Gwyn Emberton has issued a call to arms to the Welsh arts community.
‘Wales needs its own conservatoire for dance, I feel very strongly about that,’ says the Powys-born dancer/ choreographer. ‘We need something like the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, but for dance; that’s really lacking in Wales.’
Gwyn bangs the drum for the blossoming contemporary dance scene in Wales. Just a few years ago there were very few, if any, university courses for budding dancers in Wales. This autumn there will be three or four, including a professional vocational course led by Matthew Gough at Cardiff’s Atrium.
There is a growing support network. Last year there was the Wales Dance Platform weekend in Cardiff and Newport (‘incredibly important,’ says Gwyn), and this year there’s already been the British Dance Edition.
‘I’m also really excited about what Caroline Finn’s doing at National Dance Company Wales, and then there’s Ballet Cymru too. We have a lot of support together, and it’s galvanising as a community and a scene. I think it’s an exciting time for dance in Wales.
‘There are a lot of very talented dance makers. Yes, it’s hard to get audiences to come and see contemporary dance, but there are people working to address that. I guess we have a responsibility to develop it for future dance makers, and encourage people to come and see this often bonkers but amazing art form.’
It’s the kind of nurturing environment Gwyn would have benefited from himself when he started out as a dancer. His CV reads like a tick-list of contemporary dance. After starting with a BTEC in performing arts, he was inspired to become a dancer after getting involved with Diversions (now NDC Wales). He studied the art form at university, worked with the National Youth Dance Company and Scottish Dance Theatre, and has worked alongside contemporary dance luminaries such as Matthew Bourne and Akram Khan and danced in Wayne McGregor and Mark Baldwin works.
But after working out in Israel for a time, Gwyn decided to take a break from dance.
‘I stopped dancing for four years and went and did marketing for a housing association! I needed a break,’ he admits.
Thankfully, he returned to dance, and also to Wales.
‘London is not the best place for emerging artists. There are too many people, it’s too competitive, there’s not enough space or time, and it’s too expensive. I had more time and space on the coast of West Wales, and loads of opportunity to place myself and get absorbed in the work, and not be distracted. Aberystwyth is the place where I feel most comfortable to work.’
And since Gwyn’s return to dance, he has gone from strength to strength, often inspired by his homeland and its literature. His piece Shadow of a Quiet Society was inspired by stories from his home town of Montgomery, while My People, his first full-length work, was based on the stories from Caradoc Evans’ controversial 1915 book.
On June 7th and 8th Gwyn accompanies the Dance Roads initiative to Cardiff’s Chapter Arts Centre. Dance Roads gives innovative choreographers the chance to be seen on the international stage through cross-border collaboration and a European tour. Gwyn will already have visited France, Italy, Romania and the Netherlands before his return to Wales, where his work Of the Earth, from Where I Came forms part of the programme.
‘It’s a short piece of 11 minutes,’ explains Gwyn. ‘I first made it for myself in 2014 and it’s inspired by Dylan Thomas’ poem Fern Hill. I was 36 at that time and thinking about my body as an older performer and how it’s shifting and changing, and also about my dad who was coming up to retirement. He was a farmer and his body was battered. It made me reflect upon my own body and how time is racing, getting quicker and quicker.
‘I wanted to push the body as far as I could in terms of being able to master the performance, but pushing it all the time. It was about balancing the technical precision, trying to achieve all the form and style of the solo, while also exhausting myself, maintaining the physical structure when that structure is under attack.’
For Dance Roads, Of the Earth… is performed by Spanish dancer Albert Garcia.
Gwyn laughs: ‘Albert is a lot younger than me. I was too unfit to perform it, and I used to cut bits out and finish it early. But Albert doesn’t have that liberty, he has to finish it!
‘I’ve increased the detail and complexity of the form and technique of the work with him. His body is much more pliable than mine, and different people have different restrictions. Albert and I made it more complicated and intricate, and added more layers and depth. Every day I manipulate the movement. It’s never really finished.’
Of the Earth… is part of a growing and impressive list of works choreographed by Gwyn, and includes two Wales Theatre Awards winners. In 2015 his collaboration with fellow dancer/ choreographer Eddie Ladd, Caitlin, won Best Dance, while in January this year Gwyn was awarded Best Male Choreographer for his contribution to DeOscuro’s powerful Triptych project, inspired by the harrowing stories of war veterans living with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
‘Triptych influenced me in wanting to explore things that weren’t in my personal experience,’ says Gwyn. ‘I’m usually inspired by literature or culture, or other people’s work. Triptych was inspired by people, and explored something more universal.
‘It was a remarkable journey, very intense and heartbreaking. It’s unbelievable some of the experiences that people have all around us, they’re everywhere, but they’re silent because of these mental health issues. Triptych was a very important work and I think it needs to come back so more people can see it.’
Later this year Gwyn and Eddie Ladd will tour with Caitlin – inspired by the life of Dylan Thomas’ widow in the years after his death – and in February 2017 he’ll be involved with another international project, working with dancers and choreographers from Sweden, Finland and Scotland to produce and tour a collaborative piece based upon the notion of language, and what happens when our ability to communicate is removed.
Another project he hopes will come to fruition is a work based upon the refugee crisis.
‘It’s based around the idea of place, what it’s like having to leave a place, what makes people leave and what informs their choices. I hope it will be relatable universally, but centre on the cause and effect of the refugee crisis. But that work isn’t made or funded yet, so it’s up in the air at the moment.’
And beyond that? He has a bucket list – to direct an opera, to work in film – but ultimately, Gwyn Emberton just wants to carry on creating.
‘I want to be able to continue to make work, either collaboratively as a performer, or as a choreographer, and that people will come and see it! Having an impressive CV isn’t necessarily important – simply being able to live as an artist is an achievement.’
Gwyn is one of five exciting and innovative dance-makers are heading for Wales with a fistful of punchy new works. The choreographers from Wales, France, Italy, The Netherlands and Romania have created short new works that together meld into an evening of quality contemporary dance under the Dance Roads programme.
Each presents their small-scale work in an evening performance in the five countries. The diverse programme from the Dance Roads artists is at Cardiff’s Chapter in June 7 and 8 and is ideal for both regular contemporary dance attenders and those yet to take a taste of this emotional and exciting entertainment. The tour opened in Bordeaux on May 19 and 20 with sell-out performances and ends with the two nights at Cardiff’s Chapter after performances in Turin, Bucharest and Arnhem.
Dance Roads is a European partnership programme supporting the development of innovative choreographers. The Wales partner is Coreo Cymru/Chapter. Coreo Cymru’s Creative Producer, Carole Blade said, “Wales, supported through the Arts Council of Wales and Welsh Government, has been a leading partner in the Dance Roads network since 2002. Now celebrating its 27th anniversary this year, this unique programme not only provides much needed opportunities for the rising stars of the contemporary dance scene in each of the network countries but also offers a chance to see quality dance from five choreographers in one condensed evening.”
The Wednesday evening performance will be followed by a discussion session with Gwyn Emberton and his Dance Road colleagues about their experiences of touring together in each of the partner countries.
Book tickets £12/£10 at Chapter’s box office on 029 2030 4400 or visit www.chapter.org
For more information about Dance Roads visit: www.danceroads.eu
Gwyn Emberton – Wales
Gwyn’s solo was inspired by Dylan Thomas’s Fern Hill. He took the idea of looking back at time, particularly from his perspective as a dancer and how much time impacts how much effort it takes to dance now. He aims to keep pushing beyond the limit of effort whilst maintaining form, technique and style.
Claudia Catarzi – Italy
Claudia examines how the body reacts on stage in relation to the space, costumes, sounds and the proximity of the audience. All of these aspects create that given moment – the “here and now”, “qui, ora” – the form of gesture and rhythm, each step and movement of this intimate journey.
Jasper Van Luijk – The Netherlands
‘Yonder’ is a solo dance and a light-installation looking at the relationship between man(kind) and time. Many people dream about traveling in time but isn’t our whole existence one long journey through time? Yonder is a search for the beginning and the end of time within the lifecycle of one man.
Compagnie Adéquate – France
Multi award winning comical and touching Nœuds (Knots) looks at the evergreen subject of gender relationships – sometimes complex, sometimes twisted. Compagnie Adéquate’s dance is a revealing man-woman duet that materialises from an embrace and develops movement both fluid and violent, incorporating humour and mime.
Cristina Lilienfeld – Romania
Cristina’s starting point for Lay(ers) was an image of the human skin and how it changes with time, how it peels off and always regenerates. Her dance explores the relationship between sound, tactile sense and movement with the skin offering a very expressive view of life, movement and death.