Shadow of a Quiet Society, Gwyn Emberton Dance

February 7, 2016 by

Whether many audience members at this performance of Gwyn Emberton’s latest ambitious dance work were familiar with Jungian psychoanalysis is, of course, unknown.

But them it should not have been necessary to read the programme notes or delve into this theory of collective unconsciousness because, by definition, if it is valid, we should have recognised, on some level of other, what was occurring before our eyes on the stage,

Much of the work was visually exquisite, movement that taps into Emberton’s experiences now as dancer and choreographer (unconscious or otherwise) and singles him out as a choreographer who is able to excite and stimulate but also entertain with flowing, aesthetically pleasing, accessible dance.



With these wonderful dancers; Neus Gil Cortes, Eleesha Drennan, Chihiro Kawasaki, AnaÏs Michelin, Johanna Nuutinen and Sophia Preidel, Emberton indeed pushes boundaries and the work is a glorious celebration of what these wonderful women are able to achieve. I have rarely seen Eleesha Drennan in better form.

The music is a scintillating fusion of soundscapes Benjamin Talbott that conjure of Elizabethan madrigals, touches of exoticism, haunting and mesmerising in equal measure, with the voice of Eddie Ladd an unmissable hybrid of narration and echo across the hour-long dance.

The intricate lighting from Ben Cowens, ranging from cold white almost moonlight to warm embracing tones, was sympathetically integral to Angharad Matthews’ designs, an empty stark overshadowed (again) by a vast cloud of white fabric that eventually sank to the earth.

I say that according to Emberton’s interest in Jungian theory an explanation of what was happening on the stage, who or perhaps what the characters are being or just representing, should not be necessary as we all share this common “inherited” consciousness. Personally, my unconsciousness refused to yield recognition in much of the work. Perhaps greater familiarity with the people of the town that this collection of almost a millennium of history is based upon, Montgomery would help, Yet that would destroy the premise of the piece.  For that reason I decided not to stay for the post show discussion, as I prefer a work to stand on its own feet.



The shadow in the title refers to the physical presence of Montgomery Castle while the named characters in the work are the Herberts who came to prominence in the 17th century with one of the family, aptly, being Master of the Revels, to Charles I and II.  That shadow may or may not be a reference to Jungian archetypes and the pairing with the ego. It would fit in neatly with the choreographer’s desire for the audience to recognise or identify the cornucopia of characters on the stage.

Delving into nurture rather than nature, the dance contains (or conjured up in my unconscious) some of the vocabulary and sensibilities displayed in Emberton’s previous Welsh society based work My People. I do not know how much the individual dancers contribute from their own dance experiences (consciously or unconsciously) so it would be rash to suggest this. There is marvellous inventiveness throughout the hour, dancers almost harnessed and they thrash around the space, a multi-armed creature created by the troupe, animal-like step movements, developments of solo into ensemble phases and a banquet of bravura



The new dance is preceded by a work that for me is Emberton at his best, Of the Earth, from where I came, inspired by Dylan Thomas; Fern Hill. This is an absolutely perfect solo performance, magically lit and a self-contained gem that develops as tempi builds yet ultimately returning to the starting position and the unbreakable connecting with the earth.

Co-production with Aberystwyth Arts Centre.

Leave a Reply