Ballet Cymru always manages to bring high quality dance to its audiences with something novel, something different to add an extra frisson to their work while retaining artistry, precision, strong technique and control. In this very enjoyable evening they revisit their relationship with Cerys Matthews, after an earlier splendid collaboration with TIR, melding of her voice, traditional Welsh song and innovative dance. This time it is taking Cerys Matthews’ album recording of A Child’s Christmas, Poems and Tiger Eggs and creating a wide variety of dances to compliment the varying themes, moods, atmospheres of the iconic poet’s works.
Wearing her distinctive panama-style hat and some pretty cool red shoes and accompanied by jazz musician Arun Gosh, Cerys tells us we are at the Riverfront on the 65th anniversary weekend of Dylan Thomas death and also Wales rugby victory earlier that day. I have no idea who they beat.
The first half of the evening as a little demanding but not inaccessible for the young people who come to see the company, with Cerys reciting some of Thomas’ most loved poems including Do Not Go Gentle Into that Last Goodnight, The Hunchback in the Park, And Death Shall Have No Dominion, with generally haunting, moody playing from Gosh, sandwiched by In My Craft Or Sullen Art. In contrast the fun-filled Laugharne and also Fern Hill gave the dancers the chance to kick off into some fun moves with the uplifting music similarly grabbing the attention of the young people who may have been a little less engaged by much of the darkness of some of Thomas’poetry.
Artistic Director Darius James and Assistant Artistic Director Amy Doughty again demonstrate their ability to create dance that is at times narrative and always clear in communicating with an audience, making the most of their troupe of dancers which again comprises strong performers who have been with the company for some years and fresh, young faces and bodies who slip into the Ballet Cymru culture with ease.
I told the youngsters with me that the second of the evening would be a lighter offering, although they had enjoyed the first half of the show although clearly the more lively and ensemble pieces. And so it was…..as after the break the performance became a full stage work as Cerys was now a “voice” rather than a presence, with her reciting A Child’s Christmas in Wales with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales.
This was a glorious entertainment with video projections of youngsters talking about what Christmas means to them, presumably filmed in Valleys towns or perhaps Newport, forming a magical beginning and ending to the love performance.
Chris Illingworth gave the performers an equally magical lighting design that, like the story itself, captures the romanticised vision of Christmas that remembers all the fun, the delight and the charm of the festive season – so it is always snowing and children are always having great adventures.
The choreography is as generous spirited as the story telling with James and Doughty bringing their free-flowing, eclectic mixture of styles to the work: elegant ballet, cheeky cameos, ensemble set pieces, whimsical creations, such as gullumping hippos, and always lots of love for the narrative.
For the Newport performance we enjoyed the performances of Year 4 pupils from Clytha Primary School, not just in a walk on and add sweetness to the production, but genuinely becoming part of the performance with the curtain call a real spirits-lifter.
We also had the inclusion of some signing in the performance which could have been just tokenism but, firstly, those who have seen other works by the company know this is part of a wider engagement across abilities and was also neatly incorporated into choreography i.e. the signing was beautifully melded into the movement, not an add on.
If you are fortunate enough to be anywhere near a performance of this show, whether with Cerys performing or with the more ethereal, haunting voice that is so suited to this narration, it might be the best festive present you give yourself or your loved ones.
Why this show has not been booked to play in as many venues across our nation as possible in the run up to Christmas is one of life’s great mysteries. They should be clearing their programmes for it.
For further performances visit: www/waleshballet.co.uk
Images Sian Trenberth