Alternative Routes 2016, NDCWales

June 11, 2016 by
Giving young dancers an opportunity to create choreography of their own, National Dance Company Wales’s Alternative Routes strand is an important platform to nurture and encourage blossoming talent. And it’s interesting to see how the training these young dancers have soaked up by performing the choreography of more experienced artists informs their own latent talent.
It made for a pot-pourri of styles in what was a delightful presentation of where NDC Wales is in 2016, and the fact the new work is forged in collaboration with design students from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama made it all the more refreshing.
First up was Camille Giraudeau’s Welcome to My Dreams, which was the dancer’s own study on the inner thoughts we all have, those voices we hear in our head which tell us what to do, whether we listen to them or not. AltRoutes2016 is part of Cardiff’s first annual Festival of Voice, and so each new piece is framed by that theme. Camille’s choreography is playful and energetic, perfectly reflecting the myriad inner consciousness we all have – the euphoria, the warnings, the trepidation and the devil-may-care. You can tell Camille has learnt a lot from being a Company member these past five years.
The piece is a duet between Camille and Ed Myhill, dressed in beautifully diaphanous outfits in pastel shades designed by RWCMD’s Jiyoon Jung. The breathless energy Giraudeau brings to the movement is complemented beautifully by the costume design, as well as Alia Stephen’s creative lighting and Panayiota Koushiappa’s fun, almost child-like set design of suspended hula hoops and spheres. When the harsh neon and red lighting crashes into the dancing bodies in their reflective threads, swinging from glow-in-the-dark props, the piece as a whole comes together beautifully. More than any of the other pieces presented in AltRoutes2016, the production team behind this should be proud of their joint achievement. If one element was missing, the whole would be lesser for it.
Despite being a Company dancer since 2011, Josef Perou has never put forward a choreographed piece of his own for Alternative Routes until now. Why? Because, he maintained, he had nothing in particular to say, and this is the theme of Sometimes Silence is a Really Good Answer.
It’s a shame it’s taken Josef so long to contribute his own work because this piece is extraordinarily affecting. Performing under a stark spotlight, Josef enacts different ways of being silenced, either intentionally or forcefully, in a melancholy piece boosted tremendously by Max Richter’s piano score from the TV series The Leftovers. There’s a whole section during which the audience not once gets to see Josef’s mouth as he stretches and twirls his body and limbs to hide, shield and obscure his mouth. He is silenced, gagged and censored, but we get so much more through his precise body language and expressive face.
Perou performs with his entire being, not just his body. You can tell that he means what he’s dancing, and that he feels what he’s telling us. Snatches of sign language populate his routine, and through mime and echoes of performance art, he has created a direct and moving ten minutes of meaningful, heartbreaking dance. Let’s hope Josef decides he has something to say for next year’s Alternative Routes.
The third new piece was Matteo Marfoglia’s Crossword, which takes four individual dancers, gives them a metronomic starting point, but then allows them to branch off in their own instinctive directions as they react emotionally and physically to a vocal audio soundtrack. That soundtrack is in Italian and comprises various animated conversations with repeated expressions counterpointed by the movement.
Each dancer takes their turn in performing in their own harshly lit square within a greater crossword design, and again Alia Stephen’s lighting gives context to what we see. Sometimes the squares are bright white, sometimes pitch black, and at others ambiguous grey. Marfoglia is no stranger to the Alternative Routes platform and has a developmental history which is plain to see. This is the work of someone branching out, trying new ideas, and as a result, making an impactful statement about individuality and togetherness.
The two pieces revisited for AltRoutes2016 are Eleesha Drennan’s Whiskers and Caroline Finn’s Bernadette. Canadian Drennan was house choreographer with NDC Wales between 2011-13, and Whiskers won her first prize at the International Solo Dance Theatre Festival in Stuttgart four years ago. The maturity and complexity of the work demonstrates why Drennan is now such an exciting artist. Whiskers is inspired by the ancient folk tale La Loba, a story of transformation and animalistic life force, and the choreography perfectly embodies this vision, as dancer Camille Giraudeau searches, explores and scurries across the floor, jabbing and prancing like a creature in the moonlight.
NDC Wales Artistic Director Caroline Finn’s acclaimed Bernadette brought the programme to a raucous end. It was obvious why this piece has to be last on the bill, because the stage becomes the setting of a tumult of emotions and baking ingredients! The character of Bernadette is a vision of conformity, a Desperate Housewife who innocently stumbles into a Laurel and Hardy film.
Her aim is to bake a cake. She has the flour, eggs, milk and bowl. She seeks instruction, and intends to follow it to the letter. But then she accidentally drops an egg (which smashes to the ground inches from the front row!) and this flicks a switch in her mind which leads to chaos. The surface calm Bernadette is trying to maintain is thrown to the wind by her inner torment, her internal insecurities and doubts.
Although on the surface this is a very funny performance which sees the aforementioned flour and eggs go crashing to the floor, underneath is a very sad piece, a tragedy about the fight between how we want to appear outwardly, and the battle we have inside ourselves to maintain that. Bernadette has an innate fear of failure that we all share, and the moment where she falls in slow motion off the table and comes to cradle herself in its reassuring shadow is moving.
Anybody who sees Bernadette must feel honoured to witness it, as Finn is a masterful character dancer who feeds so much pathos into an accomplished physicality. What better way to end a showcase for new talent than by showing us what that talent could achieve?

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