Tuesday, 16 November 2021

Made in Wales

Ballet Cymru's triple bill at Sadlers Wells 

 Joanna Goodman

The Lilian Baylis Studio at Sadlers Wells in London is quite a small theatre and on Saturday night it was full. There was a buzz of excitement and anticipation for Ballet Cymru’s Made in Wales triple bill – and there were a lot of dancers in the audience, so expectations were high. And we were not disappointed. 

The opening piece, Poems and Tiger Eggs, by Amy Doughty and Ballet Cymru’s founder Darius James OBE, was an interpretation of some of Dylan Thomas’ best known poems. These were read live on stage by Cerys Matthews (who some might remember as the energetic lead singer of Catatonia) accompanied by music written by Matthews and performed by jazz musician Arun Ghosh. Matthews has a relaxed yet compelling stage presence and her beautiful melodious voice brought familiar poems to life in new ways. The choreography was complex and energetic and engaged the audience straight away. The 12 dancers shifted smoothly from combination to combination and from an amusing depiction of suburban life in ‘That sanity be kept’ through the poignant drama of ‘The hunchback in the park’ to darker works, ‘Do not go gentle’, ‘And death shall have no dominion’. The dancers’ simple costumes and acrobatic contemporary style accentuated their strength and flexibility which combined with power of Thomas’ poetry and Matthews’ emotive performance was a hard act to follow. 

This was achieved by Liam Riddick’s Murmurations, set to music by Welsh singer Charlotte Church. Riddick was an award-winning dancer, performing with BalletBoyz and the Richard Alston Dance Company, whose influence can be seen in his choreography. This is Riddick’s first work for Ballet Cymru and its lyrical freshness is a great addition to the repertoire.

Ballet Cymru’s choreographers and dancers come from all over the world, and they all look different – unlike the typical corps de ballet – yet they move together in a fluid and harmonious way, blending classical ballet and flowing contemporary moves. This was particularly noticeable in Murmurations, which was inspired by the way starlings fly in ballet-like formations.  The dancers move together in flowing and leaping combinations, lifting and supporting each other in different ways. Again, the choreography was demanding and acrobatic, but it is also abstract, balancing out the dramatically figurative Poems and Tiger Eggs where the choreography often directly reflected Dylan Thomas’ words as well as its rhythm. Notwithstanding its abstract nature, it was a moving interpretation, enhanced by Joe Powell-Main’s beautiful expressive shoulders and arms which also spun his wheelchair with incredible speed and strength.

While the first two pieces felt like the essence of Wales, the final work, Isolated Pulses, was more broadly resonant. Created during lockdown by the company’s resident choreographer Marcus Jarrell Willis, and set to a medley of tracks ranging from Olafur Arnalds to George Frideric Handel, to the LSU Tiger Marching Band, the choreography was designed to convey the significance of individual existence and how each individual contributes to and shapes the world, through a series of  synchronised configurations around simple props of chairs and mirrors – each person was locked down in their own space, until they shifted and mingled with each other.  Here the costumes were more individualistic, and each role had a personality that interpreted the choreography in different ways, even though the coordinated sequences were designed to make moving shapes and patterns on the stage. 

While the first two pieces tended to move from cameo to cameo, Isolated Pulses belied its name with a broader range of music and bigger scenes, with all the dancers on the stage together throughout the piece. This perhaps echoed Willis’ background at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre and Rambert Dance. Again, despite its theme and title, Isolated Pulses reached out beyond Wales, expressing the way all of us have reacted collectively and individually to a situation that has affected the whole world. It was a great finale to an evening that showcased Wales’ cultural heritage and diverse contemporary talent in an original and enjoyable way. If you get the chance to see this, definitely go! This is my first experience of Ballet Cymru and I am looking forward to more of their interesting and unique work.

Thank you, Ballet Cymru and Terpsichore.

Joanna Goodman, November 2021

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