Category Archives: Dance

Review, The Rest of Our Lives, Jo Fong & George Orange, Edinburgh Fringe Festival, By Hannah Goslin

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

I’m going to begin this review with a very strong opening. A strong, and 100% deserved opening: If there is one thing you do this year, it’s go and see The Rest of Our Lives.

The Rest of Our Lives is a post-pandemic show in some respects but it isn’t about the pandemic. It is a question of what we do after a monumental change in our lives. How do we cope, move on, return to life as we know it. How do we enjoy it and laugh, and love, and cry. How do we become us again. How do we create community again.

This brilliant show is prime example of the unique, inspirational and exquisite style of performance that comes only from the Welsh theatre and arts scene. Perhaps some bias in my admiration for Jo Fong that has stemmed since my own performance training years in Wales, I still stand by the genius and beauty behind this piece with George Orange.

The Rest of Our Lives is a physical theatre, multi-media, dance and movement piece. It is comical, warm, open and personal. There is no barrier between us and the performers – we are welcomed and treated as friends, making regular eye contact and somehow having a feeling of a personal relationship with the performers, as if we were in their living room of an evening.

Physically, the performance was abstract yet gentle and evoked any emotion from hilarity to sadness. The performers pushed themselves to the limits and broke physical and environmental boundaries without a sense of fear or hesitation. There was many a moment that I found myself crying at how moved I was at their portrayal of normal human elements such as romance and pain, and how I would soon be laughing and smiling through my tears. I didn’t feel like an audience member – I was a friend, a family member, some one close and welcomed and it was such a unique and beautiful feeling and created so simply yet mysteriously – that space felt safe as soon as we came in and I still can’t pinpoint why; the signs of a successful production.

Audience interaction is a huge part of this show and it continues the feeling of inclusion in the action, with no formality to any of the proceedings or interaction. It created an almost immersive atmosphere that you never wanted to end. Finishing the production, we are welcomed onto the stage where we dance and sing to Donna Summer and congratulate Fong and Orange. Hardly any of us know one another but there we hugged, we held hands, we sung together as if we were in Karaoke and all of it was euphoric, beautiful and special.

The Rest of Our Lives is a triumph of theatre, dance and physical theatre. It is everything and more that Welsh theatre brings to the table and is unlike anything I have ever seen. It reminds us of who we are and once were and brings us together as humans and friends.

Review James Bonas with Anthony Roth Costanzo, Glass Handel, ENO/BBC Proms 22,The Printworks by James Ellis 

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

In a return to the BBC Proms in London, a new venue for the festival would call. Whilst I’ll confess  the Printworks in Canada Water is a bit out of the way for this travelling reviewer, it was a fleeting chance to see another side of London. In a more laid-back, approachable look on classical music, the venue itself on first appearance looked cluttered, very busy.

 As things went on, I found the whole thing to be truly wonderful, the direction of James Bonas with a metaphorical butterfly net keeping everything grounded, yet delightful.

The head turning array of soloist, orchestra, dance, art, beat-boxing and sound design filled the venue with the ambition of a classic happening. The star of the show was very much American counter-tenor Anthony Roth Costanzo who has dazzled audiences across the pond and over the world. It is his clear sex appeal and queer ideals that dust the show with beautiful goings on. In both the bejewelled Handel and Phillip Glass repertoire (extracts from both their operas, some never heard at the Proms along with a world premier from Glass) he proves his broad taste and mighty passions, his voice sharp and touching. 

All the other goings on segway well into each aria, the dancers never quite getting the limelight (with emotive choreography by Justin Peck). The live painting of Glenn Brown was only truly visible to one side of the vast elongated factory. Players from English National Opera and conductor Karen Kamensek never wained is this apparent gamble that paid off all round. Costumes by Raf Simons are billowy, colourfull fun creations, slight and web like for the dancers, exaggerated for Costanzo.

Jason Singh would beatbox and add whispy vocal tricks to make space between the notes of the arias. What almost attempted to steal the show was the finely crafted surreal video work which graced the brick walls. The likes of James Ivory with Pix Talarico, Tilda Swinton and Daniel Askill and more had unsettling, vivid and witty films that got away with a lot of it’s demands. 

A fine event I won’t forget yet.

You can listen to the event on BBC Sounds here

Review Sumida River in Sign Language, What More? Productions/Impact Dance: Chapter 25+1 Kings Place/Peacock Theatre by James Ellis 

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5) Sumida River

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5) Impact Dance: Chapter 25+1

A hectic Saturday, along with tube strikes would herald a invigorating day of theatre in London. Kings Place has been itching to do their Noh Theatre festival since pre-pandemic times and with two days filled with events, I was only able to make Sumida River in Sign Language. This inclusive show, based on an old Japanese play of the Noh tradition, would welcome both deaf and hearing audiences. The lead roles were taken by Deaf performers who signed in their respective languages of JSL (Japanese Sign Language) and BSL (British Sign Language) with voiced translation in English.

Chisato Minamimura as the Mother

The tale itself is quite simple: a Ferryman (the fitting stature of Brian Duffy) refuses to let The Mother (the elegant Chisato Minamimura) pass the river so late at night. The story of a child who drowned in said river permeates the story, having been kidnapped by bandits and was fleeing in the process. The theme of the after life and the never ending flow of nature are the main elements of the piece, here even more distilled in a often calm, sometimes heightened drama. Percussionist Beibei Wang used all sorts of instruments, big drums to make us jump out of our seats, little gongs and even the floors and seats of the auditorium. 

Most interesting was the use of both British and Japanese Sign Language, the Ferryman not able to grasp what The Mother means, with her insistent waving of her hand, her index and thumb together like the okay symbol. Being a lover of the dense practice of Noh, this was more accessible for both deaf audiences and for those unsure of the art itself. The strict posturing and lapping dialogue in the traditional pieces take time to unfold over you. Director Verity Lane should be praised here for her efforts, along with the cast including Elizabeth Oliver as the English voiceover and the plush costumes of Mirei Yazawa. 

A venture over to the Peacock Theatre saw the barnstorming talents of Impact Dance. Starring the legend Hakeem Onibudo, some 26 years of discovering dance talent in London (and beyond). He isn’t known as Mr Impact for nothing. 

It was the sheer talent on display from all these young dancers that was highly impressive. Each of these groups offered some neck breaking, animated moves, something you wouldn’t think the human body could do in such quick succession. The diverse nature of the inclusion would see Impact spread out to Reading and Birmingham. I was off course delighted to see Fusions Elite, a troupe from Cardiff grace the stage, a welcome reminder of home on this trip away. 

Many of these pieces had a certain mood, either jubilant, yearnful or furious. It’s that violent body popping I just cant get enough off! A retro cut of musical choices would see the delights of dubstep, a mass of hip-hop, The Pet Shop Boys, The Lion King and more. A breathtaking dance from Samuel da Silveria Lima, who came from Brazil to perform, proved that any one can dance.  An appearance from Botis Seva, fresh off the success of BLKDOG, ended the guest artist programme in a typically evocative and strident target on violence in today’s world. 

Seeing all this come together and the response from the audience to Hakeem’s lifetime of work was very touching. I’m in it for the journey now and want to see more. 

Review George Fu/MIIN-BODY TO BODY St Martin in the Fields/The Place by James Ellis

Photo credit: Kim Wolf 

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5) George Fu 

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5) MIIN-BODY TO BODY

In the ever brilliant concerts at St Martin in the Field, pianist George Fu gave a dizzying recital leaving a huge impact on the afternoon audience. His love for Chopin leaked over the entire programme, with Mazurkas, a Ballade and even an encore from the Polish composer. My thoughts on Chopin won’t appease conventional tastes, especially in the standard repertoire, Fu brought out some really insightful moments in these classics. Both familiar and friendly, Chopin does have a far reaching appeal, his canon forever having an influence on the piano. It’s curious to hear how simple the music sounds, yet Fu is constantly in flux, awash in a musical feat of reverence. 

Caroline Shaw and her piece Gustave le Gray, is inspired by the artist and has a lot of weight to it. A perfect companion to the Chopin. Revealing a lot of the trappings of romanticism, the piece utilised a liberal use of the dampener pedal and had a passionate use of fingering. It did outstay it’s welcome, though this held up as a fine discovery. My reason for attending was the finale of the late Frederic Rzewski and highlights from his North American Ballads. Down by the Riverside is an endlessly charming and touching plea for peace, an old spiritual. This holds up as a fine example of Rzewski’s skewered use of original pieces and transforms them to something spectacular. This reaches it’s zenith in the Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues, a devastating depiction of it’s location, the mechanised patterns of the machines executed as forearms bashing on the keys. The amount of tone clusters in this is eye watering and a revelation, the look on some of the shocked audience and school children present was highly amusing. Fu shines in this music which leaves no prisoners. Keep a close eye on this one.   

A Festival of Korean Dance has graced The Place for the past week. Some really enticing work has been done and I was lucky to see Collective A/Cha Jinyeob and their MIIN-BODY TO BODY. There was a lot to unpack in this show, how women are expected to be and behave in South Korea proves a conservatism we might not be able to grasp in the West. A male dancer dominates the space as beginners, slowly falls and writhed around in the circle of sand. The female dancers show a lot of vulnerability here, sharing more than expected, the amount of leg spreading in the show proved liberating, due to the demands of their culture expecting the opposite, as explained in the post show discussion. A monologue about cuckoos and the lack of interest in having a baby proved very telling. 

These slight bodies stack on top one another, they form and separate. Video work and lighting are a very nice touch, the sand proving powerfully versatile with lights cast upon it. They want to challenge gender roles, something which is under post-mortem in many cultures presently. Yet, the most moving part came with a beautiful duet between both male and female, with the former carrying off with great ease the latter at the conclusion. Some other movement would evoke a cat walk, dancing in a nightclub and the violent swishing of long hair. “Miin” refers to an attractive person in Korean and this remains the prominent element of the show. These are artists who are tired of objectification and sexism. The post show talk would ask how if the show is in fact about feminism, the dancers also being translated into English as the discussion grew. This was a strange hour but it did have some touching and intense highlights. 

MIIN-BODY TO BODY continues at The Place till 25 June 2022. 

REVIEW Chicago, New Theatre Cardiff by Barbara Hughes-Moore

Chicago, 1920s. In a city ruled by mob bosses and moonshine, misbehaviour ain’t just on the menu: it’s a way of life. If it’s fame you’re after, you might get fifteen minutes or fifteen to life – and Roxie Hart’s dream of seeing her name in the papers is one she’ll kill for. With blood on her hands and a song in her heart, Roxie (Faye Brookes) teams up with sleazy lawyer Billy Flynn (Lee Mead) to fool the masses, stealing the thunder of her rival cellmate, Velma Kelly (Djalenga Scott), in the process.

‘All That Jazz’: the Chicago ensemble, led by Djalenga Scott as Velma Kelly

Featuring classic songs by Kander and Ebb and original choreography by Bob Fosse (the trio behind the iconic Cabaret), Chicago is fresher, funnier and fiercer than ever. 25 years after its revival swept the Tonys, and nearly 50 since it first premiered on Broadway, the show’s satire of law, politics and the press could hardly be more relevant: after all, what’s the difference between a theatre and a courtroom when showmanship, not integrity, is the order of the day? Even when the actors are playing judges and reporters, they’re wearing mesh, fishnets, and leather: justice is showbiz, darling, and you’d better pray for an encore. Chicago is self-consciously theatrical, drawing attention to its own artifice: a gilt frame encloses the stage, but the set itself has no frills and few props: its simplicity spotlights the performances instead of the staging.

‘We Both Reached for the Gun’: Billy Flynn (Lee Mead) puppeteers Roxie Hart (Faye Brookes) through a press conference

And what performances! Faye Brookes brings lashings of wit and charm to Roxie Hart: one part hapless crim, one part ruthless dame. Brookes is a hilarious and vibrant stage presence, particularly when pitted against Djalenga Scott as Velma Kelly, whose stylish swagger makes for an effective foil to Brookes’ wide-eyed ebullience; their ‘Hot Honey Rag’ duet is a veritable dance masterclass.

‘The name on everybody’s lips is gonna be “Roxie”‘: Roxie Hart (Faye Brookes) and her ‘boys’

There are excellent supporting performances by X Factor finalist Brenda Edwards as the sultry Matron ‘Mama’ Morton, Jamie Baughan as Roxie’s hangdog husband Amos and B.E. Wong as big-hearted but gullible journo Mary Sunshine. Meanwhile, Lee Mead as Billy Flynn really does give the audience the ol’ ‘Razzle Dazzle’, and Scott’s sensational rendition of ‘All That Jazz’ brings the house down by the time the show’s barely started. But the Cell Block Tango might just be the standout: by the final chorus, you’ll really believe ‘he had it coming!’

A chain-smoking tap-dance

The incredibly intricate dancing is executed with effortless precision, with every Fosse finger snap and hip roll present and accounted for. The ensemble is on top form as is the superb live band, directed by Andrew Hilton, who are seated onstage in striking, asymmetric tiers. You won’t find better singing, dancing or live music this side of the ‘20s: the cast prove once again why Chicago is still one of the best musicals around. If you love the Oscar-winning movie, you’ll be in your element; if you’re new to the medium, then you’re starting out with the best. Stylish, sexy and spectacular, Chicago is all that jazz and then some – it’s the most fun you can have without breaking the law!

‘I Can’t Do it Alone’: Velma Kelly (Djalenga Scott) and Roxie Hart (Faye Brookes) take their criminally-good show on the road

Chicago is playing at the New Theatre Cardiff until Saturday 25 June

Review by
Barbara Hughes-Moore

Get the Chance supports volunteer critics like Barbara to access a world of cultural provision. We receive no ongoing, external funding. If you can support our work please donate here thanks.

Dance Artists working in collaboration, The CanDo Hub and National Dance Company Wales.

Sam Nicholson

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

Hi of course, I’m Sam Nicholson, I’m a dance teacher and fitness instructor down in Swansea. I have the pleasure of teaching lots of age ranges and abilities but I’m also the programme director for CanDo Hub where I get to work with 20 talented dancers with learning disabilities in our training provision.

I’m a Makaton tutor and I also work with lots of dance teachers and fitness instructors upskilling them in Additional Learning Needs.

What got you interested in dance and the arts?

I’ve danced since I was three so I’ve grown up with dance and the arts, it’s always been a part of my life and I don’t think I can see a time when it’s not going to be. I love how free it can make you, and through dance I’ve been taught so much.

You run the CanDo Hub which is for Adults with Additional Leaning Needs. You run group exercise and dance fitness opportunities, classes and day provision for adults with ALN, as well as CPD training for professionals. Can you tell us more about the group?

I set up CanDo Hub initially to provide dance and group exercise opportunities to individuals with ALN and their families. This quickly grew and a need for more specialised training became apparent – hence the start of our training provision.

Our training provision is made up of 20 talented individuals who all have Additional Learning Needs. It’s centred around giving and encouraging members to have a voice. Our teams decide their learning topics, what genre of art they want to focus on and so on. We very rarely say ‘oh no, you can’t do that’, its about finding a way to make their goals achievable and accessible. We work as a collective respecting each other and we get the best possible outcomes due to it.

The group have recently been working with Rebecca Edwards the National Dance Company Wales, Dance Ambassador for the Talesin in Swansea. How did you come to work together?

We were very lucky that Karen Thomas, Company Manager from NDCWales got in touch with us wanting to know more about our team, that lead to a meeting with NDCWales, Engagement Producer Guy O’Donnell, who put us in touch with our local Dance Ambassador. Rebecca has been fabulous and our team have really enjoyed working with her. Rebecca respects every one of them as dancers and has given them scope to add their own bits of choreography into the piece as well as expanding their knowledge and abilities. This was some of our dancers first experience of contemporary dance and they have really grown in terms of ability and confidence since working with her.

Your group performed a Curtain Raiser at The Taliesin Arts Centre, Swansea prior to National Dance Company Wales performance on the main stage. That must have been a nerve-wracking moment for the group!

They really enjoyed being part of the curtain raiser, there were a lot of nerves and excitement leading up to the piece, the performance included two teams who had rehearsed separately, the first time they rehearsed all together was 45 minutes before the performance so that was incredibly nerve wracking, hoping that that the strategies we had put in place to rehearse spacing would work! Thankfully it did and we were very proud of how our dancers performed. More importantly, the dancers themselves were very proud of themselves.

The CanDo Hub group prior to performing their Curtain Raiser

You created some visual resources prior to the performance by NDCWales for the CanDo Hub, how do these support access to an understanding of Contemporary Dance for your group members?

Visual resources are so important for our teams, it helps consolidate knowledge and helps understanding. Prior to attending, we had watched the trailers for each piece and discussed what we thought each piece was going to be like.

Then during the performances each dancer was given visual worksheet on questions regarding each performance. This really helped our dancers focus their attention on different aspects of the performance.  From set, props, costume and music, to movements and symbolism behind each piece.

The responses were great and lead to lots of discussion after the performance. Some of our dancers picked up on symbolism that for many would remain hidden. E.g Codi, one of our dancers saw within the first minutes of the piece that the flag used was to symbolise death. This worksheet was really helpful to refer back to when they were reviewing the pieces afterwards.

Codi Choreographed by Anthony Matsena Performed by NDCWales.

Contemporary dance is often abstract so there’s this common myth that someone with an Additional Learning Need wont ‘get it’, however if we as professionals provide the support in order to focus attention on certain aspects of each performance the results are often fascinating. 

We believe some of your group have reviewed the performance? What did they think?

Yes! They loved all three pieces. I was expecting them to all decide as a collective on what was the overall favourite but this led to a debate with no overall favourite chosen. What was interesting was that our dancers all had valid reasons as to why their chosen piece was their favourite overall, and there was a lot of symbolism that they understood.

They loved the spoken word section of Wild Thoughts using different speeds of movement. In Codi they enjoyed the prop work with the stick and the rhythm section comprised of clapping and stamping. In Ludo, they like how fun the piece was and the hopscotch lighting effect section.

We share a selection of quotes from the groups reviews below

“My favourite bit was the blood pumping and jumps. The dance was about mining. The red flag was blood and they waved it when people died. The music was loud. It was my favourite piece.”   Nia talking about Codi

“The music was loud and sharp. The dance made me feel jump scared but I was ok. My favourite dance moves were the dying moves and the stick work” Matthew talking about Codi

“I liked it when she turned the horn and scarf into a ship – it was funny!”  – Ross talking about his favourite part in Ludo.

“The hopscotch was fab. I liked the jumps and lifts. It made me feel happy.” Joanne talking about her favourite part in  Ludo.

“I liked it when they worked together as a team. I liked their floorwork and ballet moves. It was amazing”   Sara talking about Wild Thoughts.

“My favourite move was when everyone walked saying ‘foot foot foot foot.’ I liked the lifts too”  Clare talking about Wild thoughts.

If you were able to fund an area of the arts in Wales what would this be and why?

More opportunities for learning disabled dancers and learning disabled dance companies. As a sector we need to understand that we as professionals can learn a lot from learning disabled dancers and not put limits on their potential which quite often we are all guilty of.

What excites you about the arts in Wales?

 It’s great to see how the arts is growing and reaching all different ages, backgrounds and abilities. It’s exciting to see new collaborations and relationships starting to be made that will hopefully grow providing more opportunities for everyone in our sector.

What was the last really great thing that you experienced that you would like to share with our readers? 

The last thing I wanted to say was thank you to NDCWales!  Our dancers felt valued and respected by the NDCW dance leaders and company and we really hope we get to work with them again.  

You can find our more about The CanDo Hub here.

REVIEW Northern Ballet: The Great Gatsby, New Theatre by Barbara Hughes-Moore

Hailed as ‘The Great American Novel’, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is an iconic tale of decadence, death and desire. It epitomized the feel of the Roaring Twenties like nothing else: an era of flappers, libertines and bright young things, where ‘anything goes’ wasn’t just a phrase but a state of mind. The story continues to captivate nearly a hundred years since its publication and Northern Ballet’s thrilling take on the tale is bolder and more beautiful than ever – no wonder that it’s returns for its third smash-hit tour, which graces the New Theatre this week for five nights of dazzling decadence.

Abigail Prudames and Joseph Taylor (photo credit: Caroline Holden)

Long Island, 1922. New-in-town Nick Carraway (Sean Bates) strikes up a friendship with his affluent and enigmatic neighbour, Jay Gatsby (Joseph Taylor). Gatsby’s lavish parties are legend – but Gatsby seems interested only in the green light across the Bay, to which he stretches out his arm night after night: the light on the dock belonging to his true love, Daisy (Abigail Prudames). With Gatsby gunning to win her back, Daisy’s marriage to the brutish Tom Buchanan (Lorenzo Trossello) is about to be tested when his affair with the socially ambitious Myrtle (Minju Kang) takes a dangerous new turn.

Northern Ballet dancers in The Great Gatsby (photo credit: Emily Nuttall)

Directed, designed and choreographed by David Nixon OBE, the show is a visual splendour from start to finish. It’s no surprise that Nixon was nominated for a UK Theatre Award and a National Dance Award for his work here: the stunning choreography and gorgeous costumes immerse you in the Jazz Age, taking you on a whistlestop tour through Gatsby’s world. Coupled with Jérôme Kaplan’s striking Art Deco-inspired sets and the sumptuous score by Sir Richard Rodney Bennett CBE, played live by Northern Ballet Sinfonia, and you have a production that’s a feast for the senses.

Minju Kang (photo credit: Emma Kauldhar)

The ensemble is nothing short of perfection, bringing heart, soul and a jaw-dropping athleticism and grace. They convey a frenetic joy in the champagne-swilling speakeasies and sensual longing in every pas de deux. Heather Lehan oozes aloofness as socialite Jordan Baker, an effective foil to Bates’ nice-guy Nick. Minju Kang’s solos are a highlight, and the show soars whenever she shares the stage with Riku Ito (as her husband, George) and Trossello.

Abigail Prudames and Joseph Taylor (photo credit: Caroline Holden)

Taylor and Prudames are captivating as the doomed lovers at the story’s heart: they dance often in front of a wall of mirrors, but their reflections are distorted – just as their images of each other are – and they even mirror the movements of their younger selves, who dance behind them like echoes of the past.

Northern Ballet dancers in The Great Gatsby (photo credit: Emma Kauldhar)

Anyone who enjoys the themed weeks on Strictly Come Dancing will find a special joy in watching the show’s balletic spin on Charlestons and tangos, and flashbacks to Gatsby’s shady past are brilliantly conveyed through a phalanx of fedora-wearing crooks. Northern Ballet have captured every facet of the era’s excess, every lost love and lost chance: most of all, they have captured a sense of old-fashioned Hollywood glamour that you just don’t see these days. In their hands, Gatsby isn’t just great – it’s magnificent.

Northern Ballet: The Great Gatsby is at the New Theatre Cardiff from Tuesday 7 – Saturday 11 June

Review by
Barbara Hughes-Moore

Get the Chance supports volunteer critics like Barbara to access a world of cultural provision. We receive no ongoing, external funding. If you can support our work please donate here thanks.

PREVIEW Northern Ballet: The Great Gatsby at the New Theatre, Cardiff

Abigail Prudames and Joseph Taylor (photo credit: Caroline Holden)

You are cordially invited to the most fabulous party in town. Northern Ballet, the UK’s widest touring ballet company, is renowned for its innovative, iconic reimaginings of classic tales – Cleopatra, Beauty and the Beast, and Jane Eyre to name but a few – and now their sensational production of The Great Gatsby, which opens in Cardiff this week, is bringing the glitz and glamour of 1920s New York to our shores.

Filippo Di Vilio, George Liang, Gavin McCaig (photo credit: Emma Kauldhar)

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is a tale of decadence and deceit, of envy and excess. The titular ‘Great’ Gatsby is a self-made millionaire with a mysterious past and a long-unfulfilled love in the shape of the mercurial (and very married) Daisy Buchanan. The fallout of this doomed romance threatens the lives and livelihoods of everyone who calls West Egg home.

Minju Kang (photo credit: Emma Kauldhar)

Choreographed, designed and directed by David Nixon OBE, Northern Ballet’s take on ‘The Great American Novel’ promises to be a night of visual splendour and breathtaking skill, where dancers glide across the floor in sumptuous Chanel-inspired couture to a sweeping score by Sir Richard Rodney Bennett CBE (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Murder on the Orient Express).

Northern Ballet dancers in The Great Gatsby (photo credit: Emily Nuttall)

Whether you’re an old sport or a bright young thing, you’ll be sure to lose yourself in this lavish tale of love and luxury.

Northern Ballet: The Great Gatsby is at the New Theatre Cardiff from Tuesday 7 – Saturday 11 June

Review National Dance Company Wales, One Another, Theatre Severn, Shrewsbury, Pool Hayes Academy Sixth Form Dance Students

‘One Another’

National Dance Company Wales advertised that this piece would be ‘three dances to reconnect us’ and this is exactly what they did when the Pool Hayes Academy Sixth Form dancers travelled to Shrewsbury for their first Dance Aspirations day.

The first part of the day we watched the NDCW open dance class in the auditorium where we observed an independent warm up then a technique class led by Victoria Roberts, the rehearsal director of the company. This insight into a usually private company warm up showed us how a professional company prepare and the importance of ballet even within a contemporary company.

After this we were lucky enough to get the opportunity to interview company member Josh Attwood, who was a previous student of our teacher. He explained what it was like to be a professional dancer and described a day in his life. The opportunity to speak to a professional dancer really helped us to understand how much hard work and dedication it takes to successfully work as a professional dancer and has inspired us to consider our next steps towards this after sixth form very carefully.

A few hours later we returned to the auditorium to watch the performance of ‘One Another’ which is a triple bill.

‘Wild Thoughts’ by Andrea Costanzo Martini

We saw this piece as a celebration of the body because of the way the dancers explored their use of body, in combination with voice and movements. This choreography used animalistic movements with all dancers using contact to explore relationships. The block colour costume worked well for this dance as we felt that this could have been to emphasise the abstract nature of the piece and highlighted a lot of different gestures. The costume was abstract enough to support but not overpower the original theme of the dance. The dancers used a dynamic contrast and projected their voice to the audience with different facial expressions, which was effective to the audience as the combination of voice with movement is something that us students have not seen before and left us excited for what was to follow, having pushed us out of our comfort zones and left a lasting impression.

‘Codi’ by Anthony Matsena

‘Codi’ explores a narrative about the Welsh mining community. In this piece the lighting was key throughout the performance, with the use of headlights giving the audience an insight into working conditions for the miners and setting the scene effectively. This was also supported with the choice of  costumes. The props used gave a sense of drama and highlighted how dangerous conditions in the mine were for the workers. Throughout this piece we could really feel the level of emotion conveyed to the audience, where it goes from being excited and energetic at the beginning to sorrowful at the end. The use of voice effectively conveyed the passion of the community. Overall, this was our favourite piece because it taught us about an important historical event, helped us to empathise with miners and understand their dangerous conditions and inspired us to research more widely for our own choreography stimuli.

‘Ludo’ by Caroline Finn

The final piece in the triple bill was about transitioning into adulthood and revisiting fond memories of childhood experiences. The choreographic use of experimenting with games explored as a child was very entertaining as we tried to spot the various inspirations and witness how these had been turned into movement material. The clever use of props, such as the benches that were originally sat at the side of the stage that turned into a merry-go-round has inspired us to experiment with props in different ways back in lessons. It was interesting to see the clear characterisation within the different dancers, allowing us as the audience to explore these childhood memories through the eyes of each character all the way through. The personalised, multi purpose costumes also allowed each dancer to be playful with their character. This piece was placed perfectly at the end of the triple bill to leave the audience on a high.

After the performance we were lucky enough to be able to sit in a Q&A with members of the cast and learn which piece was their favourite, understand more about the development and rehearsal process for the show and understand how some of the pieces were created over Zoom due to Covid restrictions. Having this opportunity really helped us to develop our appreciation of the pieces and inspire us to try new approaches and push ourselves to explore movement material in different ways in our choreography lessons.

Overall, we loved all three pieces that NDCW performed; particularly how different each of them were and how the use of voice was incorporated. The performance style and characterisation of each piece was so different, which I don’t think we were expecting. We also loved seeing different props used in different ways throughout the three pieces and how the lighting was used effectively, especially in our favourite ‘Codi’.

We would like to congratulate NDCW for a fantastic show but really thank them, Josh especially, for opening up previously unseen elements of the rehearsal and preparation process for audience members to immerse themselves in – the impact the whole day has had on our lessons now we’re back in school is very clear to see and we are all better dancers for the whole experience.

Review One Another, National Dance Company Wales – Theatr Clwyd – 10/5/22

So much of what it on offer at the theatre is routine light entertainment or tired re-runs of old chestnuts. A lot of new material, despite the best endeavours of marketing departments, also fails to excite. But, off to one side of mainstream theatre, there is contemporary dance and ‘One Another’ is a show that would appeal to anyone who enjoys performance and who appreciates physical technique, vivid imagination and enthusiastic exploration.

The show consists of three pieces: Ludo, by Caroline Finn, lasting thirty minutes; Codi, by Anthony Matsena, lasting twenty minutes and Wild Thoughts, by Andrea Costanzi Martini. There are nine dancers.

Wild Thoughts is an introduction to the company, with individual dancers appearing, performing similar routines, followed by duos and trios until everyone is on stage and a lot happens simultaneously. It’s extremely energetic (the first performance of the evening?) and very tight. There might have been mistakes but you would have been lucky to spot them. Although it’s fast, athletic and technical, it’s by no means dry. The dancers add to their movements by calling out the names of body parts in a synchronised chant. It had never struck me before that the word ‘thigh’ could achieve dramatic intensity!

I’d seen Codi the last time NDCW performed at Theatr Clwyd. I found it interesting with its clever use of lights and its references to the real life of coal mining and coal mining communities. The second time around, though, as much of it is performed in semi-darkness, to make the most of shadows and the helmet lights, I missed the facial expressions which added so much to the other pieces. And, whilst the soundtrack, mainly consisting of percussive noises is appropriate, it didn’t appeal to me. Nonetheless, this is dance approaching social comment and some of the poses that were struck resonate.

Ludo was fascinating and completely mad. It is a pot-pourri of situations taking place on and around a large table and then a number of park benches, which the dancers can manoeuvre individually or link together. There are moments of surrealism, in which elastic costumes are pulled in all directions, concealing the head or the limbs so that weird shapes can be created – and moved around. Little scenes are played out, teasing the intelligence – you want – in vain! – to work out exactly what is supposed to be going on. Objects, like an old gramophone player and a jam pot, are used as toys. Elements of stage business, like conjuring tricks and trompe l’oeil occur almost randomly. There’s no logic to any of the way the moments segue together, but that’s the fun of the piece. It makes nonsense of the idea of narrative by keeping you guessing throughout. It also makes you wonder if the stream of colourful ideas came from a single choreographer (if so I’d like to have some of what she is on) or if the company contributed their own ideas to make up the mix. The soundtrack to the piece is also charming, including, perhaps inevitably, an accordion at one point. The show ends with a smile.

The only downside is that the evening can’t build as it might with a ballet or a full length play. There are effectively two intervals which are almost as long as the pieces themselves. The audience is left to sit and look at the curtain, talking amongst themselves, or to go outside into the tented reception area which was very draughty (Theatr Clwyd is being substantially rebuilt). There will be technical reasons for these gaps – the dancers need to get their breath back and the set needs to be re-jigged – but ideally, there should be something happening on stage – a talk or question and answer session or even a bit of live music. Performances engross our attention and extend our concentration. If you can find a way to do this cumulatively you achieve more momentum.

That said, NDCW are to be congratulated on putting on a diverse and original show, of the kind which keeps theatre alive. Theatr Clwyd are also to be applauded for keeping their programme varied and making sure their local audience can experience the best in modern contemporary dance.

Simon Kensdale