Ballet Cymru has justifiably earned the reputation of going, artistically speaking, where no man – or woman – has previously dared to tread. This double bill proves the point with a combination of contemporary dance and, in the first half, a score by award-winning Welsh composer Thomas Hewitt Jones which incorporates a major choral input, and in the second half the music of folk song.
The Same Flame
Music: Thomas Hewitt Jones
Choreography: Darius James, Amy Doughty & company dancers
The dancers of Ballet Cymru showcase their expertise in this piece, based on a 35-minute choral work portraying Olympic values, with lyrics by Matt Harvey sung by the equally skilled Vivum Singers. The combination, in itself unusual, becomes even more so when guest artist Suzie Birchwood makes her entrance. Birchwood, who won a full scholarship to train at the London Studio Centre when she was 16, but had her training cut short a year later by the onset of generalized dystonia which has left her requiring wheelchair assistance, would emphatically not want this aspect of her life dwelt upon in relation to her dancing. So I shall only say that the determination required to appear on stage as a dancer in a choreographed piece that includes lifts and pointe work is mind-boggling. If that in itself is not deserving of an accolade, then the high standard of Birchwood’s work is even more so.
Darius James is a name well-known to those familiar with the work of Ballet Cymru, and here as is the norm with him he makes huge demands of his team of dancers who rise to the challenge with an evident enthusiasm. This is contemporary dance but James is not afraid to acknowledge, and at times make use of, traditional ballet steps and format, and does so with a seamless expertise which adds much to the success of the performance. The choral input by the Vivum Singers is considerable and of a high standard, but there is a caveat here, in that at times attention is inevitably split between the dancers on stage and the singing.
Week of Pines
Music and vocals: Georgia Ruth
Choreography: Darius James, Amy Doughy and dancers of the company.
A complete change of style, mood and scene for this work by Aberystwyth songwriter, singer and harpist Georgia Ruth, whose debut album is danced to here. Accompanying herself on the harp, and singing in both Welsh and English, backed by guitar, reed organ, bass and drums, Ruth’s is a talent which cannot be denied. Judging by the audience reaction, and conversations in the bar afterwards, many of the audience came specifically for this and, with each of six tracks telling a different story, there was undoubtedly an extra dimension to be gained for those familiar with the album.. However, for those more intent on the structure and performance as applied to the dance interpretation, some explanatory programme notes would have been helpful. Choreographing such a piece is far from easy, and while the dancers did their best to follow the mood swings of the score it did at times take its toll.
Overall, an exciting and innovative double bill danced by a company of nine dancers all of whom display considerable talent. It remains to be seen whether or not Ballet Cymru’s declared objective of bringing in those who are wary of traditional ballet succeeds. Judging by the enthusiastic reception, it may well have done so.
RITES OF SPRING/PETRUSHKA at Sherman Theatre, Cardiff
Director & Choreography: Michael Keegan-Dolan
Music: Igor Stravinsky
Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre
Reviewer: Barbara Michaels
With a stark monochrome setting and virtually no scenery, Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre’s double bill, set to the powerful music of Igor Stravinsky, is contemporary dance with a vengeance. There is little or no acknowlegement paid to earlier balletic arrangements in the choreography. That is, perhaps, how it should be. What is lacking, however, in Michael Keegan- Dolan’s version, is clarity of context and relevance to the music. Despite the programme notes, some members of the audience were left floundering.
That is not to say, however, that these two pieces of dance theatre do not have merit. In Rites of Spring, Stravinsky’s vision of a solemn pagan rite with sacrifices to the god of spring, Keegan-Dolan uses the rhythmic elements of the music as a backdrop to violent scenes portraying pagan fertility rites ending in human sacrifice. At one point everyone strips – male dancers down to the buff while female members of the cast are permitted to retain bra and pants. Floral dresses are put on – and taken off again. A man gets murdered (why? Because he’s old, of course.}
Some spectacular dancing here, hard, exciting and physically testing, from both male and female members of the 14-strong International cast. While it is difficult to single out individuals, as the full cast are used throughout, mention must be made of one or two: Louise Mochia manages to remain graceful at all times, with lissom movements even when the pace is frenetic, while Anna Kaszuba displays amazing energy, coping with the considerable effort and expertise that the programme demands,
On the male side, there are striking elements, such as the wide-legged jumps done in unison while balancing cardboard boxes, cartwheels, somersaults, rhythmic stamping et al – some sequences are threatening and violent. This is not for the squeamish.
Petrushka, in the second half provides some light relief after the difficult first half. Petrushka was composed in 1911, and balletomanes will be familiar with the traditional ballet, which tells of a traditional Russian puppet, Petrushka, made of straw and sawdust, who comes to life. Again, Keegan-Dolan’s take brooks no quarter, paying no homage to the original apart from covering the dancers’ faces in dense white make- up like puppets. The cast displays wonderful fluidity of movement in this half, which is altogether more accessible, although there are still some shocks.
Despite the power of the dance, the strength and sheer volume of Stravinsky’s score tends at times to overwhelm the dancers, which is perhaps not surprising, given that it was conceived originally as a concert work. It was that great dancer Diaghilev who, back in 1910, persuaded him otherwise, resulting in the performances that caused much outraged comment back in the early 20th century. Despite the clever concept which it undoubtedly is, the same might be said of Keegan-Dolan’s version.
Run: April 8 & 9
Choreography, direction & costume design David Nixon OBE
Music Philip Feeney
Review by Third Age Critic Barbara Michaels.
Golden epaulettes, crystal chandeliers and Cossacks – all the flavours of Imperialist Russia bring glitter and glamour to David Nixon’s take on this new balletic version of the rags-to-riches fairytale by the brothers Grimm. While it retains the key features – put-upon-Cinderella, her cruel stepmother, heartless stepsisters, handsome Prince and, of course, the glass slipper – it probes deep into the back story and so becomes a much darker concept altogether.
For a start, there is the music. Philip Keeney, who composed the music for Christopher Gable’s version of the story back in 1993, has managed to pull a completely different and much more strident score out of the hat, echoing the disturbing elements – child abuse et al – underlying the story. Nixon gives us two Cinderella’s – the very young girl whose father, who dies tragically at her birthday picnic, is her idol – and the young woman who captures the heart of a Prince.
As young Cinderella, Michela Paolacci is delightfully ingénue, bringing delicacy and a touching vulnerability to the role,, but it is Lucia Solari, dancing Cinderella grown to womanhood, whose grace and fragility, coupled with an expertise in a role which requires her to dance en pointe for much of the time, who deserves a major accolade for the exquisite precision of her dancing. Nixon’s choreography ups the ante for the male dancers, giving Javier Torres, as the Prince who captures Cinderella’s heart, a chance to show his strength as a soloist. However, it is in the final pas de deux with Solari that he comes into his own.
Nixon has made some changes to the concept of the wicked stepmother, first seen here. as an adoring wife who, distraught with grief at the death of her husband for which she blames Cinderella for his demise, turns against her. Some wonderful choreography with its own poignancy and heartbreak behind the cruel façade is danced with understanding by Jessica Morgan, who shows a command of the stage that bodes well for her future. And what of the Fairy Godmother?
You may well ask. Nixon has replaced her with a male Magician, danced here by Tobias Batley (who doubles this with the role of Cinderella’s father), popping up when needed and throwing the occasional magic trick or firework to keep us on our toes, at times hovering in the background, in a manner which brings to mind the more sinister Baron Rothbart brooding over Swan Lake, in the ballet of that name. Although the Magician is, of course, a benign figure, the reference, although oblique, is there. It is referenced again in what is, perhaps, the most memorable scene in this innovative production – that of skaters gliding over an icy glistening lake, danced as always to a high standard by the Northern Ballet Company.
Earlier this year members of Bridgend Youth Dance whom are interested in the field of dance criticism went to see and review Flights of Fancy at the Park and Dare theatre, Treorchy, please find their reviews below.
Review Flights Of Fancy by Anna Whistance, Bridgend Youth Dance Young Critic
I attended the Flights Of Fancy production with fellow members of Bridgend Youth Dance at the Park and Dare Theatre,RCT. The first thing I would like to say is I thought the costumes were fantastic they really gave the effect of a representation of Wales on stage with the bold use of red. I was also struck by the energy of all of the dancers and singers on stage, they were great.
The Flights Of Fancy production used the idea of music and dance throughout the years showing milestones in the areas history this was great and the wonderful use of the building really made the production come alive.
The lighting created some amazing effects on the scenes shown on stage and I loved the glow in the dark costumes!
The only thing I think that could improve the production was some of the timings for the dancers.
Overall I thought the show was very well put together, the energy on stage was electric with giant smiles from the audience !
I would like to say well done to everyone involved in the production and as a young dancer I personally loved Flights of Fancy.
Review Flights Of Fancy by Bronty Freeman, Bridgend Youth Dance Young Critic
Flights of Fancy is a production, which was performed at the Park and Dare Theatre in Treorchy, RCT. The show consists of a variety of singers and dancers, varying in age groups, as they tell the story of the theatre throughout the years.
They production made amazing use of the venue, as the audience were seated on the stage and the performers stage was the theatre seating areas. The costumes were very creative, as was the choreography and the performers made good use of the props.
There was a range of old and modern music and the orchestra played very well. The dancers were very energetic and they were all smiling and looked like they were having a good time, which made you feel happy. The singers ‘The Siren Sisters’ hit every note perfectly, they were very talented, and sung with enthusiasm.
There was a good use of lighting as they had a section performed with neon lights (glow in the dark). It was very creative how they had got dancers to freeze in a still image as you walked through the corridors of theatre on your way in to be seated.
Overall, I think that the show was fantastic and a great display of talent from this area.
Review by Hannah Jenkins Bridgend Youth Dance Young Critic, Age 13
Hi the production show I am reviewing is called Flights of Fancy and was performed at the Park and Dare Theatre, RCT. This show was very creative throughout. I thought there were great directing skills used in this show as it flowed easily from song to song and scene to scene.
First of all I would like to begin with the running time taken to perform the whole production, every single minute was used to illustrate moments and events of the theatres history. I also thought the choreographers did excellent jobs making the dances a perfect reflection of the history of the theatre, as before the show I didn’t actually know any of the history while after the show I knew a lot more. Another thing I liked was the choreographer’s work and how they managed to make still images and illustrations on the way to the seating area of the show, it was a clever and creative idea.
I think the age group differences were great as each performer (including dancers and singers) performed their role with a beam on their face and great use of energy. I think the use of the stage was amazing as every inch I’m sure was used to perform a dance or act! All the costumes were well thought out, made and designed each outfit fitted the story of each scene!
I particularly liked how the lighting crew and costume team put their heads together to make a neon scene, which represented the Doctor Who filming in the theatre! I think I should give credits to the singers The Siren Sisters as they had to remember quite a few songs but they each sang their hearts out!
I think this show is suitable for all ages! It’s well worth seeing the enthusiasm and smiles of all those involved in the production. I would like to thank them for putting on such a great worthwhile show! If the team involved wanted a target for future performances it would be to keep up the energetic and creative work!
Photo credit John Collingswood
On the 22nd of February I was fortunate enough to attend Deborah Light’s production of Hide at the renowned Chapter Arts Centre based in Canton, Cardiff
Upon my reflection of Hide I have come to the realisation that Deborah Light has managed to create such a beautiful and effective performance piece that has left a lasting impression on every viewer. By using only a few lights, minimal props and clothing, Hide forces the audience to pay more attention to the exceptionally choreographed tango, the breath taking solo pieces and experience the passionate message delivered by each dancer.
Hide manages to cleverly play with the audience emotions, seeing a naked Jo Fong laughing one moment and bordering the tears next instantly creates a confliction of feelings within us, I instantly felt a sense of distress, as though I should be rushing forward to offer my jacket to help hide her modesty. Watching the high intensity, fast paced and articulate sequence delivered by Rosalind Haf Brooks left me wonderfully exhausted and in awe of how amazing the human body can be moulded into creating such a stunning art form. And finally Eddie Ladd’s simple choice of words managed to force the viewer to take a look and question themselves and society’s judgement on others.
It constantly left me waiting with baited breath, unaware and excited by what was to follow. I found the piece a journey of self-discovery having never experienced this type of performance art before. It opened my eyes to how movement, sound and spoken text could mould together to create such a valuable eye opening experience that I would definitely want to encounter again. Deborah Light has created something raw, stripped back and bare and in that sense we cannot hide from the moral story that is being played out in front of us. Do we force people to hide? Or are we hiding ourselves?
|Created by Deborah Light , Chapter Arts Centre, Studio , February 23, 2013|
|When confronted by a naked, giggling woman as you walk into the theatre you know the show you are about to see is either going to be attention-seeking or daring. Deborah Light’s innovative first full length piece of course fell into the latter category – original and thought provoking.With a cast of world-renowned female performers HIDE showed how much is possible in a stripped back space. With just their bodies and a few mobile studio lights these women explored the boundaries between our public and private lives – as the programme asks, ‘are they showing themselves? Or is this a show?’
Wonderfully timid Jo Fong physicalised the constant battle between a performer and their onstage psyche, telling us ‘this is a show’ whilst performing conflicted choreography that showed a performers struggle with nerves more than words could ever convey.
Rosalind Haf Brooks on the other hand strived to make a connection with her fellow performers, even resorting to sniffing their clothes just to make contact. By turns equally humorous and touching in her pursuit for human interaction.
Most of the text based content came from the beautifully androgynous Eddie Ladd who chronicled the stages of her life by describing what length her hair was at any given time. She revealed that she has not always been Eddie, but as a performer she needed to change her name to avoid having the same name as another.
Each of the women contributed something new to the mix, each dancing in their own unique way and each bringing a different set of emotions to the performance. The fractured nature of the piece allowed them to disappear and reappear, transform and dissolve exploring the multiple layers of human nature.
The lines between performance and life were completely blurred – what was a performance and what was truth didn’t seem to matter as the piece delved further into what’s underneath the surface of our external facades.
Exciting and engaging, this is the kind of work that will encourage discussion and linger in your mind long after the event.
Chelsey is a member of the Young Critics Scheme for further information contact
Wales Millennium Centre, 28th – 30th June.Funny. Fluid. Agitating. Frustrating. Relaxing. Mesmerising. Stunning.
The diversity of each performance from Dance GB made for an exciting and dynamic experience that no list of adjectives could adequately describe.
Scottish Ballet’s Run For It was full of peaks and troughs, working through John Adams’ Son of Chamber Symphony which both juxtaposed and complemented the beauty of the dance. Dressed in Scottish blue lycra, beside and beneath a seemingly Athens inspired installation from Martin Boyce, Martin Lawrence’s choreography conveyed the strength and agility of Olympic athletes whilst still feeling completely light and fluid. Every movement was beautiful and strong, showing off the muscle and power of the dancers.
National Dance Company Wales’s Dream, choreographed by Christopher Bruce was a funny, quirky and reflective performance, capturing the essence of sport for the layman. The 50s costumes and use of Ravel’s Bolero evoked a warm nostalgia adding to the emotions tugged out through the characters and their journey through this narrative piece. By far the most character driven, Dream is the perfect crossover performance for potential dance audiences. Like a favourite song, I could watch it over and over.
English National Ballet’s And the Earth Shall Bear Again was a dark, dramatic dance that felt almost medieval, each dancer in ruffle armed slips moving against the harsh and industrial sounds of John Cage’s music. Itzik Galili’s choreography was stunning, with patterns of dancers creating multiple mirror image effects, or dancing alone, finding their feet – their own movements, watched or ‘caught in the act’ by others. Again strength and power heralded, along with trial and error; learning from the movements of others to create new ones. However, the whole performance felt drowned out by the volume of Cage’s piece which jarred and, with no let up, was a little much for my ears.
Dance GB is a fantastic opportunity to see what’s out there Dance wise in the UK. Discard your expectations and go with an open mind. It will be an evening well spent.