Thursday, 13 December 2018
Ballet Cymru's Dylan Thomas Programme: The Company's Best Work Ever
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Ballet Cymru Dylan Thomas – A Child’s Christmas, Poems and Tiger Eggs 29 Nov 2018 Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre, Leeds, 1 Dec 2018 Pontio Arts and Innovation Centre, Bangor
I have been following Ballet Cymru for over five years and they have never failed to impress In 2015 their Cinderella was my ballet of the year and their TIR was the runner-up (see Highlights of 2015. 29 Dec 2015). In that year they were also my year and I tipped Krystal Lowe as a dancer to watch. They have continued to impress me every year but I think their Dylan Thomas double bill - Dylan Thomas – A Child’s Christmas, Poems and Tiger Eggs - is their best work yet.
It was so good that I saw it twice. The first time was in Leeds on 29 Nov and the second at the Pontio Arts and Innovation Centre at Bangor on 1 Dec 2018. Leeds was excellent but Bangor was even better as Cerys Matthews and Arun Ghosh were on stage and the audience was even more receptive and responsive. The show was in effect a double bill. It began with Poems and Tiger Eggs which consisted of readings of a selection of Thomas's poems by Matthews to Ghosh's music. The second piece was A Child's Christmas in Wales. Both works were created by Darius James and Amy Doughty.
Poems and Tiger Eggs opened and closed with In My Craft or Sullen Art. That is a poem I did not know before Ballet Cymru introduced me to it at the workshop on 28 Nov 2018 (see More than a Bit Differently: Ballet Cymru's Workshop and the Launch of the Powerhouse Ballet Circle 29 Nov 2018). It is now a poem that I adore. Beth Meadway danced to it as a solo in the opening and the whole cast danced to it at the end. In the workshop, we were taught to listen for the words "Not for the Proud Man" and then react. Meadway turned her head sharply in the solo and the whole cast moved as one when the poem was read again.
Scottish Ballet had staged Ten Poems by Christopher Bruce on the centenary of Dylan Thomas's birth which I saw in Edinburgh and reviewed in Bruce Again on 6 Oct 2014. One of the works that Bruce had set to dance was Do Not Go Gentle Into That Food Night. Darius James and Amy Doughty also chose that poem for Poems and Tiger Eggs. Both Bruce and James and Doughty created duets but James and Doughty's was somehow softer and more lyrical. Incidentally, if anyone wants to listen to a fine reading of the poem, I strongly recommend the performance by Benjamin Zephaniah which is published on YouTube by the Poetry Society.
Thomas's poems incline to the melancholy but there was some levity too in Laugharne with Krystal Lowe as the stranger who got off the bus and forgot to take it back again. I particularly liked the bit about people coming from all sorts of places like Tonypandy and even England. The cast made the sign of the cross at that point though I wonder whether Calvinist Nonconformist chapel folk would do that. Maybe the Welsh Italians (of whom there are many) though there are more of them on the banks of the River Chubut than the Taf Estuary.
A Child's Christmas was very different and undiluted fun. It began with a film clip made (I think) by my good friends Lawrence and Samantha Smith-Higgins of Red Beetle Films. In it, children explained what Christmas (or, in the case of one little girl, Eid) meant to them. Mainly presents and lots to eat. It proceeded with "One Christmas was so much like the others" and proceeded to snow, cats and Mrs Protheroe's fire. That fire was better than all the cats in Wales lined up on a wall. There was the "What would you do if you saw a hippo?" and the carol singing where the children heard a ghostly voice joining in their carol. My favourite bit of the dancing was "Still the Night" before a stained glass image. There were other favourites too such as "The Uncles". I'm not Welsh but I can relate to that for we Saes have uncles too as well as aunties who get a little tipsy and start singing about death.
The workshop on 28 Nov 2018 helped my understanding of James and Doughty's choreography considerably. Sue Pritchard, who also attended the workshop, thought the same. Peter Harrop (who lives in Wales) joined us the performance. Peter was not in Leeds on 28 Nov 2018 but he attended Ballet Cymru's company class and reported that it was very gruelling. Apparently, no concessions were made for the adult ballet dancers.
The Pontio Arts and Innovation Centre is an impressive building just below the Arts building of Bangor University. It has a theatre, cinema and a FabLab (see Liverpool Inventors Club Re-launch - Fabulous FabLab 28 Jan 2012 NIPC Inventors Club). There has been a lot of investment by the university to build a knowledge-based economy on both sides of the Menai Straits (see Jane Lambert Anglesey and the Fourth Industrial Revolution 12 Oct 2018 IP Northwest). There has always been a close link between the University and the community in this corner of Wales. It was actually founded by a subscription of local quarrymen, This Centre will do much for the artistic and cultural life of the region.