Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Innovative tender and knowing

Under Milk Wood

Independent Ballet Wales , Riverfront Theatre, Newport , November-23-08
Under Milk Wood by Independent Ballet Wales I said "I'm off to the the ballet tonight, to see Under Milk Wood" and someone snorted. As if the famous 'play for voices' could never be a 'dance for words.' Indeed, Independent Wales Ballet choreographic choice may at first seem courageous, foolharly even, dabbling with established form, but as this magic performance unfurls the decision to dance this text seems most insightful. Such is the flexibility of Thomas' imagery that it welcomes the abstract interpretations of contemporary dance. Under Milkwood never did hinge on meaning after all, but on personal evocation. The lyric poem has proved a rich and textural score.

After a somewhat alluring introductory sequence perhaps reminiscent of a Kathy Morris self portait, in which the underlying theme seems to be the innocence and equality of sleep, the performance is grounded in the text. The dancers use strong physical characterisation, and often physical comedy, as a launch pad for their exploration. This serves to compliment the spoken elements of the performance, and gives an additional layer of sense to the narrative blocks of verse. The effect of dance in this instance is to make the poetics less opaque and less inert. Under Milk Wood by no means needs 'bringing to life' is a theatrical sense, in order to scintillate, but in embodying the poem we are reminded of a world beyond mere words, and that poetry is an art form which exists not only on the page.

It would be unfair to highlight any of the dancers for special praise as all are at least worthy. Many of solos led to appreciative bursts of spontaneous applause from an audience that became increasingly receptive to the quality before them- in this case this is sufficient to gauge the skill, technical and expressive, throughout the ensemble. These are young and committed dancers and I hope for the company's sake they can hold onto some them. The music, performed partly live, by Thomas Hewitt Jones, is gentle and stirring. The narration by another Jones (Gwynn Vaughan) is accomplished, and considering he is in the shoes of Richard Burton and Dylan Thomas himself his composure and resonance is remarkable.

From the post impressionist scenery backdrops, through music, poetry,and choreography, this performance is the integration of many forms.

Overall this ballet, like Thomas lyricism, oscillates between the dream-charged and the visceral. It is tender yet knowing. In this we have an intimate yet wry elevation of the everyday. If only ballet as original and innovative arrived to Wales more often

Reviewed by: Chris Paul

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