Friday, 29 March 2019

Made in Wales

© 2019 Sian Trebart: all rights reserved
Reproduced with kind permission of Ballet Cymru

Ballet Cymru Made in Wales Dance House, Cardiff, 22 March 2019 19:30

One of the reasons why the Dutch National Ballet is so strong is that it provides "a stepping stone for young dancers to make the leap from the Dutch National Ballet Academy to The Dutch National Ballet, Holland’s largest ballet company."  That stepping stone is the Junior Company and it has launched the careers or some of HNB's most exciting young dancers such as Michaela DePrince, Martin Ten Kortenaaar, Riho Sakamoto and Sho Yamada.

I have often argued for a British junior company and I think I may have found one at Rogerstone in South Wales.  Rogerstone is a small town near Newport where Ballet Cymru is located.  One of Ballet Cymru's initiatives is a Pre-Professional Programme for "talented, aspiring and highly motivated young dancers with bold ambitions." Like the Junior Company, the Pre-Professional Programme is "designed to facilitate the transition from full time training into professional company life in a focused, nurturing environment."

Last Thursday, I was lucky enough to meet those motivated young dancers and to watch them rehearse. There are 13 of them:
  • Natalia Cimpeanu
  • Beau Dillen
  • Kibyusa Forcos
  • Anais Gentjens
  • Colleen Grace
  • Emma Ikavalko
  • Caitlin Liston
  • Renan Alvez Manhaes
  • Sophie Morris
  • Guilia Machado Rossi
  • Michaela Skuce
  • Naomi Stientstra, and
  • Ann Wall.
They come from Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Finland, Romania, the UK and Ukraine and have trained at some of the world's top ballet schools such as the Australian Conservatoire, Ballet West, English National Ballet School, the International Dance Academy of Berlin, Kiev State Choreographic College, the National Ballet School of Finland, Northern Ballet Academy, the RAD Academy, Royal Ballet School of Flanders, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School and the State School of Municipal Theatre in Rio de Janeiro.  

They have all done well to have progressed as far as they have. Awareness that they have achieved a lot gives them confidence and poise in their dance but there is no cockiness about them. They are 13 of the most likeable young people that I have ever met or am ever likely to meet.  When we discussed connections I told Sophie Morris, who had graduated from Ballet West, that I had attended the first year undergraduates' class with Jonathan Barton and that I have dined out about it ever since. They laughed heartily imagining the honour to have attended such a class but also the exertion it must have required of me (see Visiting Taynuilt 6 May 2018).

The piece the dancers rehearsed for me was an excerpt of As We Are choreographed by Emma Lewis who had been teaching them when I arrived.  They were to perform it the following evening at the Dance House in Cardiff. Ballet Cymru had very kindly offered me a ticket to the show which I had declined as I had to be in Leeds to set up Powerhouse Ballet's company class on Saturday morning.  After watching those angels move I just had to see them again even if though it would mean driving through the night to Yorkshire.  I asked whether I could change my mind about the ticket and, happily, I could.

The Dance House is behind the Wales Millennium Centre, an auditorium that I had visited once before to see Ballet Cymru's Little Red Riding Hood and Three Little Pigs (see Ballet Cymru's 'Sleeping Beauty' Moment  5 Dec 2016). It is very close to the National Assembly for Wales and reminded me of The Quays near Manchester with its waterfront, pubs and restaurants and expensive looking flats and townhouses. The Dance House is the home of the National Dance Company of Wales which is a frequent and very welcome visitor to the North of England.

The Cardiff Dance House is somewhat smaller than ours in Manchester but it appears to be very well equipped.  The auditorium reminds me of the Stanley and Audrey Burton in Leeds and the Lilian Baylis Studio at Sadler's Wells in that it is a very intimate space.  The front row is within inches of the dancers.

We saw five pieces on 22 March 2019:
  • Excerpts from Child's Christmas by Darius James OBE and Amy Doughty 
  • As We Are by Emma Lewis
  • Concerto Junkins by Alex Hallas
  • Ex Situ by Jack Philps, and
  • Divided We Stand by Patricia Vallis.
Each work was introduced by a short video from the choreographer just as the Junior Company's shows.

The Child's Christmas is very familiar to me as I had seen it in Leeds and Bangor and described it aptly as the company's best work ever (see Ballet Cymru's Dylan Thomas Programme: The Company's Best Work Ever 13 Dec 2018). I had even danced a little bit of In My Craft or Sullen Art at Ballet Cymru's workshop in Leeds 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). When the words "Not for the proud man apart" I felt myself bracing as I had been taught to do in the workshop.

I loved all the works but one that made a particularly deep impression on me was Alex Hallas's Jenkins Concerto.  That is partly because I like Carl Jenkins's music and in particular, The Armed Man and Dies Irae which formed the bulk of Hallas's contribution, partly because it was an opportunity for Renan Alvez Manhaes (the only gentleman on the course) to show his potential which is considerable and partly because the ballet enabled all the artists to shine.  Not an easy work but, I should imagine, an immensely satisfying one to perform.

Hallas, a Yorkshireman, has impressed me several times in Ballet Cymru's Cinderella and the Dylan Thomas double bill and Ballet West's The NutcrackerHe attended our reception in Leeds after Ballet Cymru's workshop and he taught at KNT's Day of Dance in December. I have booked him for a workshop for Powerhouse just as soon as he is free. Maybe he can teach us some of his Concerto Jenkins or other choreography.

Even though I had to stop for an espresso at every service station between Cardiff and Sheffield and arrived so full of caffeine that I could not sleep once I made it to my bed in Holmfirth at 05:45, I would not have missed the evening for all "the cats in Wales standing on a wall" with a 6 foot drift of snow. Or, indeed, even a fire in Mrs Prothero's parlour.

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