Any performance by National Dance Company Wales is to be keenly anticipated. They have established a reputation for quirky, delightful and mesmerising pieces which have depth. Their current tour of Roots has an extra frisson, as it features a piece – Rygbi: Annwyl/Dear – by their new Artistic Director Fearghus Ó Conchúir, who in 2018 took over from Caroline Finn, who is now Resident Choreographer.
The evening at the Dance House in Cardiff was hosted by Guy O’Donnell, the Learning and Participation Producer on the NDCWales team. He introduced the pieces, and also encouraged reflection and discussion about them. The programme consisted of four pieces; in addition to Rygbi: Annwyl/Dear there were two pieces already performed by the company (Écrit, and Why are People Clapping!?), and one further new one, Codi.
It was a pleasure to see Écrit and Why are People Clapping!? again. Écrit, choreographed by Nikita Goile, is a two-hander inspired by the relationship between the artist Frida Kahlo and her partner Diego Rivera. An intense and passionate piece, it is especially notable for the part of Diego being danced mostly in silhouette behind Frida (danced by Goile). When the two come together in the same space and move in harmony the effect is electric. Why are People Clapping!? is a classic NDCWales piece, having wonderful group dynamic and humour. Choreographed by Ed Myhill, now a main dancer in the company, it demonstrated the joy and power of music and dance and left a grin on the face.
Codi was a darker group piece, seemingly concerning suffering miners coming together to overcome their oppression. It is choreographed by Anthony Matsena, who grew up in Swansea and is now a Young Associate Artist at Sadlers Wells. The piece was dramatically staged in hues of black and red, with lights flashing in the darkness. Despite its bleakness it contained optimism.
Rygbi: Annwyl/Dear was kept to the end, building up expectation for an impressive finish. Certainly the piece comes with advance notice, having been performed at the Rugby World Cup in Japan, appropriately given its theme. Sad to say I found it an anti-climax, disappointing after great routines of the past such as the magical Folk, the unique Bernadette and the hypnotic Tundra. One hopes that Fearghus Ó Conchúir can match these in future.
A bonus delight, however, was a performance of Feathers by the youth Associates of the company, which preceded the other pieces. Inspired by a poem of Emily Dickinson (‘“Hope” is the thing with feathers’), the young dancers impressed in a large group routine, and it was an opportunity to spot stars of the future. They do indeed offer hope. The National Dance Company Wales remains a vital force.