Marc Rees and NDCWales’ P.A.R.A.D.E. is the only contribution to Cardiff’s rather conservative Russia 2017 “festival” that brings anything radical in a cultural consideration of the October Revolution. The other aspects of the hotchpotch of concerts, plays, operas and probably other events that have missed my radar have all been perfectly worthwhile such as revivals of old Welsh National Opera productions, a reworking of a Chekhov play, Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama concerts. Yet none have said anything bold and cutting edge or even tried to say anything about the basis of R17, the Bolshevik takeover and the eradication of democracy for a centralist, collectivist, conformist, militaristic, stifling philosophy.
So to P.A.R.A.D.E and NDCWales artistic director Caroline Finn being the latest of a legion of choreographers who have reimagined works based loosely on Serge Diaghilev and Les Ballets Russes legendary works, here the cubist work created in 1917, (actually before the Revolution). The original was indeed revolutionary with costumes by Picasso, screenplay by Jean Cocteau and music by Erik Satie.
The performance on Wales Millennium Centre’s large main stage flows (sort of) from an imaginary political rally in Roald Dahl Plas, created by Marc Rees. That splendid actress Eiry Thomas speaks to us, the crowd of workers who have been given flags with the Cyrillic letter R, outside this cultural factory, bamboozling us with (true) historic links between Russia and Wales and our nation’s firsts in the modern world (locomotives and the theory of evolution) as an emotive softening up to her regime’s introduction of a new robot revolution, a mechanised age that will make most workers redundant. This is of course a new exploitation of resources by an elite to suppress rather than improve the masses. It is the oldest trick in the book, politicians using emotive patriotism to get their way, knowing people will vote for just about anything as long as it is wrapped up in naive love of country. To vote Yes is patriotic, to vote No is treason.
All the while there are dissidents in the crowd with placards and as a robot woman (a realisation of Fritz Lang’s beautiful robot woman from Metropolis?) performed by aerial artist Kate Lawrence appears on the roof and then starts to walk down the front of WMC mini riots break out and the shields held by participants are sections of a constructivist portrait that is finally revealed when the robot meet the politician on the stage.
All of this is played out to clamorous, wild rollercoaster music from Jack White which is itself inspired by Satie’s score that itself embraces vividly discordant sounds and styles. The music from White changes when we are inside the building first to see Lee Johnston’s Stepford Wives, (men dressed as robotic housewives, also redolent of the women in Handmaids Tale) mindlessly shopping from stacks of identical boxes forming rows and aisles of supermarket shelves. Occasionally they break out of their drudgery into liberated movements but always returning to their faceless (literally) task. Elsewhere in the WMC foyers the boxes are being arranged and rearranged by other workers until we make our way to our seats and see a stage set composed of these boxes and more workers and now NDCWales dancers in uniform overalls.
Once inside we have a daft reference to Theresa May’s cough in a recent political speech which is a shame as the over-arching ideological consideration would be stronger without aligning it to Right or Left. The politician is on the stage welcoming us to this vast cultural factory and the glorious sound of Satie erupts from the BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by Martin Yates. Those boxes are moved around, stacked and unstacked. There is also the look of an early computer game, Tetris, which was invented in 1984 by Soviet Alexey Pajitnov while he was writing programmes to test new computer equipment created in the USSR, based on the puzzle board game, Pentominoes. Just as Tetris creates some form of order out of the apparent chaos of falling groups of four cubes, the workers repeat repetitive tasks moving the cubes in the wall. Also think Pink Floyd’s another Brick in the Wall. Members of Rubicon Dance are now the workers on the stage who are worker ant like shifting the boxes. Creativity breaks out as the dancers start to adorn themselves with costumes, excellent creations of costume designer Rhiannon Matthews, made out of the products they are using in their tasks, black and yellow gaffe tape, plain cardboard, corrugated cardboard, to evoke animals such as a bird, horse, elephant, and other characters, magically reinvented the circus, abstract, look of the original Parade.
The politician is welcomed back onto the stage and with the back of the set opened to a glaring white and dry ice chasm the Fritz Lang robot walks up, the constructivist painting made up of the small squares has been assembled and even the “leader “looks aghast at this visitation from the future. Perhaps we should have had Jeremy Corbyn’s robot tax thrown into the mix.
The evening could have ended there but NDCWales has also commissioned a new work from Spanish choreographer Marcos Morau called Tundra. Now this work does fit in with the Russian/Soviet theme as it is richly fused with colours, designs, music and movements from the peoples of the vast wildernesses and mountain regions of the sprawling land and is also a piece of ensemble (collectivist) movement. This work is gorgeous and is also a stand-alone piece which one can hope is extensively toured.
Tundra is a sensational visual delight with the eight dancers seemingly like dolls on casters or gliding robots in full length skirts, torsos still, moving to evocative singing and music. Joe Fetcher’s lighting design brings us a stark white rectangular frame that descends. Snow falls from the skies. Magical. The performers are now wearing one piece costumes which both conjure up an image of Russian cosmonauts and also warmly wrapped up people from frozen environments (Inuit, Nordic, Siberian, Steppe, Mongolian) with those intricate knitted designs. They create the most beautiful movement shapes and patterns with their bodies and most impressively, just using their hands and arms working in unison to conjure up writhing snake-like waves of undulating movement.
Tundra tells us that even out of what may appear barren environments beauty can exist. That environment may be an actual frozen wasteland or an authoritarian Left or Right regime. But from the most hostile landscape there can be creativity.
It is invigorating to see work from the national dance company that is both of artistic value and a delight, that will both placate those funders and commentators who are more obsessed with novelty and pandering to their peers and also, shock horror, be enjoyed by audiences. A rare combination indeed.
P.A.R.A.D.E was also performed at Pontio, Bangor.
P.A.R.A.D.E images Mark Douet
TUNDRA images Rhys Couzens
Caroline Finn on creating P.A.R.A.D.E.
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