Roots, National Dance Company Wales, Dance House

November 6, 2018 by

As someone whose experience of dance is so far extremely limited, and whose technical knowledge of this artistic discipline is likewise less than comprehensive, I admit that I first approached Roots with a certain trepidation. I should not have worried: the show is geared towards the curious at their first contact with dance, much more than towards the seasoned audience, which will find the insights interesting but some of the framing, perhaps, obvious. The show is composed of three different short dance pieces, encompassing a variety of styles, moods, and themes, each curated by a different choreographer. These are framed by moments of discussion, encouraging the audience to explore their own readings of what they have just watched, the various layers of meaning in each of the pieces, and the impressions that they left behind. At the end of the evening, a question-and-answer session allows the audience to put the more pressing of their questions directly to the dancers, offering them an insight into the work they have just watched that is a luxury rarely offered to theatregoers of any kind.

While the conversation was, perhaps unavoidably, at times slightly awkward, this is an excellent idea, providing an effective primer for those who are intrigued by dance but may not necessarily know how to introduce themselves to this art form, which may well appear more unapproachable than prose drama or even opera – the latter two having in all cases, at the very least, a clear-cut and recognisable narrative. It also provides a range of different dance experiences, which will appeal to different sensibilities; if one of the pieces didn’t speak to you, there are good chances that one of the other two will have. In this sense, as a work that proposes to be, perhaps not strictly educational, but certainly a removal of cultural barriers keeping people away from dance shows, Roots is very much successful.

The three works in themselves are interesting pieces, although the need to present as wide a range of different expressions as possible makes the whole seem somehow disconnected; one is left with the impression of having watched three snippets out of three different shows rather than a coherent whole. This is not necessarily a flaw, given the fact that the whole show proposes to be somewhat of a taster. Still, the shift in mood from one piece to the next can be somewhat jarring at first. Omertà, by Italian choreographer Matteo Marfoglia, is a dark, anxiety-riddled start to the evening, with a surprisingly powerful and liberating part in the middle that only makes the sense of suppression in the end much stronger. The use of lights in this piece is also to be lauded for its great effectiveness. Bernadette, by resident choreographer Caroline Finn, tells also in its own way a tale of repression, and of the devastating effects when it becomes too much. Solo dancer Camille Giraudeau shoulders the title part here with a powerful, naturalistic performance, almost something out of method acting in places. The piece has a slight, bitter sense of humour to it, that makes it all the more cutting. The last, and longest, of the three, Atalaÿ, by Spanish choreographer Mario Bermudez Gil, is more of a mood piece, and perhaps the most challenging and fascinating of the three in its depiction of the meeting of different cultures in Southern Spain. It is a game of contrasts, in different sounds and different types of movement, where conflict is always ultimately resolved in harmony – a message that is more than ever needed nowadays.

Perhaps it is this message of harmony between different cultures, suggestions, moods, and ideas that remains the strongest with the audience after the end of Roots. A patchwork of different things with different origins, the show gains a wider breath from its variety, and reconciles all differences through a shared experience. In this it certainly achieves something truly interesting, as well as accomplishing its purpose as an introduction to dance for those who are not already experts. With a series of intense performances by all dancers involved, it is a self-contained trip through time and place that may be uneven at times but will certainly leave its audience enriched.


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