Aaron Facer catches the new touring production from, Tri Darn / Three Works, from Ballet Cymru at the Riverfront Theatre in Newport.
For three beautifully presented works that would manage wonderfully in isolation, together they work not only as a showcase of dance created by some of the most exciting female artists working today but also as a manifesto for ballet and for any interpretive art. The variety is astounding. One work is a celebration of harpist and Ballet Cymru patron Catrin Finch’s music; the second an exposition of current divisions in society; and then the final piece is an experimental and sensually stunning engagement with functioning systems and our own balance with the natural and technological parts of our world. However different, all three demonstrate and invite an act of interpretation.
Musically, Celtic Concerto is in three parts: Jig a Jig, Hiraeth and Solstice – a collaboration between Finch and composer John Rutter. With the simplicity of both costume and set, the synthesis of music and movement is exposed in the first of the three works. There is elegance in the minimalism of this work, the only stage decoration being a projected Celtic pattern in the background. In plain black-and-grey outfits, the animation and motion of each dancer are at the forefront of attention.
The achievement of Darius James and Amy Doughty’s choreography is a beautiful rawness on the stage, the entire swell of emotion in the music translated perfectly into motion. The rapid adagios in Solstice are mirrored by the kingfisher-like movement on the stage, the dancer’s legs like the vibrating strings of an instrument. In the quiet brooding of Hiraeth, the dancers move elegantly and smoothly as if they are an inch off the stage floor.
For all of its aesthetic minimalism, there is a mythic quality on the stage, possibly due to the music and the pattern in the background. Nonetheless, this quality is engaged beautifully in the choreography. It feels like the evocation of a past that is half-imagined and half-present, the result being entrancing and mesmerising.
Any flirting with mythological enchantments is immediately done away with by the dynamism of the second part. There are tension and drama pouring from the stage, the baroque explosion of Henry Purcell’s music blasting any echo of the last work from the air. The drama evident in Patricia Vallis’ choreography, the emotion in the movement seems deeper and darker. The dancers wear thin kilts, suggesting a kind of tribalism as fractions and cliques are pitted against each other. The theme of division is also presented through the stage decoration. A light rig is lowered into view, creating a clear horizontal line from left to right: perhaps both a symbol of fracturing and of binary oppositions.
The most captivating part of Divided We Stand is its last section, as three pairs grapple together and express a tension between male and female. The movement of the male dancers is at times subtle, but is also antagonistic and confining. It is an obvious power struggle between female and male as well as between mind and body. Almost paradoxically, there seem to be moments of tenderness in this section where both members of the pairs mirror each other, acting almost symbiotically. Together, they stretch out to the air and reach out, as if what drives the struggle is a mutual desire or need. But it is never reached as the image repeats itself, a motif haunting the stage.
Balance is the theme presented in the final work, played out physically and conceptually as Wired to the Moon goes on. The aesthetic sparsity of the first two works is done away with. Two stacks of T.V. screens are piled and plants are placed behind and beside them, almost as if they’re sprouting from the screens. A two-hour countdown on a clock is suspended in the air and white wooden boxes are scattered on the floor. How the dancers interact with these boxes is the main point of attention before the music starts – and it continues to be important throughout – visually presenting this theme of balance, of fragility and risk. Even the costumes reflect the theme: the dancers in black suits with white underclothes beneath. The ratio of dark-to-light shifts as more of the dancers strip off jackets and trousers.
Early on, all but one of the dancers sit on their boxes like kids in a schoolroom. Only there is no joking around or playing – only total, unsupervised uniformity and disconnection from those around them. Each box is its own planet. But as the last dancer comes on, the stage bustles to life. The urban field music of traffic and crowds is slowly drowned out by Katya Richardson’s score, which in itself exists in a balance between organic orchestral music and electronica.
Halfway through, the music fades to introduce natural sounds of birdsong, flowing water and the buzzing of bees. As the piece goes on and the timer in the air speeds up, the sense of an inevitable end being at hand becomes stronger. This is exemplified by the ticking of a stopwatch which gets louder as the piece draws to a finish, suggesting the catastrophic implications of a lack of balance between our developing world and our natural environment.
These Three Works certainly fit the bill they set themselves: showcasing some of the best dance produced by female artists and some of the best dance made in Wales. But it also manages to move beyond this. The whole performance is really a presentation of the power of the art form itself. It is first shown simply and at its bare bones, but as the symbolism and emotion onstage rocket, so does the magic.
For more information on Tri Darn‘s performance dates, visit the Ballet Cymru website here.
For more Ballet Cymru content on the Wales Arts Review website, click here.