Sunday, 8 November 2015

"The Pride of Newport and the Pride of Wales"

Ballet Cymru and Guests, Riverfront Theatre, Newport 6 Nov 2015
Author Gita Mistry
(c) 2015 Gita Mistry: all rights reserved

Ballet Cymru, TIR, Riverfront Theatre, 6 Nov 2015

Towards the end of her performance Cerys Matthews described Ballet Cymru as "the pride of Newport" and a little bit later as "the pride of Wales". The auditorium exploded and rightly so for indeed they are at least that.  Friday night was one of those very rare times in the theatre when something special happens. Something like the moment when Igone de Jongh and Casey Herd stepped on stage to dance Voorbij Gegaan which Rudi van Dantzig had created for Alexandra Radius and Han Ebelaar immediately after the presentation of the Alexandra Radius prize (see The best evening I have ever spent at the ballet 13 Sept 2015.) Or when Hans van Manen took a bow at the Stadsshouwburg at the Junior Company's opening performance (see The Junior Company of the Dutch National Ballet - Stadsshouwburg Amsterdam 24 Nov 2013 25 Nov 2013). Or when Northern Ballet danced A Midsummer Night's Dream  at the West Yorkshire Playhouse on 14 Sept 2013 (see Realizing Another Dream 15 Sept 2013). Or indeed Sir Frederick Ashton's retirement gala on 24 July 1970.

There were many reasons why Friday's performance was special.  The company was at home. In the magnificent Riverfront Theatre in its home town. The company's artistic director, Darius James, is a Newport man and his pride in his city and company is palpable. I watched Darius in the intervals as he greeted well wishers. There is real affection for James and his company in Newport very much as I found in Birmingham for Bintley and his company, or in Glasgow for Scottish Ballet or in Amsterdam for the Dutch National Ballet. Another reason is that the company is like a family - a family still in shock and mourning one of its finest dancers (see Mandev Sokhi 10 Oct 2015). Mandev was never far from our thoughts but  in Marc Brew's Traces Implanted and Matthews's setting of the Rev Eli Jenkins's prayer from Under Milk Wood it was as though he was still centre stage. Yet another reason which Friday was special is that the dancers seemed to be inspired. I have never seen them dance so well. I have rarely seen any company dance as well.

The evening was a triple bill consisting of Catrin Finch's Celtic Concerto. Traces Implanted and Cerys Matthews's TIR. As I got hopelessly lost in the one way system after encountering the notoriously, stroppy taxi driver who charges £50 if you're sick in the back seat in Newport State of Mind  which we were assured by our hotel reception we needed for the "enormous distance" (for a snail) between the Newport Travelodge and the Riverfront Theatre, we missed Celtic Concerto.  But we were in time for Traces Implanted which impressed me even more than Brew's other works and, of course, Matthews's glorious TIR. We also have the perfect excuse to see the triple bill again in another venue.

On his website Brew explains that "Traces Implanted explores the imprints and memories made and the traces left behind".  Gita tells me that she discussed that theme with Brew when she met him after the show. Gita confirmed that the subject matter is death and bereavement, something that we don't wish to mention about every day even though we are confronted with that reality constantly. The dancers must have found it particularly difficult as they had recently been bereaved themselves. But as Brew added, he doesn't always want to create conventional balletic beauty. Although there was beauty in this piece - particularly in the final duet with almost ethereal figures in the soft and subtle lighting - it was a compelling but not a comfortable work to watch.

TIR was quite a different work. Matthews has a lovely voice which is admired everywhere in the UK but when she sings in Welsh to a Welsh audience she is adored. Darius James and Amy Doughty have created dances for some of her best known works. Works that I was relieved to find are almost as well known on this side of Offa's Dyke as on the other. I caught myself clapping to Sospan Fach and rooting for a tissue for Myfanwy. Half concert, half ballet it was a thrilling experience. The company were joined by Daisuke Miura and Emily Pimm-Edwards who had delighted us in Romeo a Juliet (see They're not from Chigwell - they're from a small Welsh Town called Newport 14 May 2013) and Suzy Birchwood who had amazed us in Llandudno (see An Explosion of Joy 21 Sept 2014).

After the show Gita and I were invited to meet the dancers and creative team over drinks and canapés. It was a privilege to shake their hands again - particularly Krystal Lowe's who never fails to move me. I got to meet Jack White the gifted young composer of Cinderella and Stuck in the Mud and many of the the creative and technical team who have worked with the company  though sadly not Matthews on this occasion. Still, I have seen her perform live for the first time and that was more than enough.

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