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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
Choreographed by Jack Philp, OPTO NANO is a unique collaboration of dance, digital art and electronic music inspired by academic Professor Paola Borri’s research in biophysics. In the most recent version, adapted and performed within CULTVR LAB’s dome, we were guided through the journey that brought OPTO NANO to fruition through documentary style footage projected onto the dome’s interior.
Contrary to what one might expect from a dance piece inspired by science, Philp’s choreography isn’t clinical or soulless, it flows continuously in endless spirals and looks ‘at home’ within the dancers’ bodies, all of which are gifted movers. The choreography is particularly impactful through the lens of a moving camera and is complemented beautifully by the digital projections which follow, created by visual artists Uncharted Limbo Collective.
As enthralling as the show was so far, I couldn’t help but quietly hope for some live dance, so when Gaia Cicolani purposefully strode out into the space and treated us to some dancing, I was particularly pleased. It’s no wonder she is something of a muse to Philp; Gaia, a virtuosic and engaging dancer, performed Philp’s choreography with conviction and ease whilst also maintaining a degree of playfulness by occasionally making eye contact with us or by pulling our focus towards the hypnotic projections overhead. She lunged and spun in circular sequences, interrupted occasionally by delicate repetitive hand gestures and rippling body movements, hinting at vulnerability and introspection.
The live dance worked excellently in the round but was sometimes lacking a clear relationship to the digital art within the dome, not necessarily conceptually but more by design as it’s physically difficult to enjoy taking in both simultaneously having to choose one over the other in any given moment. However, the ominous electronic sound score by Welsh composer, R.SEILIOG was the glue between both dance and digital elements. Feeling the vibration of the beat pulsating through our bodies as we reclined to admire these elements dancing with one another was a mesmeric and unifying experience I shan’t forget.
If you have never seen Flamenco dance, they you are surely missing out. A mixture of intense, fast paced and yet graceful movement takes your breath away and yet you feel the intensity in your own blood.
Paco Peña, one of the most formidable of Flamenco guitarists and composers, rejoins with director Jude Kelly, to bring a production comparing and contrasting young and mature performers, both musically and physically. It showcases the traditional dance, and how it drips down through generations, bringing new life to the old dance style.
The first half is actually quite the surprise. In their comfies, skivvies, whatever you call them, we feel as if we have walked into a Spanish bar; the ones you see in tiny Spanish towns or slightly more glamourised on TV and film, where the older musicians are tinkering their beautiful music on the guitar, there’s a make shift drum set, and the vocalising of the locals who have impeccable singing voices. Then, while clearly not ad hoc in this case, the local Flamenco dancers jump into the middle and perform with what they feel in the soul and through their veins.
The staging is minimal – it looks as if we have stumbled on the backstage of a set. This all together is super effective and, despite being in such a large Theatre, feels intimate. However, the novelty unfortunately begins to wear off, especially when the tempo of all the songs chosen for this section have the same slow beat; it soon becomes hard to pay attention to and keep interest. While the dancing is of course extraordinary, the music beautiful, it just wasn’t enough to keep my attention going.
The second half became more of a theatrical production – matching costumes, theatrical lights highlighting pockets of the stage with either a dancer or musician. The same Flamenco style of Spanish guitar and improvised and impressive vocals, this second half is very different – the tempo is interchangeable, from something very poised and slow to fast paced and fun. While I’m sure the theatrical elements added in this half help with its impression, the mixture of tempos and approaches to the dance kept us more on our toes and waiting for the next act.
Paco Peña – Solera is a great introduction to Flamenco. To see where it comes from in tradition to the more heightened modernity. It unfortunately needs a little shake up with the dances and music they put next to one another.
One Another. It’s a phrase we need right now. It’s a phrase used quite cleverly for National Dance Company of Wales’ latest show of trio dance pieces.
Wild Thoughts by Andrea Costanzo Martini began with a repeated phase for most of the dancers. A drone note loitered the space, as their daring physicality mimic the same poses started as a daring opening. Leading into a pumped up take on Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes, the ensemble gave us an education of their bodies, in lighting speed including slapping, gurgling and shouting. It was the energy that came of each dancer that really stood out here, some humour as well also relaxed this Cardiff audience. It put a smile on my face and made me glad to finally be back at the Sherman.
A brief respite would herald the next piece: Codi by Anthony Matsena. On a much more series tone, we wallowed in the total misery that is the mining profession. Whilst Wales is famous for local pits, the universal theme rings true of manipulating the working man and the pillaging of natural resources. If slightly too long, the dance does have some raw moments filled with fury and an unflinching desperation. Dancers are clad in orange jumpsuits, the stage is darkly lit evoking the atmosphere, though more claustrophobia could have been evoked. The lamps on their helmets could have been used for even more of a nice touch. The somber mood was jarring in the three works, though there is a spark here…
From Caroline Finn came Ludo. Quite possibly the finest thing on the stage this night, an apparition of Kafka and Ingmar Bergman. Finn’s usually expressionistic and witty moves are never far away. Benches, a detachable table and a gramophone horn used to great comic effect make up the stage in an often dizzying display. The dancers really come into their own, facial expressions also being of the utmost importance in this fun filled, child like spectacle. The choice of musical selections also remand powerful including Schumann and Meredith Monk.
Truly a charming evening, I’m glad to see our National Dance Company out and about once more.
As Theatres look to reconnect with audiences again, National Dance Company Wales/Cwmni Dawns Cenedlaethol Cymru is back with an uplifting, energising and thought-provoking programme designed to awaken our senses and fire our imaginations.
First up is Wild Thoughts by Andra Costanzo Martini, an entertaining piece designed to focus our attention on various parts of the body. The first few dancers open with identical moves, centred upon one downturned and one upturned hand (The Welsh title of this collection of works, Law yn Llaw, translates as Hand in Hand). Dancers appear to be grouped into balletic, athletic and playful typecasts. But soon the individuality dissipates, the music builds and there is a glorious band of dancers showcasing their bodily strength as one collective unit. The second half of the work is designed to provoke and amuse, with intense focus on each body part (together with sound effects – how did that achieve that rumbling stomach?).
The second piece is Codi (translates as Rising) by Anthony Matsena. The work centres around a fictional Welsh coalpit, skilfully lit with helmet lamps and infra-red lighting. Fiery orange overalls strengthen the feelings of heat and oppression. The piece feels well researched, illustrating the toil, disputes, fear, camaraderie and tragedy associated with the industry throughout Welsh history. The final section has the dancers performing as one, highlighting strength in unity and ending the piece with a sense of positivity and optimism.
The final piece is Ludo by Caroline Finn. It’s well documented that adults forget how to play, and that we would all benefit from harnessing the inner child in us. Here’s our opportunity. We sat back and revelled in the silliness of game-playing, teasing, dressing up, spinning around on benches with castors (which looked great fun). In fact there’s so much going on at once that it’s difficult to know where to look. Clothing is used to great effect in this piece, bright, stretchy one-pieces pulled in all directions and worn in crazy ways. A nod to whoever selected the music: a fantastic choice which complemented each section perfectly. I particularly enjoyed the build-up of Schubert’s Piano Trio No 2 second movement, Andante. A fabulously playful piece and just right to end this trio of works on a happy and uplifting note.
While the seats are still filling, and the last of the audience are rushing in for the no latecomers policy, suddenly someone is on stage. In the darkness, a faint red frame on the back wall, with his back to us.
It’s a wonder whether anyone has noticed him, with chatter still continuing, but the show has begun, and there is a eeriness about this foreboding body.
Akram Khan delivers some of the most interesting, dark and unusual dance productions. This is no different with Kaash. With elements of contemporary dance, influenced with religious, cultural and rhythmic dancing and gestures, the production delivers the deep, dark and at times frightening expressions of Hindu Gods, black holes, creation and destruction and much more.
The colours of the production are earthy and naturalistic – with browns, reds, black and whites highlighting the dancers and the stage itself. It is calming at times, making you feel grounded, and others frightening.
The sounds change from heavy drum beat, to fast paced speech in another language, to naturalistic sounds like wind. However, there is a sense of alienation theory when the sound is cranked up; it gets louder and more foreboding and sounds a little like when a killer is about to appear in a horror film. There is no sense of an end, half expecting something to make you jump but the crescendo is outlived and we are left in bewilderment.
The dancers, using leitmotif gestures that come back and forth throughout, are somehow gentle yet fierce with their movements. Effortlessly sliding around the stage, they make it look easy, but the beads of sweat show otherwise. There is a moment when we see one “breaking down”; physically it is as if she is a robot that is malfunctioning and the movements and way she contorts herself is equally natural and unnatural. It’s difficult to watch but you also cannot take your eyes away.
For a 55 minute piece, Kaash felt like an enternity of a devious world but equally making us want more. It is dark and scary but fascinating and awe inspiring.
Irish-American dance sensation Michael Flatley catapulted Irish dancing into the mainstream with his first hit show, Riverdance, in 1994. He followed that up with the record-breaking, worldwide smash-hit, Lord of the Dance, in 1997, which has since gone on to break records and box offices around the world. Now the most successful touring production in entertainment history, its 25th anniversary tour chassés its way to Cardiff for a limited time this week.
The music begins, and clips from the production’s history are projected onto the stage as Flatley explains in voiceover how the story came to him in a dream, and how the show made that dream a reality. Then the stage darkens, and lights appear one by one, glowing orbs held by hooded druids that glide so ethereally you feel as though you’re walking through a dream yourself. Then the Little Spirit (Cassidy Ludwig) plays the titular tune on her magic flute and awakens ‘Planet Ireland’: a mystical, medieval fantasy world ruled over by the Lord of the Dance (Matt Smith), who is plunged into an epic battle for both heart(h) and home.
Drawing on Irish folklore, Flatley not only created the show, but produced, directed and choreographed it. There’s nothing quite like Irish dancing, and there’s nothing quite like Lord of the Dance: a mesmerizing spectacle from start to finish. The degree of athleticism, precision and timing on display is astounding, with the 40-strong cast showcasing an unparalleled level of skill and boundless energy. It’s dizzyingly good: I’ve simply never seen dancing like it. Smith steps into Flatley’s iconic shoes with ease; with unmatched bravado and charisma to spare, Smith weaves such a spell on the audience you simply have to join in with the dancing yourself.
There is only one Lord of the Dance, and he does not share power – but there’s a worthy contender for the throne in the shape of the Dark Lord (Zoltan Papp). Dressed like an embattled biker king, Papp brings a sinister swagger that had the audience booing (or, in my case, cheering) as if he were a pantomime villain. His duel with Smith is as thrilling a setpiece as you can imagine, and features some of the finest dance-fighting this side of West Side Story.
There’s not a weak link or a missed step in the whole ensemble, from Cyra Taylor’s mercurial Morrighan to Lauren Clarke’s sparkling Saoirse. Cassidy Ludwig brings a puck-like, playful charm to the Little Spirit, whose performance shines even more brightly than her glittery golden costume. The music, composed by Ronan Hardiman and Gerard Fahy, segues from lilting Celtic ballads one minute to ritualistic chants and sweeping epics the next, some of which is even performed live on stage courtesy of Giada Costenaro Cunningham and Aisling Sage’s first-class violin duets and singer Celyn Cartwright as Erin the Goddess, whose heavenly interludes give the cast time for a spritely costume change.
It’s fitting that the last word – or should that be ‘dance’? – is left to the man who started it all, with a trio of projected Flatleys out-dancing one another, only to be joined by the whole cast dancing in unison. If, like me, you have a much-loved VHS copy of Riverdance in pride of place on the shelf, or if you’ve never experienced the thrill of Irish dancing before, then this is the show for you. Lord of the Dance is only at the New Theatre for a limited time, so join the 60 million people who have loved and lived this show for an encore like no other. There have been 25 years of standing ovations so far, and if last night was any indication, here’s to 25 more!
Co-directed by Joe Murphy and Matthew Holmquist, Dance to the Bone is a gig theatre show performed at the Sherman Theatre in Cardiff inspired by the dancing plagues of medieval times which explores what it would be like if a plague of this kind were to break out today and how society might react.
The evening started with a folky rock belter with leading vocals by Oliver Hoare who co-wrote the drama with Eleanor Yates, singing “I wanna take you dancing”. I could sense the audience twitching in their seats, itching to throw a limb or two and start a dancing plague of their own. I found myself in awe of the multi talentedness of the cast and particularly loved the music which was a catchy and refreshing mix of folk rock.
The story line is fast paced and the dialogue sharp witted with themes of grief and trauma running throughout. Joanne Bevan (Yasemin Ozdemir), our protagonist works at an insurance company with her brother, John (Jack Beale) both of which have recently lost their grandmother, with Joanne seemingly especially affected by this loss. Choreographed by Krystal Lowe, Ozdemir’s energetic dance solo was a mix of thrashing, kicking and more traditional dance moves which included some very impressive backbends. When the other characters eventually caught the dancing fever, I was particularly impressed by Beale’s agility as he writhed and flailed around with excitement during his impassioned speech about the expectations around his role as a big brother and “man of the house”.
The show ends with the ensemble finally dancing altogether under the warm glowing light bulbs hanging from above; each embracing different ways of moving, some floated ethereally and some kicked, punched and swiped the air purposefully.
All in all, an impressive display of talent and a well rounded, thoroughly enjoyable show.
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