Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

What Was and What Will Be

Wales Year in Dance

Various companies , Various locations , January-23-14
Wales Year in Dance by Various companies A whistle stop tour through the dance fare enjoyed by Wales during 2013, with some personal favourites highlighted along the way, and some tips for the first quarter of 2014.

Fifteen years ago Wales could not boast even half the amount of local and visiting dance activity it can today. Venues like the Wales Millennium Centre (WMC) in Cardiff Bay, The Riverfront Theatre in Newport, Theatr Brycheiniog, Brecon in South Powys and the re-furbed Sherman, Chapter and New Theatres in Cardiff have made Wales an attractive place for many touring companies that before would pass us by. The exposure of Welsh audiences and potential dance artists, over the last decade, to high calibre, international work has upped the game and 2013, despite the recession, has demonstrated how much good work is being produced here and how we no longer have to travel to see the best from abroad.

In a Spring bristling with activity, the National Dance Company Wales aired at Sherman Cymru with works by Christopher Bruce and Eleesha Drennan; there was also both Russell Maliphant's "Rodin Project" and The Richard Alston Dance Company, and then - as if Rodin wasn't enough - we had "Michelangelo Drawing Blood" from Cardiff based Sound Affairs, and all of this in March at The Sherman. Also in March, Scottish Dance Theatre were at The Riverfront, Newport and Mathew Bourne's long awaited "Sleeping Beauty" showed at The WMC followed by Belgium based Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui's "Sutra", with monks from the Shaolin Temple of China and a setting by Anthony Gormley. In April, The New Theatre had its annual visit from Leeds based Northern Ballet with "The Great Gatsby" and in May, Wales' wonderfully named No Fit State Circus showed "Bianco" at the WMC. Also in May, the latest contemporary, Irish Step dance company, Prodijig with their show "Footstorm" came to St David's Hall; UK company Small Petit Klein showed at The Riverfront with a Twin Towers aftermath work "Within (this) Dust" and the Newport theatre's resident company, Ballet Cymru, showed "Romeo and Juliet". Of other local fare we had the inimitable and undefinable Mr and Mrs Clarke on tour with "Nine"; experimental choreographer Sioned Hughes with "Aomori", "Body and Soul" and "Climate", and Earthfall touring England and Wales with "Chelsea Hotel".

Jasmin Vardimon Company from London visited Wales on two occasions with two different shows, her triple bill "Tomorrow" at WMC's Weston Studio in April and, two months later, her show "Freedom" at WMC on the 16th June. Also in June, two integrated dance companies, the legendary, London based Candoco, with a triple bill, and the Compania Jose Galan, from Seville in Spain, with their show "En Mis Cabales", about the life and times of disabled flamenco dancers, showed at Sherman Cymru and WMC respectively, under the umbrella of Hijinx's Unity Festival of integrated dance and theatre. And, at the New Theatre, ex "Strictly" stars Vincent Simone and Flavia Cacace passed through with their show "Midnight Tango".

Throughout the Summer Chloe Loftus Dance toured Wales and England with her collaboration with the Welsh School of Architecture, "The Day We Realised the World was an Oyster" and award winning choreographer and film maker, Jo Fong's film "Witness" showed at Sherman Cymru in September, inviting us to "witness" three modern dancers in the intimate and exposing process of creating their own choreographic portraits.

Moving into Autumn, Ballet Cymru at Riverfront presented their works "Tir" with the ubiquitous Cerys Matthews, and "Celtic Concerto" in collaboration with harpist, Catrin Finch and Sinfonia Cymru. October saw one of the UK's Dance Consortium choices for 2013, Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet from New York, "integrating ballet with contemporary and popular dance forms" at The WMC. October also brought Ballet Black (associates at the ROH, they are an international company of black and asian dancers) to Theatr Brycheiniog, and at Sherman Cymru, Dance Touring Partnership presented "Out of the Shadow" (described as locking, popping, acrobatics and contemporary dance) by Austrian company Nobulus with their "apocalyptic cautionary tale". And Chapter had a visit from Lithuania's Aura Dance Company on October 15th with "Am I the One Who I Am".

National Dance Company Wales began their Autumn tour with a great programme of three works by company member Eleesha Drennan and by world renowned and seasoned choreographers Angelin Preljocaj and Stephen Petronio (from France and USA respectively), visiting Newtown's Hafren Theatre; Theatr Brycheiniog, Brecon and the WMC as well as other prestigeous venues in England. In November, Riverfront Theatre in Newport hosted its week long "Discover Dance" Festival including another outing for the hard working Ballet Cymru, this time beginning their Autumn tour of "A Mid-Summer Night's Dream"; "Dance Shorts" from Abergavenny based Emma Carlson, who curates this smart little project bringing together different artists, each with a succinct ten minutes of dance for theatre foyers; and "Floor Wars", street dance "crews" fiercely vying with each other to win over the crowds.

2013 ended and 2014 began at St David's Hall, with some very traditional Xmas fare in the form of the full companies and orchestra of the Russian National Ballet and The Russian State Ballet of Siberia with ever popular classical works "Swan Lake" and "Sleeping Beauty" from the 19th of December to the 5th of January.

An unusual offering of 2013 of purely Wales based and produced dance was "Once Upon a Time in the Dark, Dark Wood", which showed at Chapter Theatre in the spring of 2013, by Striking Attitudes, a company with already over a decade's vintage (and a pedigree which goes back even further to the very beginnings of modern dance in Wales). The company is dedicated to creating work with and for the older dancer about the concerns of the mature human being. Like Candoco and Cia Jose Galan, mentioned earlier in this article, this company breaks the mould and challenges expectations by opening the door to new experiences for dancers and audiences alike. Here, the notion of dance as an exclusively young activity about youthful concerns gives way to a deeper and more nuanced interpretation of what it is to dance and to be human.

"Unce Upon a Time in the Dark, Dark Wood" is a layered and complex work involving the collaboration of four choreographers: Caroline Lamb (the company's director) and three Welsh dance makers representing the new generation: Jessie Brett, Catherine Young and Joanna Young. Lamb's sections in this work speak most clearly, showing her experience as a maker, especially in the building of a language of dance motifs and in the use of music and text, references cleverly inter-woven to create a dark, fairy tale ambiance - but these are fairly tales for the other end of life - for the fearful time before death, a place of symbols and lessons echoing in memory and pulling at the unconscious, a cross-hatching of images, both aural and visual, that reveal Lamb's experience as a movement director for opera. She uses a sound score by Ben Lunn and the evocative and chilling setting by Benjamin Britten of the medieval Lyke-Wake dirge, which tells of the soul's journey from life on earth to purgatory. But coupled with this darkness are also moments of humour, in particular the Charlston Foxtrot in a Jessie Brett section entitled "Frank's Dream", in which a comic solo is delivered by a loose limbed, Frank Rozelaar Green, later joined in his surprising, jazz gyrations by the rest of the company. Outstanding also were performances by mesmering mover Bert Van Gorp and by the highly underrated Welsh actress, Ri Richards, in the only speaking part, as the sinister and dictatorial Mad-Hatter-cum-Death figure acting as a sort of despotic MC throughout.

Striking Attitudes is the only professional dance performance outfit working this area of activity in Wales, but there are other groups in Europe, one only has to think of the beautiful work by Jiri Kylian for his Nederlands Dance Theatre II, the second company started in the 1990's to use the considerable talents of his older professionals. Also, yes, Pina Bausch's reconstruction of her piece, "Kontakthoff", for dancers over sixty five years of age, the whole process captured in the extraordinary film "Damen und Herren ab 65" and using a marvellously brave, dignified and committed group of older non-dancers who had (as indicated in the title) simply replied to an ad in the paper and auditioned for places in this daring, ad-hoc company. Because daring is what you must be to do this in a climate where youth is the imperative - not only for dance - but we'd better get used to the idea: in the UK, where the highest proportion of the population is 40 to 50 years old and rising, this kind of work is truly representative, and there will be more and more older dancers, some of whom will continue to work beyond the traditionally expected age for Terpsichorean retirement.

Equally interesting was can-do-company, Candoco's triple bill at Sherman Cymru in June, called "Three Acts of Play", in which the first "act" by veteran choreographer Trisha Brown stole the show. Her work, "Set and Re-set/Re-set" was a reworking of a piece made for non-disabled dancers in 1983. Here Trish Brown's Company had worked with Candoco on this re-setting with score by another veteran, Laurie Anderson. Despite its vintage, the work demonstrates that a good piece can stand the test of time and, curiously enough, it was the one piece in the programme that truly integrated the company, for we saw only the dance and they all looked terrific with this highly kinetic and inter-actional (in the human and physical sense) material, dancing with a technique and energy that kept us connected to the logical thread of Brown's intricate and labile movement language.

The second work was "Studies for C" by the idiosynchratic Javier de Frutos, inspired by Tennessee Williams' rarely performed playlet "Camino Reale" and the ranchera style music of the wonderful Lila Downs. Despite the promising precept, there were too many things that one might miss: the witty, socio-political lyrics of Down's songs (in Spanish) that were sometimes echoed in the action; the quotes in English, roughly hand-written on the dancers costumes so as to be almost illegible, from Mexican revolutionary, Emiliano Zapata; and the truly fascinating details in the programme notes that didn't quite come through in the work. The idea was so promising, yet the nature of the relationship between the two dancers still remained a mystery at the end. The third dance, "An Imperfect Storm", by sometimes inspired enfant terrible of British new dance, Wendy Houstoun, was about attempting to stage Shakespeare's Tempest with not enough time or elements, compromising instead with a sort of "imperfect" short-hand Tempest. Made collaboratively with the company via improvisation, it seemed as though Houstoun hadn't brought her hand to bear in tightening the piece or drawing any sense of clarity to the narrative. So really, the evening was won by the excellently produced and performed "Set and Reset/Reset", you can't keep a good work down, not even a thirty year old dance by a veteran like Trisha Brown.

Another reason why you no longer need to travel from the heartlands of Wales to see the world's best in dance, is the recent policy of relaying via satellite live dance, opera and theatre to out of the way arts venues. It's a curious half way house experience between live TV at home and actually sitting in the Royal Opera House, London or The Met in New York for the performance. I attended a live relay of Cuban, Carlos Acosta's take on the Marius Petipa ballet "Don Quixote" for The Royal Ballet at Wyeside theatre in Builth Wells - just about as remote as could be - yet with numbered seating allocation, reminders to switch off cell phones, programmes for the performance provided by the ROH and two intervals, when the bar served wine and champagne -! All this created an atmosphere in the audience (who applauded enthusiastically throughout) that approached the heightened excitement of a live show in a big, sold out venue. The camera's return to proscenium arch for the interval, complete with safety curtain and rolling tweets from audiences viewing this performance all around the world, further enhanced the atmosphere and sense of global connectedness in this little, out of the way, Mid-Wales venue.

Regarding the performance, Acosta starred in his staging, partnered by the splendid Marianela Nuniez, an Argentinian dancer who joined the Royal Ballet at only sixteen and has become the perfect embodiment of Royal Ballet style. Both she and Acosta bring to their performance that extra open-ness, warmth and passion that reach out across the world and are the hallmark of Latin American dancers. In Acosta's hands (as a choreographer) the many crowd scenes really move and come to life, giving energy, pace and humour to this rambling ballet, so that it never feels stuffy or antiquated and helped along by Tim Hatley's moving, breathing set design. Support roles also spark with fabulous Ryoichi Hirano as the torero Espada, and another Latina, the warm Laura Morera, as his lover, Mercedes.
At risk of over-kill, BBC4 TV showed the recording of this same performance over Christmas.

Will this improve on or take away from the home-grown, live performance work available and diminish the desire to fork out for big and costly touring companies? This remains to be seen, in the mean-time audiences in the stix can partake of "high art" without a trip to London, New York or Paris. Wyeside has already issued their satellite programme for 2014 and it is a very full season with ballet, theatre, opera, musicals, rock music, and even art exhibitions, kicking off with The Royal Ballet's "Giselle" on the 27th of January. There is more Royal Ballet on 19th and 23rd March with "Sleeping Beauty" and Christopher Wheeldon's "The Winter's Tale" on 28th April (other venues in Wales will be relaying a similar season).

Of live dance to look forward to in the early months of 2014,
at Sherman Cymru: (which has had enlightened dance programming in recent years thanks to out-going artistic director, Chris Rickets - interesting to see if the new director will keep the same focus on cutting edge contemporary dance -). On the 28th of January, Jonzi D and Lyrikal Fearta (love the name!) with "The Letter" and "Broken Lineage"; National Dance Company Wales visit on the 10th, with interactive matinee on 11th of February; Joanna Young (described by a Dancing Times reviewer as "...an adventurous choreographic voice") presents her "Recall" on 28th February; and the ground-breaking Irish company, Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre present their versions of "The Rite of Spring" and "Petrushka" on 8th and 9th April.

At the WMC: Jasmin Vardimon Company returns with a triple bill on the 21st March. At Wyeside Builth Wells, Joanna Young's "Recall" (mentioned above) shows on 22nd February. She also visits Taliesin in Swansea on the 13th, Riverfront on the 21st and Theatr Harlech in North Wales on the 1st of March, (St David's Day) a good little Welsh tour!

At Chapter there's almost a mini dance festival over January and February: with family dance-theatre entertainment by the talented Treays Brothers called "Anacronopete- The First Time Machine" on 21st and 22nd January; "Hide" by Deborah Light on 24th and 25th January, featuring acclaimed performers Jo Fong and Eddie Ladd; and on 4th to 8th February, "Ladies and Gentlemen", a Cholmondeley Productions show about a dying music hall act, which promises all the quirkiness and humour we would expect from choreographer Lea Anderson, cast including dancers well known to Wales: Bert Van Gorp; Marega Palser (aka Mrs Clark) and Belinda Neave.

You can catch Jo Fong's dance film "Witness" (mentioned earlier in this article) at the Galeri Caernarfon, in Gwynedd on 27th January, at Aberystwyth Arts Centre on 21st of February and at Theatr Brycheiniog on 13th March.

For those who desire a lighter dance experience: At the WMC, this year's Strictly Come Dancing road shows begin with Brendan Cole's "Licence to Thrill" on the 19th of January. St David's Hall has its winter string of dance and music shows: an Irving Berlin evening "From Rags to Ritzes" with song and dance on 5th February; a "Viennese Party" with Strauss waltzes music and dance on the 9th; and on the 12th February, Anton du Beke's "Strictly" style show "Ballroom to Broadway". Yet a third (and perhaps most tasty) "Strictly" show returns to Wales, "The Stars of Strictly Come Dancing" with Pasha Kovalev and Katya Virshilas, this time to Venue Cymru, Llandudno on 11th April and to Brecon's Theatr Brycheiniog on 23rd.
So far, the 2014 year in dance promises to be as full, varied and surprising as 2013.

Jenny March is a dance reviewer covering all kinds of dance and specialising in the geographical areas of Wales and Latin America.

Reviewed by: Jenny March

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