Stories from a Crowded Room, Earthfall

May 16, 2015 by

Who knew kettling could be cool?

This clever concept Jim Ennis, Jessica Cohen and Mike Brookes in Earthfall’s 25th year is a strange beast that aims to be making us consider our alienation, emotional fragility, reliance on others, individual vulnerability.

It is a smile then flinch, slightly laugh and then wince, engage but then choose to step back experience as Jess Haener, Rosalind Haf Brooks, Sebastian Languenuer, Alex Marshall Parsons, Rachael O’Neill, Iain Payne, Beth Powlesland and Lara Ward do what Earthfall does best: take us in their hand and then knock on for six with volcanic dance.

Yet for me this was not enough to get that conversational lave flowing. Maybe it was the audience, maybe it was the location, maybe it was me. But I just didn’t seem to get the emotional response I was clearly meant to from Earthfall’s Stories from a Crowded Room. There were lots of emotionally big bangs but the earth did not move for me.

We are gathered in an enclosed space that has an entrance for the dancers to move in and out of at one end and another at the opposite end from which a guitarist and vocalist move in and out and where other musicians and technicians are weaving their magic. The music from Stories from Rhi Williams and Eric Martin Kamosi veers between gutsy and soulfull while the dancers all join the singing.

That space for this performance of Mike Brooks digital box design happens to be Ballet Cymru’s studio space at their Rogerstone headquarters but that is irrelevant apart from a chunk of the audience were Ballet Cymru dancers fresh from their glorious concert the previous night in Cardiff with Cerys Matthews and Catrin Finch and others were people I know well.

Why does this matter? Well, it is because the ethos of this work is the interaction or lack of interaction between the six marvellous Earthfall dancers and the audience who are sort of additional players in this story telling.  When in one intimate section Alex Marshall Parsons chooses a person to start his round of apologies it is all a bit safe when it happens to be Krystal from Ballet Cymru and then he move son to other fellow dancers – I expect not realising it, otherwise it would be even less effective. So rather than having that awkwardness, that nervousness when a performer speaks to you or even just looks at you during an interactive performance, these audience members were, well, in their element. Admittedly some of them did look slightly amused or slightly nervous by some of the encounters. But it did diffuse much of the tension and adventure.

Similarly, when the audience was gathered so many of us knew each other it was more like  a jolly chat with mates until the Earthfall dancers started performing, rather than that feeling of being a room full of strangers which is what the work intended.




Again, the space itself. Because we knew we were in a dance studio the feel of the work became more of a “happening”, with the feel of an art house installation rather than a strange environment for these encounters.

Perhaps also there were too many people (and I did boost the numbers admittedly) because rather than what I had heard from previous performances where the audience members seemed to have moved around freely, giving the show an improvisation feel, here we were carefully and very gently moved into set spaces.

Having said that, the performance itself was fabulous with the dancers displaying the company’s love of hard physicality occasionally melded with lyrical duets and solo work that intertwines spoken and sung lyrics with the movement.

At its heart is the company’s characteristic flinging themselves around individually and in close ensemble, here intentionally dropping one another in the spirit of the work’s denouement, and working a space with aplomb. Such is the intensity of the dance vocabulary the audience frankly has to be kettled or there would be more bruises than probably appear on the dancers’ own knees.

The dancers weave their way in and out of the audience members who were gently moved around the space to create areas for the ensemble sections or gathered into a cwtch for that strange apology section.  Along the way the dancers ask presumably rhetorical questions of individual audiences members all about angst, loneliness and insecurity but we had a particularly happy crowd who seemed to be to somewhat shrug off such misery with a happy smile and wink (including me who). Where the dancers spoke to one another the effect was intense, more in resonance with the mood and theme of the work itself.



The most discomforting element was when one audience members who did indeed walk around while the dancers were performing and I found myself wondering about him rather than what the show was communicating. I then also lapsed into watching how the Ballet Cymru dancers reacted to their fellow dancers’ performance.

At one stage I could see absolutely nothing when an intimate duet was being danced so decided to watch their shadows moving on the walls and then realised I was watching the videos and light around the walls and had forget about the dancers.

The atmosphere was also shattered on several occasions when people were asked not to take photographs on their smart phones which jarred a little when there were techies moving around occasionally with hand held electrical devices and the company’s own people taking photos or videos on their smart phones.

I think I need to see the show again somewhere with a different audience in a difference place where I can immerse myself in the performance, the concept and the conversation with strangers.


Images Mike Brookes

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