, with Ethan Iverson’s inventive score somewhat undermined by unearned hints of darkness. The theremin was a particular point of contention for this show. Personally, I adore this unconventional instrument, especially in the rightfully iconic Ed Wood theme. However, It’s an instrument best used sparingly.

When placed artfully in pieces like the ‘Penny Lane’ dance, it was unexpected but refreshing. However, there were moments where it threatened to drown the score and the audience with it, through no fault of the talented performer. The show seemed to have that sort of tone problem throughout. While sombre notes in the orchestration sometimes clashed welcomely with the candy cane cheer of the costumes, more often than not they felt misplaced and unearnt in regards to the dancers, who were performing – wonderfully as always throughout the production – dances that didn’t meet the new tone to the music.

Again, when it worked it worked, but there were only brief flashes where it did. Some of the transitional dances were overly repetitive, but the technical prowess of the dancers can’t be faulted. Whatever the audience felt about the score or singing – and we’ll come to that later – the dancers had them all immediately onside, providing the audience with plenty of laughs alongside genuinely warm applause.

Despite their obvious prowess during the more cheerful numbers – especially my favorite of the set, ‘Penny Lane’, they were equally as impressive, if not more, when performing more tender and sombre scenes. The romantic dances especially were things of beauty. They represented a tender sixties fairytale where race, gender, sexuality and time meant nothing. Love and light were all, even when the lights dimmed and love faded. The show managed to give it’s very basic staging maximum impact. The ebbs and flows of lights and colour flexing to the music. Of particular note was the way that Iverson drew out the Beatles’ Indian influences to their most lavish conclusion.

The singer, however, was met with mixed reviews. Not doubting his vocal talents, he simply didn’t seem to fit the production. The dancers and their costumes indicated something more joyful which would take itself less seriously. The score was theatrical but often confused. Vocal talent and power alone can’t replicate charm, and the operatic style seemed like just another confusion added to the pile. The singer would have benefited from a show which approached its tone with more intent, or allowing himself some lapses in technical skill for raw emotion. In those brief moments where he did falter, his singing became much more powerful.

Perhaps the best way of summarising this show is ‘if you’re here for a beatles sing-along, that’s not going to happen.’ This mild, half unknowing derision of the audience suggests that this show has ambitions beyond its color palate, and has left fans outside of the review circuit – including my plus one – feeling rather cold, while it enjoys status as a critical darling. Still, the genuine love that emanates from the company’s every dance move – and the Beatles themselves as an evergreen subject matter – were enough to keep some lonely hearts more firmly on its side.

Review Awakening by National Dance Company Wales, Taliesin Arts Centre by Judi Hughes

Taliesin Arts Centre has always felt welcoming to me. I particularly enjoyed collecting my tickets from the box office and having a smooch around the shop and gallery. Sadly the gallery is no longer there and a smart little box office has been established on the upper level. My ticket on this occasion, along with a very useful programme, is handed to me by a representative of the company and I am made very welcome.

Programmes are very important to me as I like to know a bit of background on the company and its creatives, and what I am about to encounter. The programme for Awakening is well written, with just enough information about everything I need to know. A summary of each piece and a brief description, with an extra word from the choreographer gives me just enough of an insight of what I am about to see without giving the game away. We are told that Awakening intends to ‘offer audiences diverse perspectives on the world’. The selection of 3 pieces shown tonight do that and more. It begins with Tundra, an entertaining and relatively accessible work, leads us into the very clever Afterimage and brings us finally to Reveller’s Mass, an unexpected and wild collage of religious iconography. A complimentary programme of work that does what an internationally acclaimed dance company should do – please, excite and challenge perceptions.

The audience is very mixed in age range, Taliesin Arts Centre and National Dance Company Wales have done well in their development of audiences for dance. I understand that Awakening has done well across its tour. Observing the marketing which includes stunning images and great trailers as well as the dedication to outreach work, I can see why it has been such a success. I expect that the company’s reputation and the quality of the work has meant that word of mouth, always the best form of advertising, has had a lot to do with it too.

The first performance of the evening, Tundra, is an excellent start to the evening. We are presented with a red square, with a dark and somewhat foreboding image of a tall dancer, making its first statement. We enter then a stage lit by 2 strip lights, the width of the stage, which whilst stark in appearance often alter in their brightness. The company of 7 dancers appear like Russian dolls, with patterned tops and long a-line skirts performing what I understand to be the traditional Beryozka dance, which just looks amazing; the dancers are so clever at this illusion of floating I wonder whether they are wearing Heelys to glide around the stage. The soundscape and subtle lighting design play their part here and throughout the piece; I feel as if I am looking into a time tunnel, a sort of digitally remastered version of these folk dancers, chained together and stuck in a time warp. Echoes of Russian folk music, throat singing and sounds of natural elements help to give a feel of otherworldliness captured in time.

Divested of their skirts, the dancers are now fully adorned in fabulously patterned body suits, reflecting the gaiety of folk costumes and with more contemporary colours, particularly the striking ice blue. With white socks they look at once like ice skaters and then like gymnasts; their precise, linked movements, performed in almost perfect unison, along with the lighting continue to make them appear Tron-like, as if they are trapped together in a computer memory. This is the thing I like best about contemporary dance, that it can be interpreted by the viewer in whatever way we want. Whilst the programme gives minimal instructions, there is plenty of room for my imagination to take me on that journey.

The choreography of Tundra is joyful, with so much to draw on, even including head bobbling, taking the reach of the Russian state into Asian territory. The soundscape continues throughout from thunderous crashes to the echoing sound of a child singing. The choreography relies on patterns and format; there are imperfections with a foot placed differently and a kick not quite in line, but I am tending towards intentional imperfection here, almost like a glitch in the system. The focus moves from marching upright to legs and feet, where once again the costumes come into play. I always marvel at dancers’ feet and these white sock clad movements continue the fascination. I am not surprised that this is such a popular piece.

Afterimage – the mirror that constantly reveals – is mesmerising in a totally different way. Initially I believe the set is 2 tables, 1 behind the other with 1 male sat at each. An illusion, as the whole work is an illusion set to confuse and play with our visual perception. A letter is delivered to the rear table using the method of Pepper’s Ghost, described in the programme as an effect originally used in carnival sideshows to conjure ‘ghosts’ in séances. The piece continues with reality and ghosts intertwined; 6 dancers, male and female, perform effortless movement and develop relationships that engage the viewer as their eyes adjust to see the dancer, the reflection and the ghost in a mirror that is so clear it feels like you could reach through it. It is strangely enticing to see the opposite view of the dancers as they move in and out of vision. The story of the piece is based around the letter, eventually opened and read, leaving the viewer with questions as to its content. Did she die? She looks like she died. Did she leave? It feels quite sad. Whatever the story, the effect of the female dancer walking away with one of the tables is a powerful ending to a piece that provides mysterious fascination to its end. Altogether a technically clever piece, although I fear that once viewed, the spectacle is gone.

Revellers’ Mass is everything it promises to be. As featured in the programme we are presented with a long thin table, its width almost covers the stage. This is the centre-piece, the table of the last supper, which eventually reveals that it holds the water and the wine as the dancers splash in it and perform on it. Candles placed along the ‘table’ are lit as church bells ring; an atmosphere of calm is created as people mill around. Strange looking broken mannequins with arms or bits missing, reminiscent of Da Vinci statues, complete the set. The costumes of black lace dresses worn by male and female in almost androgynous fashion look Italian or Spanish. A piano plays in the background, and then music – loud, dramatic, vocal, operatic enters the fray and the dance begins. It is a bizarre display, at times pious and at its most dramatic, irreligious. I don’t try to understand at this point, just to observe and enjoy, because the audience is silent and rapt in this feast of extraordinary choreography. It is as if we can see the Sodom and Gomorrah of the world behind the religious iconography. Dutiful gestures are mixed with what appear to be acts of disobedience; the choreography is untamed and appears to reflect different cultures and beliefs. The mannequins are brought into play, one carried around as if it symbolises a religious statue. A scene of wildness is created, with a central figure carrying a broken mannequin that pours gold onto the stage and is followed by an almost crawling figure that hankers after it as it spills from its guts. A false finish then, which on reflection feels intentional, as the movement stops, the lights lower and the audience begins its applause, which lasts for some time until we realise that there is more. The priest-like figure comes to the front of the stage and stands staring, whilst to the sounds of Piaf’s ‘Je ne Regret Rien’, the stage is cleared of its detritus by the rest of the cast. When we are sure that this is the end, the audience applauds loudly, showing their appreciation of this fantastic piece, which reflects the mess of the world in which we live.

A fabulous evening of dance, beautifully crafted, carefully performed and very well received.

Awakening is currently on tour and can be see at Aberystwyth Arts Centre 24th April, Sherman Theatre 1 and 2 May and Theatre Severn 7 May.

Behind the Curtains of Les Misérables By Eva Marloes

Up the ramps of steep metal stairs, in a room in the Loft, outside of the main building of Chaptert Arts Centre, the theatrical company August012 are rehearsing for their unique take on Les Misérables by Victor Hugo. The music begins. It’s a military tune. It’s 1815, the battle of Waterloo. The fighting, the casualties, the hollow victory. Then, at a stroke, it’s 2016, in Cardiff, the night of the EU Referendum. The battle of Waterloo and the battle of Brexit come together through a meeting and clashing of sounds, words, music, and dance making for an immersive sensory experience.

Rehearsal images credit Jorge Lizalde

The tragedy and horror of Waterloo is juxtaposed with the carefree and indulgent pleasure of holiday-makers in 2016 ahead of the Referendum and the comic coming to terms with the result. It is a kind of estrangement that seeks to bring awareness of the historical implications of Brexit through rhythm and fun. All the pieces, the description of the battle, the drums, the music, a man chocking on a Dorito, Farage, and soldier-dancers, come together with perfect timing. The creativity fuelling Les Mis comes from the collaboration of Director Mathilde Lopez, Choreographer Matteo Marfoglia, and Composers John Norton and Branwen Munn, the latter working from West Wales.

The coming together of French-Spanish, Italian, and Welsh talent with diverse national and cultural backgrounds makes gives an extra dimension to the careful multi-layered assembling of sound, words, and movement. It is the collaborative and supportive nature of these relationships that stands out as I watch the rehearsals. There is no hierarchy, no instructions, no neat division of labour, but a coming together to harness the talents and creativity of one another. Mathilde says, ‘We can do that,’ not ‘Can you do that?’ She is not imparting instructions, she listens to others and makes suggestions. The work emerges from this shared effort and fun. They’re working hard but they’re also having fun.

The atmosphere is so relaxed and friendly that I wonder how a comment from me might be received. I comment and I’m struck by Carwyn, one of the actors, turning to me and nodding. It is a listening environment, where each member of the company can make suggestions and is listened to. John Norton, the composer/DJ, is surprised I’m surprised. ‘This is theatre,’ he tells me, ‘If you want control, don’t do it.’ Unpredictable, brittle, never finished, theatre is always in the making. Precision is impossible, flexibility is key.

Mathilde likes the challenge that music and movement present to her as a theatrical director. She needs to limit herself to give space to John and Matteo. Her listening and collaborative frame of mind includes listening to actors and non-actors who participate in the production. When auditioning for the play, Mathilde asked them what they were doing on the night of the Referendum. The piecing together of different perspectives and experiences reinforces the nature of this production of Les Mis where different worlds coexist.

Choreographer Matteo Marfoglia tells me that the idea is to have two worlds side by side in the same space: the world of the actors and the world of the dancers. The two worlds do not interact. The dancers and the actors are on different journeys. The dancers, as soldiers, evoke with their movements and sounds the tragic sense of the historical dimension of both Waterloo and Brexit. Actors and dancers come in and out of the space interweaving the present with the past, connecting and disconnecting history with our daily lives.

Les Mis speaks to our own reality. It is this sense of the real and dance as a way to communicate real life that brought Matteo to Wales. Classically trained, Matteo first moved to Amsterdam and Rotterdam to become a contemporary dancer and, six years ago, he came to Wales to be part of the National Company Wales. He left classical ballet because it did not meet his thirst for something more authentic to human experience. He believes that contemporary dance allows the individual expression of emotions to come to the fore.

Matteo is training to become a ‘Gaga’ dance teacher. Gaga dance has been developed by Israeli dancer and choreographer Ohad Naharin. At its core, Gaga dance is about embodying the inward emotions of the dancer and how they connect with other dancers. The individuality of the dancer is expressed outward flowing into the shared consciousness of the group. ‘We feel the same emotions but we do so differently,’ Matteo explains, ‘We’re all connected through an emotion but this emotion is expressed in one’s unique and individual way.’

The emotional dimension of Les Mis is a pervasive sense of loss and futility contrasted with seductive pleasure and a hangovered awakening to the aftermath of the Referendum. As European nationals, Matteo and Mathilde experienced a deep sense of loss after the Referendum. They felt ‘under attack,’ as Matteo puts it. All of a sudden, they became foreigners, their presence questioned. Mathilde, who has been living in Britain for 20 years, is married to John and has British children who speak Welsh, felt the pain of exclusion, of being told to ‘go back home.’ She never needed to be formally British, she was part of British society, then Brexit struck.

Brexit has shown that being foreign is an identity that stays with you no matter how long you live in your ‘adoptive’ country, no matter of many changes you make, no matter how much you absorb of the local culture. The ‘in-betweeness’ that has characterised Mathilde’s life became problematic with Brexit. Europe allowed overlapping identities that don’t stop at national borders. Europe, for Mathilde, is the wider project of togetherness. It is complicated and Europe often does not live up to the dream. The way the EU functions right now doesn’t work for many countries, she tells me, but they don’t question being part of it. ‘It’s like moaning at your parents,’ Mathilde says, ‘you moan, you don’t kill them.’

The vote brought sadness to Mathilde and also anger. She found that anger was more ‘socially acceptable’ than sadness because it makes one look strong, but she found it tiring. She needed compassion. She plunged into reading classics, such as Steinbeck, Camus, and Hugo. Classics were her way to get her head around what had just happened and avoid a reductive perspective. ‘When you’re angry at the Americans, you read Steinbeck, when you’re angry at Italians, you read Dante,’ Mathilde explains. Literary classics allow her to go beyond the narrow contingencies of today’s events, put things in perspective, and nourish compassion.

For Mathilde, Les Mis is a personal journey from sadness and anger to compassion. Compassion is in the ability to listen to one another, work together, and produce a work that is accessible to all.‘Will my grandmother get it?’ Mathilde asks herself when writing. She wants something accessible, not limited to regular theatre-goers. She wants to be open to others, wherever they come from culturally, socially, and, of course, politically. Some members of the production voted Leave.

‘It is our duty to be compassionate,’ says Mathilde, ‘to find strength in accepting defeat, not despair.’ It is compassion that allows to overcome division, to appreciate human complexity, and find strength in togetherness. Mathilde finds compassion in being supported by Chapter Arts Centre, in working together with actors, non-actors, and dance students, getting inspiration from all.

Mathilde, Matteo, and John tell me working together requires humility, respect, and trust. As John tells me, ‘you need to sense the time when to follow someone else’s lead, when to defend one’s position, and when to let go of it.’ You need to abandon the need to take control. This deeply collaborative and inclusive production of Les Mis is fruit of mutual trust and compassion. It is what the UK needs now.

Valentine’s day And Musical Theatre REVIEW BY TANICA PSALMIST

Watching Valentine’s Day & Musical Theatre organised by LCP Dance Theatre; founded by dancer and choreographer Joanna Puchala was a fabulous experience to be in the mists of. The show was held at The Lodge space in collaboration with Social Arts Festival and Flow move. It was a space that contained admiration for true talent; migrating an organic richness and respect for the artist’s craft, which was mind-blowing and well deserved. You could not hear a pin drop in the space, every performer engaged the audience’s attention as they performed with grace and authenticity. They had all individually tailored their work to project their personal or moral views or foretell a story from their perspective. This was done with pure sincerity as we could only imagine the depth of sweat, blood and tears it took to develop and construct such masterpiece’s, to ensure the smooth runnings of the different timed pieces showcased. These consisted of Modern Ballet, Contemporary Dance, Aerial Dance, Martial Arts and Musical Theatre.  

Valentine’s Day & Musical Theatre had kicked off with dancers Ranja Kasemi & Mia Aurora Windern infusing sensations of animal locomotion, Budokon yoga and contemporary pole dancing intertwined. This production brilliantly flowed as the artistic creativity of audible sounds of heavy panting and breathing of a wild, warm blooded mammal played. The girls majestically maintained the manifestation of distinctive characteristics of a wild animal’s physicality moves, sensory and mannerisms. Radiating the unconditional love we as human entities should posses for wild nature, and the creatures that exist within it. I had the pleasure of speaking with Mia Aurora Windern after the show who shared with me that her idea’s were stimulated around the conveying of the division of nutrients and water optimally on tree’s during their process of photosynthesis and how the mentality to nurture wildlife and respect nature would mean trees could grow into the best of their ability. 

Their production began with epic, gripping fluidity & flexibility. The duration of their set was charismatically breathtaking as well as pulsating. Their act featured all tricks and momentum of sensual swinging and circular motions of exhilaration as they pranced on and around the pole. The duet contained a fusion of delicacy, intensity and abstract diversity throughout; soundlessly piercing hearts as the synchronisation, definition within their muscular arms revealed their upper body and core strength and brought a sense of humility as they presented dignified, strong upper body swings. The tempo of the ambience engaged in with their rhythm, balancing whilst remaining in character mode throughout. These girls brilliantly set the mood for what followed next I felt. They interestingly wore a mask made out of Christmas pine tree, resonating messages of life, forest and the benefit of animals dwelling in their natural habit without feeling or being endangered by human destruction.     

Followed next was a dancer named Dianna Mukalere, whom again was a strikingly powerful and empowering artist. Her contemporary intuitive dance told a story of an inner identity remaining cool, calm and collective. She engaged with a pink, satin scarf to her piece. As it flowed it added a courageous wave that added a warming assentive and drive force enchanting magic, elegance and fluctuation. As she continued to move in a circular motion operating in different directions, decelerating honesty, vulnerability and love. This piece amazingly incorporated spoken word, the usage of different mediums meant that she kept everyone’s attention fixated on her act without blinking. It was a very enchanting, stylish expression of circulating movement of the body and wellbeing of living in harmony within yourself and feeling at one with yourself as a whole internally and externally. 

The third performance foretold the narrative of love in different aspects. Signalling true beauty and significance of modern Ballet. The contemporary ballet consisted of two duets both of which was sincere and genuine. As the dancers conveyed well structured, highly engaging and beautiful tales of a love story. The amount of emotion that bounced off in frequencies was unreal, in depth passion for romance and the embracing of two individuals coming together in unison offering strength and joy. Wonderfully played by the featuring casts; Briar Adams, Daniel Rodriguez, Marion Edmond & Lance Collins. 

Valentine’s Day & Musical Theatre in it’s entirety was unique and authentic. A solo performer by the name of  Frances Kartz gave an outstanding contemporary performance which consisted of Martial Arts, storytelling a tale of movement and skill. France’s body language for the awakening of a brave and powerful soul, sparkled the search of love, faith and courage. Combining grace & precision which brought fire and gloss to her act. Prior we’d seen Deliah Seefluth with an exceptionally strong and strengthening contemporary dance. And Victoria Howden with a solo musical theatre set, lasting for twenty-five minutes. It was a biography of her life story which the audience couldn’t help but sing along to, her unique, talented piece featured comedy, story telling and singing. Her all time favourite musical anthems were narrated to convey a more corny, sensual, humorous version as her dreams turned into a life story before our very own eyes. Victoria Howden was completely unexpected and pulled off a fabulously, daring re-enactment of her life as a musical in an realistic world of course. 

The LCP Dance Theatre company performed an Ariel contemporary Dance, this being the final act of the night. A brilliantly choreographed, twenty-five minute quintet. This was a beautiful way to end as it was representing the physical and mental state of our conscious mindsets whilst being broken hearted. This fabulous piece explored the different phases of pure love, betrayal, lost trust and struggle to forgive and finally becoming friends. This transformation of a passionate love leading to friendship, mutual understanding and compassion towards one another was sensational and truly well put together. Featuring the casts Lynn Dichon, Juan Sanchez Plaza, Leoni Amandin, Natasha Lee and Joanna Puchala. Was a wonderful way to end the show, the order of the shows were all so different. And achieved the objective of conveying emotion simultaneously through dance and performance. 

Top Tunes with Adele Thomas

Credit Kirsten McTernan


Hi Adele, great to meet you, can you give our readers some background information on yourself please?

I am a theatre and opera director. I am from Port Talbot originally and live in Cardiff now. I’m about to make my Royal Opera House debut with Handel’s Berenice

Credit Damien Frost

This chat is specifically about music and the role it has played in your personal and professional life. Firstly to start off what are you currently listening to? 

I am obsessively listening to Berenice as I’m about to direct it! So my iPod is pretty much given over to that and to some of Handel’s other operas. It’s good to get a sense of where this piece fits into his wider body of work.


But the latest thing that I saw and was blown away by was a gig by Hen Ogledd. Their album, Mogic, has just come out and it’s just sensational. I’m a vinyl lover, so I’ll be listening to it on the record player! 

We are interviewing a range of people about their own musical inspiration, can you list 5 records/albums which have a personal resonance to you and why? 
1

Magical Mystery Tour – The Beatles

I’m going to immediately preface this by saying that this is by no means The Beatles’ best album (for me, that’s Revolver) but it is the one that changed my life. I was struggling to fit in in my teens in a world of grey concrete and everyone in head to toe adidas block colour tracksuit and gangster rap. After one very late night of underage drinking, a friend took me back to his house and said “check this out”. He put the film of Magical Mystery Tour on and immediately my entire world opened up. The colour, the surreality, the clothes and, of course, the music! I became obsessed with the backwards tapeloops, the kaleidoscope camera, the technicolour kaftans. I binned the tracksuit and immediately became a 60s throwback. That one encounter opened up everything to me: art, counter culture, the music scene, a whole world of new friends. And I can still quote that film word for word. 


His ‘N’ Hers – Pulp 


When my school mates did all start listening to Oasis and Blur I was firmly in the 3rd camp: I was a massive Pulp fan. Different Class is the album that cemented them as working class hero for the wierdo amongst us, and This is Hardcore saw them reach the pinnacle of their orchestral ambition, but His ‘N’ Hers is my favourite. It captures something very real about being an outsider in the 90s: when charity shops were packed full of incredible 60s clothing for pennies, the seedy glamour of the beachside dirty weekend B n Bs along Mumbles road, sticky indie clubs and lager and lime. It’s an album that celebrates the trashy, sexy, the working class. Jarvis Cocker is still my hero and nothing makes me dance and cry at the same time like “Do you Remember the First time”.  

Work and Non-Work – Broadcast 


I wrestled between this and Dots and Loops by Stereolab (which is a masterpiece) but Broadcast just pips them for me. Warp records seemed to be the coolest thing on the planet, and Broadcast’s music touched a nostalgic nerve for a period I didn’t even know.  Their music seemed to be the subconscious by product of an alternative past: the mulch creepiness of Dario Argento’s fits, the sun saturated photography, the trippy wierdness of Public Information films. This album is incredibly beautiful and cinematic: every song on it lends itself to a film that has never been made. And perhaps the thing that pushes Broadcast’s work up the list for me is the tragic death of their singer and heart of the group Trish Keenan. She was a fashion icon and a poetic mind who went too soon. 


The Hissing of Summer Lawns – Joni Mitchell


One night my boyfriend and I were driving very late down a pitch Black Country lane and we were listening to a radio show of Prince’s favourite songs. Suddenly this piece came on and it was so overwhelmingly beautiful, so totally perfect that we had to stop the car and just sit there in the dark listening. That song was Edith and the Kingpin from this strange and haunting album by the one and only Joni Mitchell. Poetically, every listen glistens with new meaning and her use of language is so incredible. “The helicopter lands on the Pan Am roof/ Like a dragonfly on a tomb”. Exquisite. Especially coming at you through that pure voice. 



Wozzeck – Berg


I discovered that I wanted to direct for stage when I sat down and watched Richard Jones’s production of Berg’s complex and terrifyingly hard opera based on the Buchner play. That production tore away any concepts I had of what theatre could be. The world on stage was so strange, so complete, and the performers were incredible musicians and amazing actors (Christopher Purves’ performance in that was one of immense human detail. All while singing some of the hardest music you’ve every heard over a full orchestra). Now I’m finally directing opera, this production is still the benchmark for me of what can be achieved. It’s really worth listening to: yes the music’s complex, but the tragedy of the story is brilliantly served here. Please note the version Adele describes is not available online. Instead we present The Hamburg Philharmonic State Orchestra, The Chorus of the Hamburg State Opera, Conducted by Bruno Maderna, Directed for television by Joachim Hess. Set design: Herbert Kirchhoff Costumes: Helmut Jürgens Recorded 1970, Hamburg State Opera.

Just to put you on the spot could you choose one track from the five listed above and tell us why you have chosen this?

I’m going to chose Babies from His N’ Hers because I think it shows how complex pop music can be. Melancholic, strangely profound: it captures the sense of teenage boredom on a rainy Tuesday evening between school and… But it also never fails to get everyone on the dance floor, and it builds into a euphoric, semi-spiritual exorcism of raw sexuality and kitchen sink drama. I can’t listen to this without dancing!


Top Tunes with Lleucu Siencyn.

Hi Lleucu great to meet you, can you give our readers some background information on yourself please?

 I was raised in Talgarreg, Ceredigion and went to Ysgol Dyffryn Teifi in Llandysul. While still at school my friends and I set up the Welsh-language rock festival, Roc y Cnapan, in Ffostrasol. We had amazing bands such as Y Cyrff (who later became Catatonia), Ffa Coffi Pawb (later, Super Furry Animals), Crumblowers, Cerrig Melys and Datblygu playing in front of thousands of young people who came to the festival from all over Wales. After school I travelled around South America for a while and studied English literature at New College, Oxford. After working at various media and arts companies I ended up where I am now in Literature Wales. Poetry, spoken word and hip-hop have always inspired me, and I love the way these genres have developed and intersected over the years.

This chat is specifically about music and the role it has played in your personal and professional life. Firstly to start off what are you currently listening to?

These days I’m enjoying listening to Kendrick Lamar, Cardi B, Stormzy, Dave (the young political rapper from London. Check out his song Question Time) – exciting music with a message and an edge.

There’s also a lot of great music coming from Wales, such as Los Blancos, Adwaith, Y Pencadlys. And Olion by Mr has been playing endlessly in our house for the last couple of months.

We are interviewing a range of people about their own musical inspiration, can you list 5 records/albums which have a personal resonance to you and why?

Velvet Underground & Nico – a funny, louche and weird album with surprisingly catchy songs.  I listened to it a lot as a teenager (and still do), and it made me fantasise about moving to New York, wear black and live in a loft.

2 Ride On by Christy Moore – my friends and family can vouch that this gets played a lot in our house and I know every single word to every song. His voice is hauntingly beautiful.

3 It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back by Public Enemy – extremely influential album when I was younger and the band still sounds as fresh and urgent now. I saw them play at the Tramshed a couple of years ago and they were amazing.

4 Libertino by Datblygu – without a doubt the most influential and exciting band ever in the Welsh-language, if not in any language. The combination of the musical genius of Patricia Morgan and the poetic desolation of Dave R Edwards makes any of Datblygu’s albums worthy of intense listening.

5 Gold: Greatest Hits by ABBA – dancing round the kitchen to ABBA songs is a tradition I’ve proudly passed on to my children. Fun, classy, catchy, genius pop disco tunes which should be part of everybody’s lives.

 Just to put you on the spot could you choose one track from the five listed above and tell us why you have chosen this?

A toss-up between Cân i Gymru from Libertino by Datblygu and Dancing Queen by ABBA. Or perhaps Ride On by Christy Moore, or Don’t Believe the Hype by Public Enemy. I really can’t choose!L