Theatre in Wales

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One of the Best of 2017

The Light Princess

Ballet Cymru, Catrin Finch & the Riverfront , Aberystwyth Arts Centre , December-04-17
The Light Princess by Ballet Cymru, Catrin Finch & the Riverfront Six years ago Darius James and Amy Doughty led their company to fifty-plus venues in Britain and south to Trieste and Como. The production was “Beauty and the Beast” (reviewed June 2011) for which the company danced on a stage that was almost bare. Back projections paid artful homage to Jean Cocteau. Since then the company has developed into collaborations of significance. If artists of the like of Cerys Mathews and Catrin Finch have joined them it is evidence of a fruitfulness that broadens the category of classical ballet. The company has achieved that most elusive of goals, respect for traditional form in a wrapping of unalloyed modernity. That blend is on full display in “the Light Princess.”

The stage has an aerial hoop suspended on a rope. James Roberts and Fran Widdowson of Citrus Arts have provided the aerial training. The props on stage comprise three white cubes of varying size. They are grouped over the course of the performance in different ways. Late in the action the largest is upturned to provide a place of hiding for Andrea Maria Battaggia's Prince. But the performance area, while allowing full space for the dancers' movement, is swamped in light and colour.

The visual effect has developed since “Beauty and the Beast” to include projection across almost the full span of Aberystwyth sizeable stage. The design of Aberystwyth's auditorium is particularly suitable. The high rake allows the audience to look down onto a flow of gorgeous colour and effect. Darius James is also visual artist for the company.

George MacDonald is not a writer whose name is now instantly recognisable. His story from 1871 draws on archetypes of fairy tale and melds them into a tale that is his own. It is particularly suitable for the treatment by Ballet Cymru. It has a trio of villains in witches Miguel Fernandes. Natalie Debono and Miles Carrott in a sepulchral half-light. It has a court of brightness where queen and king, Robbie Moorcroft and Beth Medway, preside. Its plot centres on a lake that is drowned which allows a swirl of colours. Forests are a vast thicket of green. A last duet between prince and princess is danced before a great cosmos of stars. The music of Catrin Finch and Lee House gives it an overwhelming emotionality.

The fate given to Anna Pujol's Princess is to be freed from gravity- the “light” of the title is the opposite of heavy rather than dark. When another character from fiction, Emma in “Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children”, had the same condition her solution was to wear thick boots of lead. That is hardly a recipe for ballet. Instead the Princess is tethered by ribbons held by courtiers. The choreography first explored effects of the princess escaping the grip of the ground. It changed to movements of restraint, attendants pulling on their weightless charge to come downward.

Lighting is by Chris Illingworth and the striking costumes the work of Angharad Spencer. The names of the dancers are international but a Cardiff name stands out. Gwenllian Davies in a coned woollen hat is a striking Copy-Kek. At last sighting she holds her fellow philosopher, Daniel Morrison's Hum Drum, in a powerful neck-hold.

Companies of Wales who get out and about are to be applauded. Ballet Cymru has had three productions on tour extensively throughout the autumn. “The Light Princess”, “a Midsummer Night's Dream” have been north and west, their furthest points Falkirk and Falmouth. “Shadow Aspect” was at London's Lilian Baylis venue. “The Light Princess” continues for one last week, December 5th, 7th and 9th, at Farnham, Salisbury and Stourbridge.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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