Tag Archives: Dance

Requiem, a review by Eva Marloes

 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

Dance choreographer Karol Cysewski has successfully designed an immersive experience through dance and theatre that conveys the unequal healthcare treatment people with learning disabilities receive, which results in thousands of avoidable deaths every year. (My interview with Cysewski is available here.) 

The strength of the show comes from the careful assembling of different elements to create powerful tableaux of patients who are examined, manipulated, neglected. At the centre of the scene and yet unheard. The actors from Hijinx Theatre add veracity to it. Aaron Relf is neurodivergent, Andrew Tadd and Gareth Clark have Down syndrome. Relf conveys a subtle anguish, Tadd has a strong presence on the scene, and Clark plays with the dancers with ease.

The skillful dancing by Gaia Cicolani, Kseniia Fedorovykh, and Harlan Rust employs a range of movements, gentle, precise, then deforming of faces and forms, to frantic and convulsive. The excellent sound design by Sion Orgon plays a key role in creating dark and haunting scenes where dancers and actors come together and apart.

Very powerful are also the set design by Ruby Brown and the lighting design by Sophie Moore immersing us in an uncomfortable mist, where pools of light and hospital curtains play alongside actors, dancers, and sound. The curtains get opened and closed to show us the pain, to cover or cover up the neglect, to signify death.

Yet the show is not perfect, largely due to a didactic and weak text. Most might find this to be a minor flaw, yet I believe it is an element that detracts from the power of the piece and that can be reviewed. The text is too wordy lacking poignancy. Numbers and statistics paint a general picture devoid of the personal concrete experience of a character. Art conveys universal truths through the particular experience of characters.  

Paradoxically, as someone who has worked in the third and public sector, I know how  important it is to ensure the voice of disabled people is included in reports and campaigning material through quotes or interviews. The medical and social context for the show could have been dealt with in the programme or in a prologue. The weak text makes the show more haunting than moving, but well worth watching.

An interview with Karol Cysewski, choreographer of Requiem, by Eva Marloes

Ineluctable part of life, death comes to us all. Yet, many deaths are premature and avoidable. People with learning disability are much more likely to die from an avoidable cause. The signs are missed, people are ignored, neglected, because they cannot speak, they cannot communicate their discomfort, pain, or even just hunger and thirst. They die not because of their disability, but because our healthcare system is not inclusive. 

According to the 2022 Learning Disabilities Mortality Review (LeDeR), 42% of deaths of people with a learning disability were avoidable. Dance choreographer Karol Cysewski tells their story in Requiem, an immersive dance-theatre performance in collaboration with Hijinx Theatre.

I talk to Cysewski in the Seligman Studio at Chapter, set up with hospital beds and curtains. He tells me he wants to engage the audience and make them think about the unequal treatment people with learning disabilities receive. It is often, says Cysewski, the result of “somebody just didn’t think about somebody else. They were too busy and had no imagination.”

A nurse finishing their shift not thinking that the nurse coming in the next shift doesn’t know the specific needs of the patient. “They don’t know how to say ‘I’m thirsty,’ she’s busy and she’s not imaginative enough to imagine that that might happen.” That’s all it takes. Being attentive.

Being attentive is what Cysewski has been doing while teaching at Hijinx Theatre. In his work with people with learning disabilities, he has learned to treat them as people first. 

“Slow down, if you need,” says Cysewski, “and give them achievable tasks. That applies to anyone. Treating people as people first not worrying about their disability. That would apply to anyone.” 

In doing the show, Cysewski has learned about the skills and strengths of each individual actor and what they find more challenging. That might include going to lie on the bed. 

Talking about one particular actor,  Cysewski says, “I’m learning how to give time, how to take time and space for him to learn, because eventually he learns, but he needs more repetition and continuity. I’m learning not to change (what to do), give them different ideas during rehearsals.”

I ask Cysewski what is like for the Hijinx actors to work with professional dancers. he tells me that “working with professional dancers challenges the actors more and it has a better effect.” For instance, they are more comfortable leaning against a professional dancer than another actor. “It makes them look like they’re trained dancers.”

There’s still a long way to go for disabled people to be fully included. Much of the work lies in training healthcare and social care staff in how to communicate effectively with people with learning disabilities.

Requiem uses light, sound, movement, but also smell to stimulate the senses of the audience and invite them to think about how lack of inclusivity leads to avoidable deaths. The message of Requiem is one of compassion. Not in the sense of feeling for sorry for the person, but to acknowledge the dignity of the human being in front of us.

Requiem opens on the 4th of July at Chapter Arts Centre. For tickets, see Chapter.

Rooting Hip-Hop Theatre in Wales

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.

Review: Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella by Sian Thomas


 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Last March I was lucky enough to have a relative key me into ballet. I saw Matthew Bourne’s “The Red Shoes”, and when I was invited to see his take on Cinderella, I already knew I was bound to have a wonderful time – and I did. Though The Red Shoes will always harbour a soft spot in my heart because it was my first ballet, I think it’s safe to say I liked this one much more. First of all, as a novice, I think it’s pretty important that this time, I knew what was going on. The story of Cinderella does not escape me even as it harbours a few changes (like being set in London 1940 and having a war theme, and Cinderella’s family being bigger than I remembered).

Costumes were incredible, and I think by “costumes” I mean “Cinderella’s dress”, because if we’re being honest, I was excited to see what it would look like as an audience member, rather than in pictures and pamphlet photos. And it was stunning; truly. Even her costume before the dance was lovely. I’m always a fan of flowing skirts and dresses, so seeing the way they moved as people danced was such a treat to my eyes. So, in that vein, the dancing was incredible. Still, a year later I don’t know much (or anything) about ballet or dancing in general and my eyes continue to be unaware of mistakes and unable to form any critiques (not that I have any at all, actually).

When I left The Red Shoes, I remember I came out on a high, as if I could suddenly redirect my life even though it was 10pm and I would be going home to bed afterwards. The same high followed me out of the theatre after Cinderella. An odd kind of high, one that left me sitting quietly and thinking and reflecting and just trying to figure out what words I would use to really show how much I loved this performance. I couldn’t find many. It’s definitely a “you have to see it to understand” kind of thing (which is why I’m going a step further to place some links here: in case anyone becomes interested in going).

Five stars because it really was wonderful and I’d love to see it again and I know I would enjoy it just as thoroughly every single time.

Review : Michael Flatley’s ‘Lord Of The Dance: Dangerous Games’ by James Briggs

 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)
This weekend Cardiff has had the luck of the Irish as Michael  Flatley’s worldwide phenomenon  ‘Lord of the Dance: Dangerous Games’ has played in St David’s Hall. The tour is one of the biggest the UK has ever had and has currently been seen by 60 million people in 60 different countries on every continent. All of the stops are pulled out in this Irish Dancing Extravaganza with dancing that is simply mesmerising.
I have been looking forward to watching this show for a long time and being a tap dancer myself can appreciate the hard work and effort that goes into this form of dancing. I knew from the opening sequence alone we would be in for a good night. As the first half of the show begins the audience are greeted with a projected Michael Flatley and a giant clock alluding to the opening of the show.
The cast are very well cast and all of the characters within the show work well as a dance unit. The perfectly balanced ensemble of male and female dancers help to give depth to the story and in the dance sequences when they are all in a line and coordinated it really is something to admire. Their collective talent is unbelievable and there are moments where your jaw is in your lap watching their feet move almost as too fast to comprehend.  The  main lead Lord of the Dance was played by James Keegan and the Dark Lord was played by Zoltan Papp.
The show seemed to have a variety show feel to it with all of the acts being very diverse. They all managed to hold attention of the audience due to their frequent costume changes and the cleaver projections that portrayed Ireland as an Idyllic place filled with Unicorns and rainbows. The plot follows a little Spirit with a magic flute who battles against evil to save Ireland from being taken over by evil cyborgs. Along the way the Spirit meets different dancers as well as a Black Swan like love triangle that threatens to turn the head of Ireland’s saviour, the Lord of the Dance himself. The show culminates with a big fight for the title of Lord of the Dance.

You can’t help but have a big smile on your face when the full ensemble cast fill the width of the stage at St David’s Hall and with their legs kicking and tapping in perfect sync. The show’s best section and what will always be their most iconic is the ‘Lord of the Dance’, and the skill of the cast is amazing in which they gave four Encores at the end of the show of that very dance which was met with a standing ovation from the whole audience at St David’s Hall.
If you’re a fan of this type of dancing and the Irish music and culture this show is without a doubt the show for you to attend next. It provides a 5-star evening of entertainment with lots of ups and downs within the story. In my opinion this show is something everyone should experience once in their lifetime as it will enthral you.
For more information about the tour of the Lord of the Dance please visit the official website to see where the tour will be heading next. http://www.lordofthedance.com/