It was a night with the National Dance Company Wales. I expected contemporary dance – and I got contemporary dance – but what I didn’t expect was to find myself at a rock concert!
That’s the mood and atmosphere choreographer Jeroen Verbruggen wanted for his new piece A Mighty Wind, the second of three presentations at Venue Cymru from NDC Wales’s Spring tour. And it’s really quite exhilarating. To a soundtrack of stadium rock anthems, the dancers let rip, cavorting and moshing and headbanging their way around the stage as if they were at the V Festival, not a provincial seaside theatre.
A Mighty Wind is mesmerising. The choreography can be aggressive, but always true to its message; only as aggressive as people are when they’re caught in a moment, prisoners of the atmosphere, slaves to the rhythm. The stage is lit by stadium-style arc lights which rise and fall, blinding the audience in parts, making them feel part of the experience. The rock soundtrack is played loud and fast; sometimes you get that rock concert feeling of a pounding in your chest that isn’t your heart, but the thud of the music coursing through your body. And that’s exactly what the dancers are responding to as well.
A Mighty Wind
There’s a wonderfully creative moment where three female dancers jump on top of giant box fans which look for all the world like speaker amps, and the ferocity of the wind machine throws their long hair vertically, defying gravity as they stare into the speaker and its torrent of “sound”. It’s a haunting image, lit beautifully by Ben Ormerod
The choreography is bold and edgy, exemplified by the moment two male dancers swing a female dancer up and over, into the air like a log at a sawmill, but she is caught expertly by a third. Dancers run at one another, leap toward them without apparent warning, but are caught at the last moment. They are drunk on the rhythm; the music is a mighty wind in which they dance and celebrate.
This piece afford’s NDCWales stalwart Josef Perou some impressive time in the spotlight (often literally). His statuesque form slides and rolls and tumbles and shuffles around the floor, a central expression of masculinity among the cavorting ensemble.
A Mighty Wind
A Mighty Wind is like the warm-up for a major stadium rock concert. The dancers are rehearsing their routines, and all that’s missing is the megastar at its heart. But the real stars are already there, feeling the power of the music. Stunning.
The centrepiece of this tour is NDCWales Artistic Director Caroline Fin’s latest work, Folk. Finn was inspired by watching how people behave in different social situations. People can be different in groups to when they are alone, and she has drawn upon these social dynamics to put together a complex piece which also takes from 17th and 18th century oil paintings.
The piece opens with Matteo Marfoglia sweeping fallen autumn leaves into a pile on the stage, slowly, carefully. He then passes to the opposite side of the stage to join the other dancers who are captured in a freeze-frame, or an oil painting perhaps? Their expressions are initially ones of joy and happiness, but soon those transfixed grins fall away to grimaces and despair.
The design of Folk adds enormously to the concept. A giant tree hangs above the stage, upon which members of the community below hang their belongings: stepladders, scarves, brushes. It forms the heart of their community. Then there’s Gabrielle Slade’s wonderful costume design which adds to the world Finn has created: it’s pastoral and autumnal, reflecting the theme of nature exemplified by the tree and its rusted, fallen leaves. There’s an almost monastic, ecclesiastical – perhaps even Amish – feel to the costumes. I particularly loved how Mathieu Geffré’s outfit was a gentleman’s jacket paired with a woman’s ruched skirt. A beautiful mix of textures to complement the seasonal feel.
The choreography – which is sometimes fluid and free, at others jarring, like a flip-book – is complemented so well by the set and costume design, but above all it’s Finn’s choice of soundtrack that makes Folk as powerful and as stirring as it is. It always has a feeling of folklore, whether British or European, and builds to a rousing crescendo, then stops short. The performance continues beyond this, which I thought was a shame as the sudden stop was quite an arresting ending, but equally I could see why it continued in its challenging fashion – all vocal tics and gobbledygook. Folk finishes as it begins, with leaves being swept into a neat pile, and the community back in its original position, grinning, smiling. But this time we know them to be false…
The third piece on the Venue Cymru programme (but performed first) was Alexander Ekman’s amusing Tuplet, which I saw and reviewed last year when NDCWales visited Llandudno. I didn’t notice any major changes, but suffice to say the section where they dance their names still raises a smile. It’s a different, but ultimately entertaining routine, and it felt more confident this second time around.
Folk may be the centrepiece for this Spring tour, but for me A Mighty Wind pipped it to the post as the most involving, immersive of the three. That may be because I like rock music and can relate to the feeling of being surrounded by it and feeling part of its power, but both A Mighty Wind and Folk transport you to another world and make you feel something unusual, yet also familiar.
The programme at Aberystywth Arts Centre; Torch, Milford Haven and Theatr Clwyd, Mold the programme is Folk, A Mighty Wind and Tuplet.
Folk is joined by Tuplet and Walking Mad (reviewed in Autumn 2015) at the Sherman Cymru
visit ndcwales.co.uk for venues tour details
Read Caroline Finn on Folk: