Theatre in Wales

Plays and dance productions in Wales since 1982...

At Swim Two Boys by Jessica Cohen and Jim Ennis
First presented in 2004 by Earthfall
cast size:2
AT SWIM TWO BOYS is based in the successful novel by Irish author Jamie O’Neill and this pioneering company’s treatment of the book includes slowly flooding the stage with water during the performance. If your vision of boys dancing about in puddles is ‘Singing in the Rain’ this show certainly isn’t it!!!

AT SWIM TWO BOYS is inspired by Jamie O’Neill’s award winning novel about the deep friendship between two teenage boys under the backdrop of the 1916 Easter Rising in Ireland and war in mainland Europe.  Earthfall continue to develop their trademark performance styles, at this new production shows them at their most extreme emotionally & physically, with live film, live music composed by Roger Mills, breathtaking choreography and design.  This is the 16th production for Cardiff-based award-winning Director/Choreographers Jessica Cohen and Jim Ennis.

Performed by Cai Tomos (who has just been commissioned to choreograph his first work for Diversions) and Terry Michael, AT SWIM TWO BOYS will only have a limited run of three performances in Cardiff this year.  It will undertake a major UK and European tour next spring

   There are 3 reviews of Earthfall's At Swim Two Boys in our database:
At Swim Two Boys by Jessica Cohen and Jim Ennis
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Chapter Arts Centre Cardiff
May 25, 2005
this review first appeared in The Stage

Based on Jamie O’Neill’s award-winning novel, this dance version of the relationship between two teenage boys at the time of the Easter Rising in Ireland is a powerful piece of theatre which embraces movement, music and visual imagery.

All three of these elements are symbolised by the wall of water which drips constantly, gradually filling the shallow trough of a stage in which the dancers meet and fulfil their destiny. Its steady sound is both harmonising and disturbing as the story progresses.

Physically well-matched in stature and looks, Terry Michael and Cai Tomos are like two sides of the same being. Their early movements are synchronised, slow and measured. They disport themselves in concert, with bodies leaning in to one another, regular and repeated motifs mirroring aspects of each other.

Stills and old film sequences are projected on to the backdrop, as well as shots of the dancers in other settings, placing them within the wider context of a conflict into which they are inevitably drawn, as they wrestle in a semi-playful rivalry that foreshadows their fate as victims of political events. The image of a gunman intrudes in the idyll and Roger Mills’ music changes from the carefree and lyrical to insistent drumbeat and military march, while recorded voices express the divisions of the era.

Separated from the other, each dancer expresses angular and anguished movements.

Together again in the sea, there is drama before sunset shots of their bodies are reflected in the water, beautiful but blood red. A stunning concept all round.
Pru Farrier
At Swim Two Boys by Jessica Cohen and Jim Ennis
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Theatr Brycheiniog Brecon
May 31, 2005
this review first appeared in the Western Mail

Wow. If the past few days have offered a foretaste of the Cardiff Festival of Dance, then I can’t wait: first an exciting new piece by Charlotte Vincent for Wales Independent Dance in Newport and now Earthfall’s stunning new show at Brecon, both heading for the capital’s celebration of the coming-of-age of Welsh dance.
And, even allowing for the usual feeling of well-being engendered by pre-show dinner in Tiffins Theatr Brycheiniog restaurant, At Swim Two Boys seems to me a major piece of dance-theatre that managed to engage, excite and exhilarate almost to the point of emotional exhaustion.
It’s based on the award-winning novel by Jamie O’Neill (a long-term friend of Earthfall directors Jim Ennis and Jessica Cohen), the story of two teenage boys who fall in love in Ireland at the time of the Great War and the Easter Rising and who seem closest when they are swimming in the sea – hence the set (designed by Gerald Tyler, usually involved with the company as a performer), an area of water with a wall that is like a constant waterfall, within which Terry Michael and Cai Tomos perform fully clothed, in kilts and in trunks.
Earthfall’s strengths usually lie in the company’s quirkiness, its wit, its mix of dance forms, its range of performing styles, but here it is an intense duet that gains from the discipline – all that you can say is that it fits with the company’s policy of surprise.
As with all Earthfall shows, this is obviously no ordinary performance – there is, as ever, live music accompaniment from Roger Mills and Frank Naughton, muted trumpet and electric guitar creating a lyrical soundscape, and a backdrop of film that merges archive footage and film of the two boys.
In its more energetic moments, it is (dare one say it) reminiscent of Gododdin-period Brith Gof, all muscular physicality, but in its overall wordless eloquence it is unlike anything else you will have seen, I suspect, at times almost agonising slow motion action, at others synchronised rigour.
What you also usually get from Earthfall is content: the shows are about something, often something serious. At Swim Two Boys is clearly an allegory of love and peace, of gracefulness and tenderness, that is played out against a bloody war and a national revolution, the sea acting as a kind of safety zone immune to the conflict and bloodshed.
“I don’t hate the English and I don’t know if I love the Irish, but I love him and he is my country,” says one boy, expressing the passion that overrides patriotism.
But I suspect the story may be about more and I’m not convinced I found it in this very moving production, where the personal relationship between the boys – never explicit or overtly intimate – made the flickering images of soldiers and insurrection seem irrelevant.
It is, nevertheless, a deeply affecting piece, one that manages to combine sensitivity and physicality, and one where so many aspects of the production work together – the set, the mournful horn, the lighting, the choreography, the silent exchanges between the boys, the sheer art in the dancework.
One last point: you may well cry but you will also get wet if you sit near the front. Come prepared to be moved and soaked.
# At Swim Two Boys returns to Wales at Theatr Clwyd on May 23-24, plays the Hay Festival May 27-29 and is at Chapter Arts Centre  as part of the Cardiff Dance Festival June 8-18.
David Adams
At Swim Two Boys by Jessica Cohen and Jim Ennis
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Chapter Arts Centre Cardiff
June 16, 2005
Whilst there is a clear narrative line throughout the production, based on the two main characters in Jamie O’Neill’s award winning novel of the same name, and much of the skilful back projection places the action in the context of the Easter Rising in Ireland and the first World War, it is the sheer abstract beauty of the choreography, executed so brilliantly by both performers, so subtly enmeshed with the profound musicality of Roger Mills and Frank Naughton, placed in Gerald Tyler’s unique setting with his totally emphatic lighting that overwhelms all our senses in this truly wonderful work of near perfect co-operative art.

The stage is a low pool of about three or four inches of water backed by a steel wall with water constantly flowing down it throughout the action. The two boys sit on top of the wall at an iron ladder leading down into the water. Before the first boy reaches the stage we see that there is a delicate and tender love growing between them. When the first dancer hits the water it ripples out all around him catching the light, the first of many ever-repeating beautiful moments. One can almost believe that directors Jim Ennis and Jessica Cohen have such a great understanding of the situation that they are able to choreograph the waves in the sea.

We see the relationship grows and the dependency they share strengthen. This emotional drawing of their two hearts together is reflected in the complete physical dependency and total trust that the two dancers must have for each other, as so much of the complex movement calls for strong and reliable mutual support. With the most profound projection of the human spirit Terry Michael and Cai Thomas love and live in dance as many of us might love and live through life.

But these are two vigorous young men bursting with joy and life and this they show, creating tremendous excitement in fast moving dance work, at all times enhancing the emotion with the glitter and song of the swirling water often adding a muted trumpet and lyrical guitar. As well as excelling in dance and movement, the two boys are excellent actors they control their feelings, making us aware of their passion without fully embracing it.

They go into the sea to swim and even more imaginative, exhilarating and profoundly moving pictures overwhelm our senses. The colour of the back projection intensifies, the strength of their need and dependency deepens. The war imposes; the hurt and the beauty dig deeply into us. Like a many layered universal drama the production is a wide embracing allegory but its greatest achievement is its aesthetic and its Da Vinciesque beauty.

Since its inception in 1989 Earthfall has won many awards, made some bold experiments and continue to explore dance theatre in ways that will continue to captivate and surprise us.

Michael Kelligan

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