If you’re wondering what a “shadow aspect” is, the tag lines of Ballet Cymru’s new work will tell you it is “the hidden personality”. Using a quote from Carl Jung as a springboard, we are prepared for something apparently weighty and, well, dark; but the work on display here, urbane less often than it is awkward, has a lot more to offer besides the pretentions of its rather airy concept (this is hardly new ground for dance, after all). Shadow Aspect has, can we say, a hidden personality, one that perhaps the makers were unaware was lurking beneath the surface. Guest choreographer Tim Podesta wants us to furrow our brows, to nod earnestly, as he explores the depths of human psychology through the pained judders and jabs of some jarring choreography. In this respect Shadow Aspect is only fleetingly successful. But from between the cracks something quite interesting emerges, and it has its moments of elation, as well as its moments of grounded pessimism. So, what is this production’s shadow aspect? It is Love.
With such a compelling answer, the problems of Podesta’s work do not condemn it. It is salvaged by this hopefulness. And it is salvaged by the energy of the dancers, and the class of Mara Galeazzi, here from the Royal Ballet as Guest Principle. Ballet Cymru have quite the coup in Galeazzi, and no matter the final product, or the reaction of the audience (which is both enthusiastic and large for the opening night), it is the company’s dancers who will benefit most from working with such an experienced and lauded star. And they did indeed surpass themselves on the night. Beth Meadway and Natalia Debono give career-best performances, and Andrea Battaggia finally is given space to show what he can do – too often in the past has he been used as a foil for those around him. The star of the show, however, (Galeazzi granted), is Gwenllian Davies, whose joyous, light movement throughout signals that Ballet Cymru have a very special talent in their ranks. Davies’ duet with Robbie Moorcroft toward the end of the first half was the absolute highlight of the evening, and the only sequence approaching the sublime.
It is Davies, in fact, who confirms what the Shadow Aspect is – that love is the saviour, and that darkness will not prevail – and it is she who pulls Podesta’s choreography back from the brink. Too often the collective movement fails to flow, and the preponderance for jagged counter-intuitive throes lacks any tangible authenticity. Galeazzi’s solos are alluring in one sense, but also feel unusually contained; the grand gestures of her second highlight the shortcomings of the others. This is all wrapped up in layers of musical clichés selected from Jean-Philip Goude of portentous strings and driving modernist tumults. Too many contemporary productions nowadays use this kind of music. Davies and Moorcroft’s duet, therefore, stands out for such lack of constraint, as Goude’s composition hits a natural stride, and the two dancers seem to have been given the space to inject some much-needed personality into their routine.
When John Berger wrote of Degas’ ballet dancers, he identified the painter’s urge to not find an alternative world into which he could escape, but rather he had found a display in which he could find certain human secrets. Recognising dance’s ability to explore the places other art forms cannot reach, that it is “poetry with arms and legs; matter, gracious and terrible, animated, embellished by movement” as Beaudelaire put it, is not a revolutionary idea. The concept of Jung’s “shadow aspect”, as the hidden self, hidden most importantly from the self, is one that has been particularly gone over in ballet, and Podesta has not really brought anything fresh to it here. But this production is significant for other reasons; it marks a milestone moment for Ballet Cymru, a thirty year-old company that in the last five years has been making real marks with wider audiences and the all-important London critics. But it is the dancers who will surely see the most telling benefits; they have got up on that stage with an A-lister in Galeeazi and more than held their own.