Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Ballet Cymru in London

Criccieth, one of my favourite places on the planet
Author Ken Bagnall
Source Wikipedia
Creative Commons Licence

Ballet Cymru Triple Bill Lilian Baylis Studio, 30 Nov 2015

To the best of my knowledge and belief there is not a millilitre of Welsh blood in my veins. Such Celtic heritage as I can claim is Irish and Scottish yet I love Wales as much as anyone who was lucky enough to have been born in the principality. I guess one of the reasons I love Wales so much is that I spent much of my childhood on Black Rock Sands, the banks of the Dwyfor, the slopes of Swowdon and the towers and battlements of Edward I's castles. My parents could not afford continental holidays in the 1950s but Wales was as good as abroad with its own language and distinct landscapes and architecture, but nothing like as far away,

The Welsh language fascinated me and I longed to learn it. I even bought a phrase book called Welsh in a Week and must have tried the patience of every shopkeeper in Portmadoc and Criccieth (many of whom seemed to come from the Midlands or Lancashire) as I tried out my phrases. My mother once told me that my first words were in Welsh which is possible but unlikely as I don't know where I could have picked them up. Later when I learned Latin I saw lots of similarities like ffenestr for window (not too different from fenestra) and eglwys for church (apparently derived from ecclesia). Welsh is a naturally musical language with an "-ion" sound like a peel of bells. The language has lots of sounds that don't exist in English like the double "L" that seems to be produced by placing the tongue at the roof of the mouth and breathing over it.

Cerys Matthews has made an album of folk songs  called TIR most of which are in Welsh. I was led to her album by Ballet Cymru's YouTube video and yesterday I actually bought it. Indeed the artiste actually signed it and shook my hand. I think I have become one of her biggest fans though I regret to say I am also one of the most recent ones and I am grateful to Ballet Cymru for introducing her to me. She is a patron of the company. Yesterday she disclosed that she used to study ballet as a child and actually did very well in her RAD exam. She mentioned that fact between the songs that Darius James and Amy Doughty had choreographed for their dancers.

The dancers come from every part of the world other than Wales but they interpreted Matthews's words eloquently. Some bits of the performance were exuberant like  Bugeilio’r Gwenith Gwyn while other songs such as Myfanwy (danced by Emily Pimm-Edwards) tugged at our heart strings. The Rev Eli Jenkins's prayer in memory of Mandev Sokhi was particularly moving. Those members of the audience who had seen him dance were close to tears. For the dancers who had worked with Mandev it was so much harder. However, they are pros and though we could see their emotion in their faces they never missed a count or movement. TIR finished with Sosban Fach where each of the dancers did his or her turn. Each and every one of them impressed us but I have to say a special word for Tim Hill who thrilled us with his entrechats.

Ballet Cymru welcomed back Daisuke Miura and Suzie Birchwood as well as Pimm-Edwards for TIR. Birchwood is artistic director of ActOne ArtsBase. I first saw her in Stuck in the Mud where I was impressed by her grace and technique. The beauty of her dancing lies in her port de bras whether lifted in a pas de deux or sitting in a wheelchair. I never tire of watching her and I try to imitate her arm movements in my own dancing.  Miura and Pimm-Edwards delighted me in Romeo a Juliet and is was a treat to see them again.

Stuck in the Mud had been choreographed by Marc Brew whom I met in Llandudno. He created Traces Imprinted which I had admired in Newport. I had seen that work from the dress circle at the Riverfornt theatre in Newport where I appreciated its form and the movement of the dancers but missed much of the detail.  I caught all that detail yesterday from the second row of the stalls in a much more intimate auditorium. It was though I was seeing a different ballet. There was harshness with one dancer literally treading on the back of another but also tenderness as in the final duet. I think I understood the ballet a little better second time round.  Traces Implanted suggests memories and in particular memories of people who are no longer with us. Some of those memories we overwrite - hence the treading - others we keep alive and build upon - as in the duet.

I had missed Celtic Concerto in Newport for various reasons that I explained in The Pride of Newport and the Pride of Wales 8 Nov 2015 which was a shame because this ballet tuned out to be a gem. Choreographed by James and Doughty to a Catrin Finch's it begins with the company on stage and then some delightful solos and duets. You can get the idea from this video. I admired the stained glass projection and the costumes - simple black tutus for the women and shorts and translucent tops for the men.

The evening in Newport was very special but so was yesterday. Matthews asked whether there were any Welsh folk in the audience yesterday and it transpired that they were several.  They must have been so proud of their nation's ballet company. Also in the audience were several members the London Ballet Circle who had visited the company in October (see Ballet Cymru at Home 5 Oct 2015). We are certainly proud of our association with the company.

Other Reviews

Judith Mackrell   Ballet Cymru review – Cerys Matthews joins dancers for mercurial performance 1 Dec 2015 The Guardian

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