Hi Becky great to meet you, can you give our readers some background information on yourself please?
Hi, thank you for meeting with me. Well, I’m currently a freelance dancer/ choreographer/ teacher based in Cardiff. I’m originally from Huddersfield (Yorkshire) and moved to Cardiff to train in Contemporary Dance at USW. I graduated in June 2019 but have stayed in Cardiff since. Since then, I have really found myself invested in the arts scene here in Wales.
So, what got you interested in the arts?
I’d like to say I’ve always been creative but that would be a lie. I started dancing quite young at my local dance school and loved the competitions and team dances that we’d do together. It wasn’t until I was much older and was exposed to more of the arts scene, that I started to see the beauty within the arts sector and understand how collaborative it can be.
Can you tell us about your dance process? Where do your ideas come from?
My creation process with making dance varies. I take great influence from the things around me. Being that, things that inspire and intrigue me or something I want to understand further. Either that or I use my personal experiences of my interactions with the world; things that I believe should be highlighted to others or need to be understood more widely.
You were recently involved in curating, House of Rhythm presents… A night of Hip Hop which took place at Kongs Cardiff on Thursday, March 5, 2020. The event is described as “A celebration and discovery of all that is Hip hop and is in partnership with Kellys Records and Grassroots Cardiff” How did you get into Hip Hop and Streetdance. How supported is the scene in Cardiff?
One of the dance schools I was involved with as a teenager, “Fidget Feet”, prioritised teaching the true foundations and principles of HipHop. This touched upon all five pillars of Hip-Hop as well as the various styles of dance within Street Dance culture.
That, alongside growing up with two brothers who thought they were destined to be the next Notorious B.I.G, meant I was immersed within the culture and that it’s been a pivotal part of my upbringing and even in my attitude and approach to movement (and life in general) now.
This series of events is an opportunity to provide a gateway into HipHop culture and not just the music form. I feel this sense of community within HipHop, especially in Cardiff, is lacking and hence why we have decided to partner with Grassroots.
By doing so, we are working with up and coming artists and providing them with opportunities to meet people they wouldn’t otherwise. Also, with the inclusion of workshops within different pillars of HipHop, we are combining the culture as a whole and not just focussing on one part.
There are a range of organisations supporting Welsh and Wales based dancers, I wonder if you feel the current support network and career opportunities feel ‘healthy’ to you? Is it possible to sustain a career as a dance artist in Wales and if not what would help?
I’ve been extremely fortunate in the fact that as soon as I graduated, I found work that was within my field of practise. This has kept me financially stable and allowed me time to fulfil my own projects outside of my teaching work. I believe Cardiff and Wales has an extremely supportive network of artists, all willing to share their own knowledge and craft. Throughout my degree, I worked extremely hard to network and to meet the right people with the suiting opportunities to help me develop within my career. If it wasn’t for me outsourcing my own network of people (from all fields of the arts sector), I would’ve struggled to get to the place I am now, never mind the place I want to be by the end of the year.
I do feel there is an absence of ongoing opportunities, especially for recent graduates that are new to the sector. However, if we are willing to make our own work and source our own opportunities, making our own projects, yes, there is work but we must be prepared to pave this path for ourselves. This isn’t disregarding help and assistance from other creatives/ professionals, but the help is more to kickstart our own ideas rather than to flourish with other people’s.
If you were able to fund an area of the arts in Wales what would this be and why?
Wow, tricky question. I’d probably have to say spacing.
Providing space for artists to develop their own practise and ideas, whether
that be, musicians, dancers or visual artists. As not only is there a lack of
creative and accessible space in Wales, there’s a huge lacking of funded space.
If there were more funded residencies around Wales, we would see a lot more new
work being developed and a much more diverse community engagement from artists
in the area.
What excites you about the arts in Wales?
I feel like this is such an exciting time for
collaboration within Wales. There are more opportunities coming to bridge the
divide, whether that between artistic practises or between bodies of dancers.
There are some exciting opportunities in the works for disabled dancers which I
can’t wait to be involved in as well as new pools of artists moving to Wales
from areas such as London bringing new skills and assets.
What was the last really great thing that you experienced that you would like to share with our readers?
Well there’s nothing like a little bit of shameless
self promo but this is honest and genuine. It would be The House of Rhythm
event which we had on the 5th March. There were people from lots of
different communities and backgrounds all coming together to support the
artists performing. We had people involved in the workshops that would never
normally be in those sorts of social experiences. I also had talks with
participants on how we can make our events more autism friendly and accessible
for those suffering with social anxiety etc. It was this coming together of
people which was really beautiful to witness as all of the participants were
supportive of each other, regardless of background and experience.
Hip-Hop was created out of struggle in New York during the 1970s as poverty and discrimination hit the African American and Caribbean communities. It has since grown into arguably the largest arts-movement in the world.
Generally, British society knows hip-hop as a music genre which is often put to one side. However, the reality is the fingerprints of hip-hop are everywhere. From music, to fashion, to dance, to graffiti, film and theatre. Spanning the globe from New York, to LA, Tokyo, Cape Town, Seoul, Moscow and London. Hip-hop is everywhere.
In Wales, Avant Cymru are pioneering the Welsh hip-hop theatre movement following in the footsteps of the likes of Jonzi D and ZooNation. Taking stories from where the company is based in Rhondda and around Wales to platform them locally, nationally and internationally.
I’ve seen Avant Cymru’s work for myself at the Cardiff and Edinburgh Fringe Festivals and company director Jamie Berry’s solo dance in People, Power, Perception is still one of my personal favourite pieces of art I’ve seen on the stage. It proved to me that you could tell a compelling story full of emotion using only dance. Which beforehand, despite having seen a variety of different dance-based theatre, I’d never felt for myself.
It’s hard to ignore the sense of impending doom brought on by the COVID-19 epidemic. Work doesn’t stop for Avant Cymru though. Krump workshops with Duwane Taylor are available on their YouTube channel and next month they will be releasing a video where world renowned popper Shawn Ailey will be teaching the foundations for popping.
They will be running workshops through to July, either online or around Wales when safe, including sessions with beatboxing, rapping, graffiti and DJing teachers to introduce learners to all elements of hip-hop outside of dance.
As a disabled-led
company, with a variety of health and mental health conditions, Avant Cymru
really is open to any and everyone. With the help of the British Council they
are travelling to Canada in October for the No Limit Jam to connect with fellow
disabled artists and explore opportunities and encourage those with
disabilities, mental or physical, to pick up hip-hop.
The passion to do this comes from personal experience:
“For us Hip-Hop has had a positive influence on our lives.” For Jamie, “suffering with depression, breakin’ was the one thing that gave me drive and ambition… The theatre aspect allows me to express these thoughts. We have noticed other Hip-Hop artists, rappers, graffiti writers and dancers do the same. We want to make sure others have hip-hop as a tool to improve their health and well-being.”
For artistic director Rachel Pedley she found a home in Hip-Hop culture. “As a working-class artist, I struggled to afford the lifestyle of ballet dancers and other theatre makers. In Hip-Hop the training and social side was more affordable and the other artists were easier to relate to. It helped build the confidence I needed to go and create and understand my value didn’t come from the cash in my pocket. Working in the Rhondda Valleys, we want to make sure that our young people have the confidence needed to walk into other aspects of life, we believe confidence comes from celebrating our differences and that hip hop even encourages this.”
As well as offering workshops and encouraging people into forms of hip-hop, Avant Cymru also produce their own work. Working with artists from all pillars of hip-hop, from beatboxers, emcees, graffiti artists, dancers and DJs. As well as with artists from outside hip-hop such as theatre writers or musicians from outside hip-hop.
Hip-Hop is often stereotyped as ‘gangster rap’, but it is so much more than that. Avant Cymru aim to change this view as they “would like to share our knowledge with different audiences to show how varied and creative Hip Hop can be and how positive it can be when you get involved.”
Hip-Hop is arguably the largest artistic movement in the world today. But maybe the most misunderstood also. So, if you’re interested, check out an upcoming show from Avant Cymru or another hip-hop company. Or even give it a go yourself.
We are both saddened to see the vast array of cultural cancellations over the past day and proud to see so many companies putting the health of their staff, participants and audiences first.
The arts are an important part of many of our lives, and we’re also excited to see so many isolation friendly options arising. We’ve started a list of online dance and yoga classes, digital only festivals and a huge array of dance, opera, theatre, museums and CPD activities you can do from home – including full NDCWales performances. Please share this resource and let us know of other fab things we can add to it.
______________________ Mae’r ddau ohonom yn drist iawn o weld yr ystod eang o ddigwyddiadau diwylliannol sydd wedi cael eu canslo ers ddoe ac yn falch o weld cymaint o gwmnïau yn rhoi iechyd eu staff, cyfranogwyr a chynulleidfaoedd yn gyntaf. Mae’r celfyddydau yn rhan bwysig o fywydau sawl un ohonom, ac rydym hefyd yn teimlo’n gyffrous i weld cynifer o opsiynau y gellir eu gwneud wrth hunan-ynysu yn codi.Rydym wedi dechrau rhestr o ddosbarthiadau dawns ac ioga ar-lein, gwyliau digidol yn unig a llu o bethau yn seiliedig ar ddawns, opera, y theatr ac amgueddfeydd, a gweithgareddau y gallwch eu gwneud adref – gan gynnwys perfformiadau CDCCymru llawn.
Rhannwch yr adnodd hwn a rhowch wybod i ni am bethau gwych, eraill y gallwn eu hychwanegu ato.
NDCWales P.A.R.A.D.E. including choreography by Caroline Finn, Marcos Morau and Lee Johnson, in collaboration with BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Rubicon Dance and Vertical Dance Kate Lawrence; filmed by The Space Arts. https://vimeo.com/248459479
CPD FROM HOME ETC have made their online training courses free during this time: training for technicians Courses.etcconnect.com The following performers offer one to one tuition, find them on facebook.
Rubyyy Jones – Cabaret MCing Paul L Martin – mentoring for cabaret performers John Celestus – one to one Flexibiliy and Strength, contortion, compare Skillshare International Offers photography, illustration, design with a 2 month free trial available https://www.skillshare.com/
The disconnect with our bodies is making us sick. We communicate through disembodied social media and are strangers to one another. As the Coronavirus spreads across Europe, it might sound strange to advocate for a stronger connection with our body and nature, and yet it is through connection that we get to know what our body can do, its vulnerabilities, and how to make it resilient. The exhibition and performance ‘Fabulous Animal’ by dancer and performance artist Zosia Jo is thus unwittingly topical. It is an invitation to rediscover our body without judgment and to find strength by tapping into our animal side.
I have never had a rosy picture of nature. Nature can be terrifying and ruthless. Nature doesn’t ‘need’ us; rather we need nature. We are of nature. Zosia Jo’s invitation to have a more grounded relationship with our body and those of others emphasises strength born of acceptance rather than control. It is a much needed lesson in these times of uncertainty, anxiety, and disconnect.
Some might find it all too abstract, but there’s nothing abstract about the body. The coronavirus spreading illness and panic brings home how we fool ourselves into believing that we are above nature and detached from it. We want to dominate nature even to the point of extinction. We want control over the body. Men, in particular, want to control women’s bodies. They do so through rape and harassment, through restrictive legislation on reproductive health, and through the labels applied to women for what they wear, how they look, and how they move. Zosia Jo wants to ‘shake off the patriarchy’. Yet, her message is for everyone. Women bear the brunt of this ideology of dominance and control, but men are oppressed by this too. The attempt to eliminate vulnerability, repress emotions, and control the body is what makes us weak.
The work of Zosia Jo
invites us to stop, watch, and listen to our body. There is an
aliveness in the photos and videos of Zosia Jo seeing and
experiencing her body as if she has woken up from a long sleep. She
plays with her flesh and muscles, with her hair, teeth, and skin. She
touches the body of a tree from inside in a sensuous and playful way.
She climbs a tree like a monkey. She does not conquer nature, but
connects with it.
As a dancer, Zosia
Jo tells me that she was always aware of how important the line of
the body and the look of the body were. She tells me,
“I got thrust into this world where it was all about ultimately how I looked, even though it’s more complicated than that. I got swept into trying to be thin, trying to be in a certain way. My journey back to performing and dance became a very personal one, one that was about finding myself, empowering myself to feel good about my own body and to dance again. To perform was a big part of that.”
She studied somatic
dance, which stresses listening to one’s body to appreciate how
movement emerges. She has run workshops for people to experience
their bodies without judgment. She has worked extensively with women
in Cairo, who rarely get the opportunity to be in a safe and creative
space away from the ever-present male gaze. Women are under constant
pressure to look pleasing to men. Zosia Jo sought to ‘shake off’
that judgment. She tells me,
“It’s the curiosity about the body, feeling and touching with no judgement, I might be touching the part of body I least like but I have to discover it as if I had no attachment to what that is.”
Zosia Jo listens to
her body and only her body. She seems to forget the audience and the
camera or, more poignantly, she doesn’t care. Released from the
pressure to conform to expectations, be they expectations of beauty,
grace, agility, she can breathe freely. Her technique is like
breathing, a continuous expanding and pulsating. It’s paying
attention to one’s body and only one’s body.
“I wanted to make something that was ugly … let go of this instinct of making something beautiful and just be utterly unrefined. The goal was to be so ugly that is beautiful.”
Yet, she is a
performer relying on external validation and enjoying the
relationship with the audience. I ask her what she does to
communicate how she feels to the public. She tells me,
“Somatic dance can be a bit trippy … I might feel great but I look disempowered, how do I match my own experience with what I’m trying to say to the audience and not look like shrinking and hiding in public space? That is the question.”
It is the connection
with animals that makes that communication possible, she asked
“Which animal enabled me to be in the world in such a way that it’s clear I’m taking space or that I’m being empowered? At the same time a feeling good, that is not fake, that is not impersonating a kind of traditionally male sense of what power is or what power looks like, but that I am feeling good.”
Zosia Jo performs
the instinctive and earthy
character of an animal but juxtaposes with the ‘fabulous’
of queer culture.
“Fabulous … I think of queer culture, dressing up, taking ownership of one’s sexuality. … I like the contrasts between queer culture, glamour, sequins, sparkles, sexuality and shiny expressionism, and animal, which is something earthy and grounded. I loved the seemingly paradox.”
This is what makes
it a fun performance. Performance can in itself be liberating. I ask
her where she finds the internal validation for this work. She tells
“When you listen to physical reality, you can ground yourself and feel grateful just for being present and alive. When you feel what the body can do and get excited about what it can do instead of what it can’t do or instead of what is wrong with it that’s very validating without having to be impressive in any way… It’s not ‘heroic’ movement … moving to the beat, it’s something so human. Everyone can do it.”
Everyone can do it.
Everyone can rediscover their body, “wobble all the fat” and have
fun with it without fear of judgment, without the need to control it.
The empowerment is not in dominating and controlling; the empowerment
is in the connection.
Fabulous Animal is a composite artistic project, which includes
photos and videos of professional dancer Zosia Jo and of workshops’
participants and Zosia Jo’s live performance at Cardiff Made. It is
an exploration of the body in its fleshy and animalesque dimension.
The performance begins with Zosia Jo feeling her body, her teeth, her
arms, licking her arm, comparing the hair in her armpits with the
hair on her head. She stretches her muscles and shakes her body. She
dresses and undresses.
starts with playfulness and warmth. Zosia Jo is friendly and puts us
at ease. Zosia Jo has a beautiful physicality and control over her
body. Every move looks natural, with no tension, and easy. As her
body moves slowly and softly, it becomes seductive. It is seductive
in the literal sense of the word, in bringing us closer. She embodies
an eroticism without a mask.
In the very small
space of Cardiff Made, Zosia Jo projects a sense of wider nature. She
moves like the waves of the sea, like the movement of our lungs as we
breath. What is striking of the performance is her ability to give a
sense of being in nature and part of nature. Zosia Jo is successful
in stripping us of our everyday masks and let us see that underneath
our clothes we are animals. In nature, the spectators would have been
able to sense more their own body and their relationship with rocks,
sands, trees, or water.
The texts beside the photos give a thoroughly research context linking this exploration of the body and nature to feminism. However, it is too abstract for the performance, while it is probably more powerful in the contexts of the workshops Zosia Jo did in Egypt. The exploration of the body outside of societal constructs of beauty, strength, and skill can resonate with men as well as women. In a disembodied society, we can all benefit from experiencing our bodies differently. At the performance, we remain spectators; yet as we watch Zosia Jo, we can imagine her as an animal. Like a butterfly she spreads her wings and she is nature. She is a fabulous animal.
Hi Jon great to meet you, can you give our readers some background information on yourself please?
I was born in Llanelli, acted in Cardiff, in various bands in London, back to Llanelli to write TV and moved to Laugharne in 2012. I live in a house where a murder was committed in 1953 and a friend of Dylan Thomas was arrested. Dylan called Laugharne, ‘…the strangest town in Wales.’ He wasn’t wrong. I’ve written the Dylan Thomas ebook for the BBC, TV comedy drama for BBC & S4C and the David Garland Jones Youtube channel. Hail Cremation! is my fourth play after two plays for Llanelli Youth Theatre; Raw Material: Llareggub Revisited for NTW (co-created with Marc Rees) in 2014, and I’ve have been working on Hail Cremation! since 2016.
So, what got you interested in the arts?
My Dad read Dr Seuss and Charles Dickens to me when I was very young which I loved. I later raided Dad’s bookshelves and his Anglo-Welsh poetry, and became big fan of poet and polemicist, Harri Webb. In school I got into acting after seeing a performance of Wind In The Willows and later trained as an actor in the (Royal) Welsh College of Music & Drama. I’ve been in bands and written songs since I was a teenager, and once I started creative writing around twenty years ago, a musical was a logical step, tho’ it took me some time to realise it.
Can you tell us about your writing process? Where do your ideas come from?
My ideas seem to percolate for years. I try to create something I’d like to watch, and that I don’t think I’ve seen before… but those ideas are often outside the bounds of what people are prepared to commission. In terms of ideas, thinking about it, most of my writing is about real life stuff but then I like to drag it into left field.
Can you describe your writing day? Do you have a process or a minimum word count?
I don’t like staring at a screen for too long. I have a young daughter so writing time is precious, and when I do have time to sit and write, I throw everything at the screen. Sometimes it’s better to clear your head by writing 1000 words of rubbish rather than nothing at all. It’s all in the editing. I find a good walk, or a drive, is often beneficial, recording ideas into a phone ready for those gaps in real life when writing happens.
Why and where do you write?
We live in an 18th century cottage in Laugharne and my office is downstairs with a view of the street. I’m surrounded by books, cards, pictures, ornaments – or ‘junk’ as my partner calls them – and often scan the shelves when I’m stuck. It looks a bit of a mess, but you should have seen it before I tidied up.
Your latest play Hail Cremation will be produced by National Theatre Wales at Newbridge Memo from the 23 March- 04 April. The production is described as a musical odyssey through the life of cremation pioneer, Dr William Price – a complex and extraordinary Welshman. What drew you personally to telling your interpretation of Dr William Price?
Like many I knew about the infamous cremation, but initially I wasn’t aware he was a ground-breaking surgeon, vegetarian, feminist, nationalist, radical, a dandy and clearly a genius. However, his eccentricities in later life meant that many of those elements were ignored. If Price was around today, he’d be an inspiring leader, passionate about history, language and culture and I wanted to celebrate him with a spectacle that he would have enjoyed. On reflection most of my work is about Welsh identity, and Price was probably the person who tried to define it more than anyone else in the last two hundred years.
National Theatre Wales describe the nation of Wales as their stage. Their productions have ranged from We’re Still Here portraying the lives of Neath Port Talbot Steel Workers. On Bear Ridge which took place in “a lost village, blurred by redrawn borders” to this new production taking place at Newbridge Memo. Do you feel that Welsh Theatre is presenting representative stories of its citizens on our stages?
I’m interested in stories and legends that are uniquely Welsh. Wales is definitely the ‘secret Celtic nation’, and yet we have one of the oldest literary traditions in Europe. There is an ancient, supernatural, magical, mythical, witty, wild and wide-eyed side to Wales – Wales on mushrooms if you like – which is unique to us. I think more plays in this area would help establish, and then cement a Welsh theatrical identity not only in Wales but around the world.
Why do you think audiences should see this new play?
It’s part gig, part catwalk show, part cabaret. It has a wonderful troupe of dancers and actors, a rock band, incredible costumes, mad props, druids, goats, punk toads, wall to wall video projections, and an astonishing creative team lead by director, Adele Thomas. Yet at its heart is the story of a man who wanted his people to thrive. Dr Price met a woman called Gwen who was sixty years his junior, and they were a very loving, if highly unusual couple. They’d be unusual now, so it’s hard to imagine what 19th century non-conformist Wales would have made of them. Price and Gwen lost a child, and I nearly lost my daughter, so I had a small understanding of the grief they must have gone through. Then when Price’s powers started to wane and he went through a number of ordeals, he continued to charge on with Gwen at his side. He lived for ninety-two years and it’s still amazing how he crammed so much in. People should see this play because it tells a story of a dynamic couple in a wild theatrical arena, is both fun and emotional, and has something to say about Welsh identity.
Is it possible to sustain a career as a writer in Wales and if not what would help?
If the question is: ‘Can someone who writes plays about Wales and Welsh issues sustain a living in Wales, or indeed, anywhere?’ Then apart from maybe one or two exceptions, the answer is probably no. There are a lot of playwrights in Wales chasing a small pot of money and Welsh writers probably need working partners, day jobs, lecturing posts, etc., to survive. What would help? I don’t really know. We’re unlikely to see more arts funding for a while as the Welsh Government is looking to reduce public subsidy. Trying to be positive, successful and profitable shows that reach beyond Wales, and that couldn’t come from anywhere other than Wales, would help. We need to find our voice.
If you were able to fund an area of the arts in Wales what would this be and why?
There should be more development deals, so that writers are nurtured in plays, poetry, TV scriptwriting etc. More people need to feel they have a chance, get some feedback, be part of a dialogue, even if the ideas end up uncommissioned. There could always be more arts, but we also need to build and educate audiences too. It’s tough in this era of Netflix, deadly diseases, Just Eat and smartphones, but the more people that take an interest in the arts, the better off we’ll all be.
What was the last really great thing that you experienced that you would like to share with our readers?
My daughter, Sylvie, has had two heart operations and spent five days on life support, so seeing her enter a pool for the first time in Butlin’s Minehead last weekend was a truly great thing.
3) https://getthechance.wales/2019/03/02/review-how-to-train-your-dragon-3-by-sian-thomas/. End of an era! I loved this series when I was in my early teens and kept a close hold of it all the way until the end. I cried when I saw it in the cinema, at the end, when Hiccup and Toothless went their separate ways and then saw each other again a good number of years later. An amazing film about people and creatures and their relationships. Also, visually stunning. Animation is a top tier medium.
Personal: I finished my first year of university this year, and did so well in my classes that the university gave me a cash prize. There was a chance for people to win £1000 by getting a really good mark for their first year, and I had no idea about it until I received an email saying I’d won. Which was amazing news! It made me really proud of my both my actual work and my work ethic from the first year. It was a big academic confidence boost!
With such a cornucopia of goodies on offer theatre-wise during the past year, it isn’t easy to single out just three. For my money, two of these have to be musical theatre productions: Kinky Boots and Les Misérables, both staged in the Donald Gordon Theatre at the Wales Millennium Centre.
First on my list has to be Les Misérables. Cameron Mackintosh’s production, first staged
almost a decade ago to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Les Mis,
once again proved what a sure-fire winner it is. Grand theatre at its best, top
of the tree for music, lyrics, storyline et al.
A privilege to watch, all presented by a multi-talented cast, among them
Welsh actor Ian Hughes as a nimble-footed Thenardier who brought the audience
to its feet on opening night with his uproariously funny rendering of Master
of the House.
Closely followed, I must admit by Kinky Boots which
was, start to finish, a joy to watch. So
much more than “Just another musical,” it has at its heart a subject which nowadays
is treated in most cases empathetically but which was by any means the case
only a few short years ago. I refer to
transgender. Kinky Boots tackles this head on, with the
occasional heartbreak mixed with the fun and verve which is characteristic of
this amazing show, all dished out by a superb cast.
On to number three – also at the WMC, home of Welsh National
Opera who once again proved what a top-notch company they are with their new
production of Bizet’s Carmen. An operatic sizzler with wonderful
music, the story of the torrid but doomed relationship of the gypsy girl Carmen
and her solder lover is given a contemporary twist by director Jo Davies which
works brilliantly, with the added advantage of French being the native tongue of
mezzo soprano Virginie Verrez in the title role. With the mesmeric Habanera in
Act I, wonderful music and at times gut-wrenching libretto, this Carmen is
proof – if, indeed, proof was needed – that a new slant on an old favourite can
And now to the best “Cultural experience.” I am going to go off piste here, for to my
mind it has to be the film Solomon and Gaenor, given a twentieth
anniversary screening at Chapter with the film’s writer/director Paul Morrison,
producer Sheryl Crown and leading lady Nia Roberts on stage afterwards for a Q
and A. The Oscar-nominated and BAFTA
award-winning film, with dialogue in Welsh, English and Yiddish, set in the
Valleys back in the time of the Tredegar riots, tells the story of forbidden
love between a young Jewish peddler and a young girl from a strict Chapel going
Pinpointing how attitudes have changed, despite still – as Morrison commented during the discussion afterwards – having a way to go, Solomon and Gaenor, shown as part of the Jewish Film Festival, is riveting from start to finish in a drama that is upfront and unique in its presentation.
2019 was a brilliant year for Welsh theatre, a real
abundance of riches across the stages of Cardiff. American Idiot started off
the year with a bang, Peter Pan Goes Wrong brought comedic chaos, and Curtains
brought the kind of vintage charm you can only usually find among the bright
lights of Broadway and the West End. Narrowing it down is a tricky task, but
there were a few shows that stood out among the rest for me…
#3: The Creature (Chapter Arts Centre)
In what daily seems like an increasingly unkind, apathetic world, The Creature was a beam of hope in a dark time that didn’t shy away from trauma or tragedy but which held with it the promise of a better future – if we fight for it. It seemed perfectly tailored to me and my research interests – a modern take on the criminal justice system via a pseudo-Frankenstein adaptation, it hooked into my soul and still hasn’t let go. I’m eagerly anticipating the future endeavours of this fantastic creative team.
#2: Cardiff Does Christmas – Cinderella (New Theatre) and
The Snow Queen (Sherman Theatre)
The Christmas shows this year were the best I’ve had the privilege of seeing in quite some time. Cinderella was the show that reignited my long-dormant love of panto and saw the season in with festive cheer, while Sherman Theatre’s The Snow Queen was brimming with Christmas magic and a sweet tale of friendship, courage, and the fight against seemingly-insurmountable odds – a message we could all use about now.
#1: Hedda Gabler (Sherman Theatre)
It’s become increasingly apparent to me that the Sherman is
the soul of contemporary Welsh theatre – consistently producing creative,
fascinating and timely plays ‘rooted in Wales but relevant to the world’, as AD
Joe Murphy said of his artistic vision. Their staging of Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler was
an utterly stunning adaptation that haunts me to this day – and Prof Ambreena
Manji and I were blessed to be able to bring our Law and Literature students to
the production as we’re studying the text this year. You know it’s a roaring
success when the students want to write their coursework on Hedda!
Reviewing for Get the Chance has been my cultural highlight, which includes being continually in awe of the kindness and generosity of the Sherman, New Theatre and Chapter: the future of Welsh Theatre is in good hands indeed!
Losing Home, My 2019 Highlight, Les Misérables, Eva Marloes
As 2019 comes to a close, so vanishes the last hope of stopping Brexit. It is decided. Parliament has agreed our ‘divorce’ from the EU. Some feel elated, some relieved, some dejected. The morning after the 2016’s referendum, some people in Britain woke up and felt stripped of their very identity. The EU question was never about rules and regulations, trade agreements or sovereignty; it was about identity. In the political debate, only the Leave side appealed to identity. The European identity of many Remainers was and still largely is neglected. This is what makes Mathilde Lopez’s interpretation of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables so poignant. It gave voice to the emotional attachment to the EU some people have always felt or have begun to feel once that belonging came under threat.
The beauty of Lopez’s take on Hugo’s masterpiece lies in interweaving the ‘small’ lives of individuals with the ‘big’ events of history. It is personal and political. It speaks of today by reaching into the past. With Les Misérables, Lopez brings together the battle of Brexit with that of Waterloo. It is a tragi-comedy that makes the lives of ordinary people part of history. Amidst the blood of Waterloo, the crisps devoured while listening to the referendum results, and the summer music of holiday-makers, we experienced the banality and significance of the Brexit decision.
The play was fun and moving. It was original, innovative, and thoughtful. It wasn’t perfect and wasn’t the best show I’ve seen in 2019 (that should go to WNO’s Rigoletto), but it was the most significant of what the country is going through. By mixing the escapism of the holiday feel with the horror of Waterloo and the shock of people watching the referendum results coming in, Les Misérables captures the closeness and distance we feel when caught in events of historical significance.
In one night, something changed radically. For European citizens in Britain, Brexit has created insecurity about their status, brought extra costs to get documentation that might allow them to stay, and has made them vulnerable to attack and insults. They don’t belong. The nostalgic identity the ideologues of Brexit have conjured is too narrow and homogeneous for some British people too. They too don’t belong. As Britain seeks to close its borders and refashion a nationalistic identity, some of us have lost their home.
In my review of Lopez’s Les Misérables, I wrote that the play appealed to faith, hope, and love. It was an acceptance of defeat without despair, a search for strength in love, not distance. Hugo described Waterloo as ‘the beginning of the defeat.’ As the first phase of Brexit concludes, it is tempting to use Hugo’s words for Brexit as the defeat of the dream of an inclusive and welcoming society, but it is not over. Nostalgia is incapable of meeting the challenge of the present, let alone of envisioning a future. That is for us to do. It is for all of us to imagine our future and rebuild our home. It begins now.
(My behind the scene article on the production Les Misérables can be found here)
Bodyguard at The WMC
The biggest and boldest production I have ever seen with music that has become iconic.
Meet Fred, Hijinx Theatre Company
A fantastic piece of theatre thy showed the true meaning of inclusivity while also showing an unique art form of puppeteering.
A fantastic and modern piece of theatre that literally gave a voice to someone who doesn’t have one.
Pavilion, Theatr Clwyd
A sharp and witty ode to small town Wales, Emily White has produced a great piece of engaging drama out of the mundane, the everyday. With recognisable characters brought to life by a hugely talented cast, this represents an excellent debut for a Welsh writer whose talent is sure to be noticed.
Writer Fflur Dafydd continues to demonstrate why she is one of Wales’ foremost scriptwriters with this intriguing mystery drama. Her intimate characterisation and weaving narrative kept viewers gripped right to final moments of its eight-part run.
A really important and culturally significant film, providing a fascinating insight into the Welsh language music scene. Huw Stephens deserves huge credit for spearheading it. I urge you to see it if you can’.
Cotton Fingers, NTW by Rachel Trezise and On Bear Ridge, NTW by Ed Thomas, both at Sherman Theatre, Cardiff. Having returned from University in Brighton this year, it was brilliant to see the Sherman Theatre flourishing as much as it was when I left Cardiff 3 years ago. The detail that went into Cai Dyfan’s set design for On Bear Ridge was incredible to witness. His level of craftsmanship, often only found in commercial and west end theatres, was a delight to see on a smaller, regional stage.
Meanwhile, a more stripped back Cotton Fingers let its script do all the talking and was skill-fully delivered by actor Amy Molloy.
Shout out must go to Katherine Chandler for her play Lose Yourself, also at the Sherman Theatre. Although I did not review this play, it was definitely one of my highlights of 2019. Gut-wrenching for all the right reasons, its finale left the audience silent. I’ll never forget heaviness in the air at the end of play felt by everyone in the audience who just experienced something very important together.
Personal cultural event of 2019: Slowthai at Glastonbury – never before have I been so instantly hooked on an artist I’ve never listened to before. The way he riled up the crowd with his boisterous, unapologetic stagemanship was incredible to witness and I haven’t stopped listening to him since.
Christmas Carol, Theatr Clwyd
A thoroughly enjoyable interactive performance that communicated much of what Dickens intended yet had a lightness of touch, an impish humour and a sense of occasion that made it well suited to a Christmas show.
For anyone who is inclined to believe they’re not a fan of performance art, Hamlet Machine is not a baptism of fire, but a baptism of dirt and UV lighting. I’ll start off with the good parts. The way that the company transformed Volcano’s space was simply amazing, sets changing sometimes only half an hour after their debut dressing.
Particularly impressive were the more overtly interactive spaces.
This is where the play shines, immersing yourself in world of the playwright and putting the audience inside the fishbowl of spectatorship. When it works, it lifts to the show to something far livelier than the sum of its parts. The set and script prompt you to respond directly to the actors at various points, poke holes in the play’s logic or simply try to position yourself with more power.
One thing I was sceptical of was the fact that the actors were occasionally instructed to touch the audience. While personally I only found it momentarily irritating it’s easy to show imagine some people reacting badly to it in an already sensory assaulting show. I’m not fundamentally against it – but the fact that there was no prior warning isn’t entirely sensible.
The decision to
allow audiences to bring in their drinks to the show was also badly thought out
– even if you don’t spill your drinks onto the floor of the interactive sets,
you’ll feel them churn with discomfort throughout the play.
The actors were all superb in each of their facets, their voices blending with intermittent physicality. You could believe every turn of despair and mundanity. As a chorus, however, individual talents are lost in the repeated chant.
And in the script
itself. The scatological reprises got stale quickly. The ultra-metaphor became
bland just at the point of discerning meaning.
While the story
behind the story is incredibly moving – a harrowed survivor of WW2 and post war
Germany, anything truly profound is buried in the bluntly hammered points. For
something created to shock and question, it’s a shame that I can remember no
standout lines or even phrases. (Except for one which caused my eyes to roll.)
While the play
is meant to represent a total loss of innocence, the absurdity is childlike in
itself. Oddly enough, the play generated more goodwill as a deconstruction of
creative work than as a meditation on cruelty. Somehow the sheer reach diluted
the horror, from profound to merely irritating.
The theatre of
the absurd is often loved but I was struggling to decide whether the audience’s
intermittent laughter was out of shrewd appreciation or sheer manic exhaustion
with the show.
I think the
small ‘introductory tour’ that we had before the play would have been much
better positioned afterwards, to give a more enriched sense of context, and the
opportunity to grapple with it in somewhat ‘real time.’ An enhanced sense of
conversation might have generated more appreciation for the play.
To give the
play its credit, I’ve researched the reception to other staging’s of the play and
the bare text. While a significant majority of critics have given the live play
rave reviews, the reception of the bare text is somewhat oddly more tepid.
Leave this one to those audiences who will enjoy the fruitless task of
interpretation more than they hope to enjoy the play itself. The rest of us, uncultured
as we are, are probably better off sitting at the bar.
Hi Jeannie, so what got you interested in the arts?
I have been drawing and painting ever since I was a child – and I went to a Grammar school where the only subject I excelled in was Art – so it was inevitable that I would go on to try to make a career in the Arts somehow!!
You are fairly new to drawing and painting contemporary dance, can you tell us more about your work in this area?
For a time my professional work was centred around racehorses – As a child I was obsessed with drawing and painting them and especially the way they moved. I have always been interested in the human figure too – not particularly portraiture but the figure itself, especially in movement.
Only a year ago I was invited to a National Dance Company Wales, Open Rehearsal in London where the company were rehearsing for a show that night – that was my introduction into seeing dancers at work and I have been trying to capture my response ever since!
How has your relationship with National Dance Company Wales developed?
Well, I think I am hooked! Since that first encounter with the dancers I have worked almost exclusively on studying the way they “work”, whether they are resting or rehearsing and have been fortunate to be able to come to Cardiff and spend some days with them in the studio sketching and photographing and in particular I am building up a body of work depicting their production of “Rygbi” which I hope to exhibit next year, fingers crossed…The dancers themselves are hugely enthusiastic and supportive of what I do and are genuinely intrigued to see what I produce. As for me, I am completely in awe of what they do – obviously!!
Get the Chance works to support a diverse range of members of the public to access cultural provision. Are you aware of any barriers to equality and diversity for artists?
Hm… for artists? I haven’t personally hit any barriers in that sphere. I was a teacher in mainstream education many years ago before I left to pursue a career in commercial art. but I am sure that my own involvement with the art world has placed me in a bubble which has shielded me from exposure to barriers and I am sure they DO exist.
If you were able to fund an area of the arts what would this be and why?
For some years after I left mainstream art teaching, I worked with children and young adults who had special needs and varying disabilities (as they were then called)… Our art and creativity sessions were a joy! Hugely beneficial but hugely underfunded and undervalued and certainly would get money!!
What excites you about the arts ?
Wow, where to start!……how much space have I got?….Lets put creativity, in whatever form, back into peoples lives! … Its transformative and life enriching…..
What was the last really great thing that you experienced that you would like to share with our readers?
You mean apart from watching the dancers from National Dance Company Wales almost flying across the stage so beautifully and bringing me to tears……it don’t get much better than that!
National Dance Company Wales are touring Roots to venues across Wales this autumn.
Mold Theatr Clwyd Thursday 7 November 2019, 19:45 BOOK
What would you do, what CAN you do when you can only hear
your surroundings but lack the power to help?
Coma by Darkfield, one of their many shipping container
immersive experiences, engulfs us in an idea of medically induced coma states,
while other frightening and disturbing things happen around us, completely out
of our control.
Darkfield are very good at creating experiences that mainly
function on the power of persuasion, listening to a narrative and following our
own imagination. But equally, what happens in our heads, can be just as disturbing.
In a clinical yet odd style ‘hostel’, we are asked to lie
down on 3 tier bunkbeds, encouraged to make ourselves comfortable and to take a
little pill – though this is our choice, as we are told taking it or not taking
it makes little difference either way.
Plunged into darkness, with our headphones on, we are
influenced by commentary, by sounds that sound very near us and at times further
way, adding to our imagination of what we already know the room looks like.
Like all of Darkfield, there are moments of fear, of climaxes, but to tell you
these only destroys what you experience.
My only problem with Coma, is more dependent on the audience
member. To really throw yourself into this piece, to feel in a ‘coma’ you need
to really engage in a meditative state and give yourself fully to the relaxation
in your body to get the full extent of what they are trying to achieve.
Unfortunately, for me, while used to meditation, it just didn’t come easily for
me this one night and perhaps lead to me missing out on being more immersive
that I would be another day.
Coma is equally intriguing, exciting, and scary – go on, be brave, and engage in something you have never experienced before – but fully commit, to come away with something fantastic!
Creating opportunities for a diverse range of people to experience and respond to sport, arts, culture and live events. / Lleisiau amrywiol o Gymru yn ymateb i'r celfyddydau a digwyddiadau byw