|Stuck in the Mud, Llandudno 20 Sept 2014|
(c) 2014 Jane Elizabeth Lambert
If a dancer contracts an illness or suffers an injury that confines him to a wheelchair then it is the end of his career is it not. Not necessarily. Yesterday I saw a dancer in pointe shoes - I think it was Suzie Birchwood but if I am mistaken I apologize - as beautiful and graceful as any, approach a stage in a wheelchair. She was lifted onto the stage and danced. She thrilled us - not as one who had overcome a disability - but as a dancer. She delighted us with her port de bras, her battements, her pointe work but most of all with her expression of joy.
The ballet that I saw was Stuck in the Mud, a collaboration between Ballet Cymru, Gloucestershire Dance and other organizations. It was performed in Llandudno as part of the Llawn Festival not in a theatre but in the railway station, the town square and beside the sea. Choreographed by Marc Brew this was one of the most joyful works that I have seen all year. I previewed the work in "Stuck in the Mud" doesn't mean you're stuck" 25 June 2014 embedding into my post extracts of a performance at Blackfriars Priory.
The show opened on a temporary stage in the station concourse. First Ballet Cymru's dancers mounted the stage: Lydia Arnaux. Annette Antal. Andrea Battagia, Nicholas Cappelle, Krystal Lowe, Daniel Morrison, Robbie Moorcroft and Mandev Sokhi whom I had last seen at Lincoln in June in Beauty and The Beast. They danced to the music that you can hear in the YouTube trailer which was composed by Jack White. This is the first time that I had noted White's work and I have spent much of the morning working through the clips on the Quick Player panel to his website. White has posted some photos of the performance of Stuck in the Mud in Swansea to his website ("Stuck in the Swansea Mud" 13 July 2014). You can see a picture of the opening scene in the bottom panel. This was a classical sequence with the women in pointe shoes. The dancer whom I believe to be Birchwood entered during that scene. You can see her sitting by a pillar in White's photo. I have already remarked that she danced with with skill, with grace and with feeling.
There was a change of mood and music. In the space between stage and audience there entered a group of dancers some of whom were quite young. The programme does not identify them but the website mentions collaboration with TAN Dance, Hijinx Theatre and Dawns i Bawb so I guess they must be members of one or more of those organizations. Each of the dancers had a label such as "idiot", "freak" and "bossy". They shuffled about the space rather like Lowry's matchstick men peering at their own and their neighbours' labels disconsolately. Then they peeled off the labels, screwed them up and threw them in the air in an explosion of joy and danced exuberantly.
We were shepherded out of the station by stewards bearing enormous coloured flags and conducted to a square with a statute of a march hair a few hundred yards away. This square had two features - a statue of the March Hair from Alice in Wonderland and a tree which reminded me of the one in the second act of the Royal Ballet's The Winters Tale except that this was a real tree. First there was a vigorous duet by Lowe and Sokhi which you can see in the photo above. Sokhi had impressed me as the Beast in Lincoln and I have been a fan of Lowe ever since I saw her dance as one of the Montagues in Romeo a Juliet in Kendal last year. Then the community dancers performed under the tree bedecked with what appeared to be Wellington boots and other curious fruit again and that again reminded me of Wheeldon's choreography.
I don't know what happened next as I lost the lady with the pink flag for a few minutes as I was distracted by Lowe and Sokhi. I think we were supposed to be in two groups. I went in the direction where I had last seen my group but couldn't find them. Then I heard a French horn and followed its sound to a beach where I saw Lowe slowly roll up over the pebbles gently unravelling an enormous length of material.
The last scene was a Victorian band stand before which a temporary surface had been laid and it was there that a wonderful integration of the cast occurred. There were dancers in wheel chairs and dancers on foot. There were the professionals and the rest. They came together in a wonderful swirl of movement. What delighted me was that every jete and turn of the able bodied dancers was answered by an equivalent movement from those in wheel chairs. All the dancers impressed me but I have to say a special word for Alice Sheppard who was magnificent. She amazed me with her virtuosity. If I had to pick a star of the show she would have been it.
After the show I managed to catch Marc Brew for a a few minutes He told me about his company and its dancers, how he works with disabled and able bodied and gets them both to do wonderful things. He listed his other work including his recent commissions. Brew told me that he was based in the Tramway in Glasgow near Scottish Ballet. He spoke about his collaboration with companies in Scotland, particularly Scottish Dance Theatre in Dundee and also with the great percussionist Evelyn Glennie. I asked about his future work and he said that his next big production would be in May. I must say that I like Marc Brew. I like his work. I like his approachability - his willingness to talk to a complete stranger on a beach - but most of all I like his willingness to make dance accessible for all. I may not be disabled but I am old, I am fat, I am bereft of talent yet I love to dance as much as any ballerina.
Stuck in the Mud was not the only dance I saw yesterday in Llandudno. While writing up my notes of my interview with Marc Brew I noticed a lady and gentleman with a walking stick in Victorian dress with glitter balls for heads proceed along the prom. A few minutes later three women in 1940s bathing dresses and bare feet marched towards the band stand the leader with a whistle sounding out the time "bleep - bleep - bleep, bleep, bleep" reminding me of my CCF days in the 1960s. I followed them and saw them dance a couple of routines to wartime music. All the time they were in bare feet and I really felt for them. It wasn't warm yesterday and the metalled surface of the prom was not exactly a dance floor.
Llandudno was in festive mood yesterday. I saw a lion in union jack colours accompanied by another in the colours of the Scottish saltire. I mentioned the March Hair. A statue of Alice was outside the railway station and the Mad Hatter was by the prom. The Llawn Festival continues today and there will be two more performances of Stuck in the Mud this morning and afternoon. After Llandudno the show will be staged in Cardiff. Do go and see it, It is well worth seeing.
PS Here is a short video of the performance