Tom Wentworth reviews Transition – a National Theatre Wales production in association with Theatr Iolo and Run Ragged.
Ella is eleven years old and ballet mad, whilst Jem will be fifty next year and is a professional contemporary dancer. They are a real life father and daughter and have created Transition together, the result of which is a tender and funny glimpse into their very special relationship, told through dance, snatches of dialogue, video and audio. The show itself appears to be simple – from it’s set, comprising of household items, including at the centre of which is the ‘dance rug’ which lives in the Treays’ kitchen and on which Jem and Ella have always danced together; to it’s structure where solos and duets, which build from the slow to at times frenetic in tempo, are linked by sparky dialogue around why they wanted to perform the show, their differing dance tastes and how their relationship has been shaped by dancing together. The audience was delighted to see them performing together, with great generosity to each other as gradually, the piece builds from Ella, alone at the beginning, to both performers completely filling the space by the end.
Not a moment is wasted and the multimedia elements add an imaginative layer to the production. Home video is projected onto the set of both Ella and Jem in private, unguarded moments of dance or movement. From Jem’s energetic exploration of a routine in his kitchen to Ella’s freedom as she bounces and plays on a trampoline. The videos often foreshadow or underline an element or movement which then appears in the show itself, whilst the regular pieces of audio give us valuable insights into family life, from Jem’s ‘to do list’ to Ella and Jem in heated (and very funny) debate in rehearsals.
However, there are times during the performance, especially when father and daughter are maintaining body contact and he finishes by cradling her, that the piece feels almost too private and personal to be watching; although the continual contrast of pieces, style and content, was never anything less than compelling. (Coincidentally, it was fascinating to sit behind some of Ella’s peers, who, pre-show, formed a mass of excited noise but who, for during the performance, sat captivated. There is a suggestion here that this piece might encourage all ages to explore dance.)
The show comes to a close (far too soon), by concentrating on the title and central theme which it describes as ‘the process or period of changing from one state or condition to the other.’ Ella describes her wishes for the future which range from doing her exams, to maybe having a boyfriend to, thankfully, wanting to create more shows. Meanwhile, Jem’s thoughts are about growing older but, saying that he hopes as time goes on to ‘move more gracefully.’
Transition also has the accolade of not only commencing year 5 of National Theatre Wales programme, but also to be the first full production to grow out of the company’s WalesLab programme. Transition is certainly a shining example of what development time and money (it is produced in association with Theatr Iolo and Run Ragged) can achieve and should give us hope for the future.
For more Wales Arts Review coverage of National Theatre Wales, including news, reviews, and interviews, click here.