As the choreographer and dancer Phil Williams prepares to take his Cascade Dance Theatre on their first tour of Wales, Jane Oriel shares a conversation with him about the life changing power of dance.
Jane Oriel: Dance in Wales seems to be in a pretty good place at the moment with the likes of National Dance Company Wales, Gwyn Emberton and your company, Cascade, currently presenting new and exciting works. How do you see the situation?
Phil Williams: It really is. It’s great that high quality dance is being supported here in Wales. I think each of the companies you mention are bringing very different things to Wales and its audiences. Gwyn brings full evening works, rich in Welsh narrative and Cascade bring a varied program of work from international and Wales based choreographers. Both companies have very high standards, bringing quality work to Wales.
How long have you danced?
I started dancing at 16 when still in school. That was twenty three years ago now.
Did they offer you lessons in school, or did you have to go to a club?
It was a great time then, dance was offered at GCSE and A level but I started with the after school club run on a Thursday. Not many schools offer dance in the curriculum these days.
True. I did it at school too, with a Martha Graham student. I’m sorry it’s lacking these days.
Yes. The school had a very passionate dance teacher who fought hard to have it and keep it on at my school.
Authorities really don’t understand how an enthusiast in arts can change the course of a person’s life in such a positive way, such as yours.
What made you decide to form your own company?
I had been a dancer for many years both here in Wales with Diversions (now NDCWales), and in the UK with various companies. During my time with Diversions, I was offered a chance to choreograph as part of their Alternative Routes season. That’s where I got really excited about making work. It was a long time coming though. After I had stopped performing, I worked as a freelance choreographer and movement director working for other companies. In wasn’t until 2013 that I really started to think seriously about starting my own company and presenting my own work that way.
Was that final decision purely to enhance your creative options?
Having your own company gives a little more freedom and control. It becomes my vision, not somebody else’s. I get to choose my dancers and collaborators, and invest in them and the work. Working as a freelancer is great but it’s very short term. You go in, make the work and move on.
For this project I have worked with the dancers and composer over two R&D periods and the final creation time. The other choreographers for the tour I have known a long time so have an ongoing relationship with them too.
You named your troupe Cascade Dance Theatre. Does the inclusion of the word Theatre have any special relevance?
We are a contemporary dance company. Contemporary dance has many genres within it. As we have a triple bill of work (Quite Discontinuous, Poppet and Collidron), we include three of these sub-genres. A Dance theatre work, a pure dance work and a physical movement work. Each has a special and specific role within the evening which allows us to present a varied program of dance. So “Theatre” gives us a wider scope I think, to bring the best of very different works to audiences. The company creates and tours mixed programmes that offer a wide perspective on contemporary dance, presenting work that pushes boundaries in the art form and also inspires and entertains.
For Collidron, you are supported by a live percussion score. Was it composed along with the dance, or did it exist as a stand-alone piece that you came to?
I worked with the composer and performer Harriet Riley in the dance studio. She worked with us during our R&D and we were supported by Ty Cerdd which allowed Harriet to work with us to compose a new score along with the dance. It was great to have her in the studio during creation so that the work developed together as a whole.
That must have been mutually inspiring.
Yes it was, and for the whole team. It’s great that she gets to tour with us to perform live at every performance too.
With funding making it possible for you to take this tour to several venues around Wales, how important do you think is it to challenge new audiences away from the main cities?
It’s very important. We are a Welsh company, supported mainly by Arts Council Wales along with Ty Cerdd, Wales Dance Consortium, Creu Cymru and Taliesin Arts Centre Swansea. Our tour will take us to many parts of Wales.
I’m not sure that I’m looking to challenge audiences exactly but I believe that taking quality work to these areas is important. I started my dancing in Ebbw Vale, then a steel-working town. If it wasn’t for the fact that I had that passionate teacher who brought companies like Diversions and Earthfall to do workshops with us, I might not be doing this today.
Our role now is to build on existing audiences and excite and inspire future dancers, performers, choreographers, artists no matter if they live in a city or not. Taking International work and artists and presenting the best possible work to audiences around Wales is very important to us. The option to see great work, in whatever art form, should not be a postcode lottery. Taking these works around Wales will be a challenge, but one that the company are excited for be taking on.
You can see Cascade Dance Theatre’s Autumn tour at the following venues: Taliesin Arts Centre, Swansea (Nov 3rd); Blackwood Miners’ Institute (Nov 7th); Torch Theatre, Milford Haven (Nov 9th); Theatre Mwldan, Cardigan (Nov 11th); Neuadd Dwyfor, Pwllheli (Nov 15th); Aberystwyth Arts Centre (Nov 18th); Wrexham Stiwt (Nov 22nd); Borough Theatre, Abergavenny (Nov 23rd); and Muni Arts Centre, Pontypridd (Nov 25th).
Visit www.cascadedancetheatre.co.uk for further information.
(Photo credits: Roy Campbell-Moore)