The lockdown with its different rhythms, the enclosed physical spaces, and enforced digital presence has been an opportunity and a challenge for artistic creation. National Dance Company Wales and Literature Wales have come together to produce Plethu/Weave, a series of four solo performances where dancers interpret a poem.
Dancer and choreographer Faye Tan has created a subtle piece of just over one minute to the poem Ust by National Poet for Wales Ifor ap Glyn. The poem Ust (Shh) is highly physical in sound and imagery. It speaks of words as a body that moves and is translated beautifully by Faye in her delicate and yet intense movements.
Faye was born in Singapore and has trained in ballet and contemporary dance at the Singapore Ballet Academy and School of The Arts before graduating from the Rambert School in London. She then joined Verve, the postgraduate company of the Northern School of Contemporary Dance in Leeds. She was always interested in learning new dance styles and has often taken extra classes to try new things. She tells me she likes “being a chameleon.” She likes the variety and exploration that contemporary dance allows. She says,
“I always try to remember that there’s this whole spectrum of movement and amount of energy, and a whole spectrum of options to use when you dance because it’s contemporary dance. There is no expectation from the genre to do something in a certain way.”
At dance school she developed her physicality and learned the vocabulary of dance. As a professional dancer, she is learning to express herself in dance in a more subtle way. She says,
“In training there was a lot of discovering of the limits of my physicality, how high I can go, how much I can push myself. It was when I joined a company in Singapore, after the training, that it was more about what the work needs rather than physical training. I felt allowed to quieten down physically and discover nuances.”
I ask her about working with poet Ifor ap Glyn. She tells me that they were matched by NDCWales and Literature Wales. “It was like a blind date”, she says with a giggle. She describes the poem saying that it felt like “I could zoom to a moment in time.”
I ask her what was her process, she tells me,
“I spent a couple of days at home in my living room thinking of movements and the words and how they would come together. I decided because I was confined as well and I couldn’t go out very much, I thought I’m going to do it on my balcony with quiet a plain background so that the body is the focus.”
The evocative moves that lend a body to the words capture the delicate motion of the poem and its intensity. It seems effortless, yet Faye tells me that in the beginning she had a creative block. She tells me,
“I did not expect the creative block. The concept was very exciting. But I had to be performer, choreographer, and director. I enjoy working with other bodies.
I am not surprised me at her initial creative block. Lockdown confined the movements of all of us and separated us from other people. In Faye’s dance, I glimpse at the experience of confinement. Her moves happen in a small space and are trapped in close-ups. In Ust, Faye’s movements draw out Ifor ap Glyn’s words in beautiful harmony, or better, cynghanedd.
You can find out more about the project here