Jane Oriel is at the Riverfront in Newport to review a surreal, exhilarating performance of Stories from a Crowded Room by Ballet Cymru.
Have you ever felt alone in a crowded room?
Arriving at the Riverfront, we are whisked away to a secret location north of the city that turns out to be Ballet Cymru’s practice den in an industrial estate, next to a bread factory. Disorientated, some fifty of us are ushered inside to a compact theatrical space, constricted to its size though rigid tube and taught canvas walls. Milling around, we fidget and try to look at ease in this new space while knowing the performance could begin in any square metre, at any time.
It does. One, then two, five then eight, begin a sequence of repeated moves, turns, innocuous standing, walking moves where each character portrays themselves as painfully self-conscious, too insecure to make firm eye contact. The act of promenading the room’s perimeter suggests an art exhibition to look at the paintings, anything, except each other. Two live musicians on guitars and drums outside the space, do much to structure mood which intensifies gradually, incrementally and the performers can no longer evade each other nor us, them. Bodies hurl themselves to be caught or dropped, great lifts and jumps break into our midst and at chapter breaks, individual dancers stop the action to speak or sing into a microphone, moving us deeper into personal space territory. Alex draws us moist sweat close, around him. “I’m sorry I didn’t take out the bins.” “I’m sorry I was too tired for sex.” “I’m sorry”, he speaks to one after another audience member, compromising both sides’ expected roles. Messing with roles and norms too, the composer musicians Rhian Williams and Eric Martin Kamosi periodically enter the fray to dramatic effect. One section sees Martin Kamosi stride through us at pace, forcefully wielding his bass to a far corner where a raw and impassioned love duet unfolds to his insinuous, almost peeping Tom, sonic presence.
We the audience shuffle and side step, then almost imperceptibly, what began as unsettling and comfort-denying starts to feel normal and oddly, the events invade my unconscious and I catch myself. As verbal, physical and musical dialogues of insecurity, apology, desire, disappointment and love won, lost or wholesomely enjoyed are played out in chapters, I can only concede to where I am being taken. So where are we being taken?
Deep into ourselves via a troupe of willing conduits it would seem. By the end, much is crystal clear. Don’t be afraid to lose. Or win. Or fall in love. And yes, the old adage of it being better to have loved and lost etcetera, is absolutely true tonight. Having begun as a disparate catalogue of moves, words, sounds making half elucidated stories, by the end has become the most rewarding slap around the chops. The room offered no hiding place, and neither did the transient subliminal spirits who guided us to differentiate between what’s real and what is not, both in our not so padded cell here tonight and in our psyche and our own relationships. I feel exhilarated. I feel released and strong.