Given that I only usually attend plays and dramatic performances, I had no idea what to expect from Earthfall’s latest production. I often feel that dance does not receive its deserved place in neither Welsh nor British culture, as it is not considered by many to be as integral as drama or music. This enthralling experience of stories in motion advertised as ‘broken dreams and bodies in flight’, however, would have mesmerised the most sceptical.
As we were led into the small studio in Chapter, the dancers began to perform amongst us, and the audience were immediately an active part of this performance. As they weaved through us and guided us to stand in different parts of the room, this continuous movement accentuated the effective use of such a small space.
The fluidity afforded by this aspect also ensured a smooth transition between scenes, and their close-up nature made them come alive. Indeed, the sensual strength of the performance would not have been as immersive if we had been sitting still, as its essence was an exploration of interaction and communication within society. The choreography cleverly guided the audience safely whilst also fully engaging us. Without direct participation, we still felt the dancers’ heat near us, experienced a gush of air as they flew past, and were sometimes gently touched by them. We gradually became absorbed into people’s smells and breathing.
The dance element was heavily reliant on music and special effects, which certainly complemented the various moves. The combination of background music and a live performance by two individuals was especially successful in creating the appropriate atmosphere and enhancing the physicality of the performance. The volume of these differing elements, ranging from rock to chanting, also coincided with the pace of movement.
The surrounding screen and occasional images was striking, although I didn’t always understand its relevance, and perhaps this element could be enhanced further – without causing too much distraction from the live performance. However, the multimedia fusion of music, film, dance and theatre worked well.
The dancers were energetic, dynamic and exuberant. I was amazed by their fitness, and they must have been battered and bruised by the action-packed and risky nature of some scenes! Despite the fast-moving pace, there was ample time for reflection too as it varied and slowed purposefully at times.
In contrast to viewing the dance components objectively against a musical or film backdrop, the vocal ingredient presented by individual dancers added an interesting twist to the purely physical factor. These included poetic nuances and communicated well with the audience as the performers posed questions directly to different individuals. This piercing eye contact contrasted with the more detached parts where they merely moved around us. One of the most captivating gems was the assertion that we are ‘silently dropping pieces of ourselves on earth floor.’ This combination of different constituents was especially moving when describing love, as the vocal and visual medium interacted to convey the concept in different ways.
Despite attempting to portray profound themes, the humour was also comical at times. One of the most poignant scenes for me was when the dancers chased each other by calling each other’s names, but failed to get a reaction. Another scene where one individual searched for someone to ‘hug me…love me…hold me…’ only to be met with apathy or rejection was also particularly moving. This rings very true for those living in a city where ‘crowded rooms’ may create more loneliness and a sense that people are oblivious to what happens around them.
Another scene that hit home was when the performers said sorry for different things orally and on screen. Sometimes we spend our lives apologising for different things, and the visual and vocal again captured this perfectly. Once again, the performers connected with the audience as it was possible to become part of the production by sending your personal #EFsorry to the company.
The closing scenes reflected captivity and frustration as one dancer tried to move through the barrier that the others had formed. For me, it suggested the constant struggle between individuality and group identity as our lives are in a constant flux between these conditions. The performance ended triumphantly when the dancers stood still and advocated ‘yes’ for different things in various languages, adding a global feel to the significance of their message. The Welsh translation was not always suitable, but that is a minor criticism.
I’m very glad that I ventured out of my comfort zone and realised the potential for dance to be incorporated more fully into our culture. This intensely rich multimedia platform is also one that should be explored further.
Rhiannon Heledd Williams
Stories from a Crowded Room, Earthfall
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