The National Dance Company Wales spring tour is underway, and this year it seems to have a tighter knit of its four pieces than might have been the case in the previous years where dazzling and engrossing individual pieces may have been guilty of sitting in lopsided isolation on the triple bill. But Awakening suggests a canny eye for matching up visually arresting work whilst also showcasing the broad range of ability and vision of his team. What Awakening shows us is a little bit of space-age curlicue in Tundra, some pensive Victorian emoting in Afterímage, a classical homage to the golden age of Hollywood in They Seek To Find The Happiness They Seem (out of rotation tonight and so not reviewed here), and tour-de-force in Revellers’ Mass.
Awakening as a triple bill has its peaks and lowlands (hardly troughs, though). NDCWales’ current sure-fire crowd pleaser, Tundra (which has been reviewed a few times before on Wales Arts Review) remains six of seven minutes longer than it needs to be. But it is still the sort of production that shakes any sense of complacency out of the viewer, merging traditional Russian costume with a proto-Sci Fi, Bladerunner-esque commentary on bio-horror. There is a reason Tundra is a hit – because it is frequently surprising and brings a visual magic to a live medium many might only expect to otherwise see on film. It is, however, very demanding for an ensemble cast, and anything less than perfection can be damning – a second short here can feel like an hour, an inch too long like a mile. The precept is that the visual effects are what hold the thing together, when in fact it is the continuity and aesthetic sum of the performers that do it. On this occasion Tundra was frayed, but still it remains an engrossing piece of visual theatre.
Fernando Melo’s Afterímage is a very subdued second act that relies heavily on the effects of lighting designer Peter Lundin and set designer Yoko Seyama. After the intensity of Tundra it’s somewhat of a relief to be played around with by a variation on Pepper’s Ghost, although the fun of the FX is always in danger of overshadowing what is ultimately run-of-the-mill choreography. Tim Volleman gives the standout performance here in a measured role.
Caroline Finn’s Revellers’ Mass, a climax in so many ways, offers a tableaux of visual and emotional wonders that would daunt any critic with a word count to keep to. How to encapsulate a show of such bravura, such angst and elation, a show that discusses in just thirty-two minutes subjects such as our relationship to God, faith, and ritual, but also has a euphoric and dark sense of humour cutting through it from beginning to uproarious end. Revellers’ Mass is boundless in its energy, searing in its seriousness, and is gloriously funny.
The references are too many to mention, from Petronius to DaVinci to Ken Russell and each one hits its mark. The soundtrack, played out with the flashes of bone-crunching, muscle-churning brilliance from the dancers now quite characteristic of Finn’s visual language, moves from Pergolesi to the Tehran Vocal Ensemble (and memorably ends with Edith Piaf), as a scene of unfurling debauchery and cataclysm spills out from the quiet of a mass. Ed Myhill as a straight-faced Urban Grandier-type is the figure who holds all this together, but as usual, the female dancers – among them the brilliant Julia Rieder, Marine Tournet, and particularly Elena Sgarbi – are set free in virtuoso solos and stand offs.
Revellers’ Mass is stunning cavalcade of ideas and questions that simultaneously asks for control from its dancers and allows them creative freedom. Anyone who has followed Finn’s works with NDCWales over the last few years might also identify it as a summation of her work to date, a defining point of an artistic journey – from Folk to Green House, and even with the resurrection of Bernadette last year – we have the work of an artist who has now found a way to discuss the things she wants to discuss in the way she wants to discuss them. NDCWales shows here it has a company of extremely talented technicians and dancers, but also the creative energies, with the boldness and expertise to envision them, seem also to be at a peak.
Awakenings is on tour around the UK, more details can be found here.