Wales Dance Platform 2014 is one packed weekend of dance, film and photography spanning 3 of Cardiff’s illustrious theatres: Wales Millennium Centre, Chapter Arts Centre and Sherman Cymru. The aim is to ‘raise the profile and reputation of contemporary dance from Wales and encourage critical debate about the artform.’ Indeed, there was much to debate in just the trio of dances that closed the first day of this exciting venture.
Housed in the Weston Studio of Wales Millennium Centre the first of 3 performances began a little abruptly as a single female dancer embarked on a sequence of repetitious movements to a backdrop of previously filmed images. Music gradually rose to accompany the dancing before she stopped and walked to the edge of the performance area. Three dancers rotated in this pattern, sometimes overlapping or briefly deviating to dance in synchronicity and intermittently stopping to watch the screen with the audience which mainly consisted of a montage of themselves and other dancers performing in a dance studio.
Choreographed by Eleanor Brown and Sally Varrall ,‘Me Dancing’ examines the specific movements of an individual whilst drawing on ‘simplicity, stillness and space.’ Unfortunately, there was rather too much of each of these leaving the performance a little safe, slow and scattered. The performance felt amateurish, the dancing a little sloppy and there was no progression within the piece. This is a showcase of talent designed to inspire debate but it neither pushed any boundaries nor included any one aspect of brilliance which sadly resulted in a rather unremarkable performance.
Thankfully the same cannot be said of Marega Palser’s ‘Sometimes We Look’. This combination of dance, drawing and animation was introduced by Marega herself who started the piece by using salt to draw an intricate design on the floor. A barefoot woman in a red polka dot dress (Belinda Neave) then danced her way over and through the design using the lines and spaces within to influence her movements before leaving the confines of this space and performing an introverted but beautiful routine which was also captured by two silhouettes on the background behind her. The attention then shifted to the other side of the stage where a ballerina all in black tentatively performed an array of delicate movements to eerie but alluring music, giving the piece a dark overtone which flowed over into the next part.
Marega Palser reappeared and, by placing several square drawings in a semicircle around her, created almost a private haven with one of the long black stage curtains as her background, introducing a voyeuristic air to the proceedings. She then began a series of awkward and almost contortionist movements which although interesting, were slightly reminiscent of a yoga class, ending in her hidden from view, wrapped in the curtain. For the finale Marega rolled out a path of her drawings in a diagonal line across the stage, a greater selection of which were also being projected onto the screen behind them as moving animations whilst Belinda danced alongside the path of artwork.
Whist the stage was cleared for the final piece the audience were able to examine the drawings closer which were absolutely beautiful. Using this time to contemplate, I reflected on the different aspects of the piece which formed a story in my mind. The salt drawing laid down by Marega in her slightly mumsy jumper, knee length skirt and court heels put you in mind of a playground and a laying of boundaries by a mother for her child; Belinda in her polka dot dress. Breaking free, she leaves this safety net as she matures and strives for independence, demonstrated in her contrasting solo. The dark dance of the ballerina is a look into the mother’s sinister past and the following contortionist section a glimpse into the demons that still haunt her as she tries to accept her child cannot live within the confines of her overbearing protection forever. Acceptance follows as she maps a final path for her child, quietly fading into the background to allow her to grow up and fly the nest.
Although quite possibly bearing no relation to the choreographer’s intentions, my interpretation allowed me to connect with the piece and therefore find a greater enjoyment of it. And as the programme did not allude to any particular themes, it was left open for the audience to make what they wanted of it. This also seemed to be true of the closing performance of the night. Choreographed and danced by Gareth Chambers, ‘I AM (The Act of Remembering)’ was 15 minutes of absurdity.
Stood in a semicircle the audience watched as, caked head to toe in golden glitter with just a black pair of boxers to protect his modesty, Gareth Chambers unwrapped and laid out about 10 packets of lard which he proceeded to coat in the same gold glitter that adorned him before stepping onto it. This was done in utter silence; each slab of lard fetched from just offstage, unwrapped and placed just so as the audience grew more and more intrigued. This went on long enough to draw some nervous giggling from the crowd which turned into hearty laughter as, finished with the rather slipperly lard, Gareth attempted to prise the lid off the glitter jar, delicately wiping his hands on his pants to aid him. This done, the music finally kicked in and a strangely erotic dance began.
Feet sunk firmly into the lard, head thrown back and eyes closed in what looked a little like ecstasy, the dancing was both sensual and extravagant and certainly made for an interesting visual as the light shimmered over his golden body. And then the pants came off and yes, it was just as gold and glittering as the rest of him. He continued to dance as before, alternating between standing and kneeling and once even lying down whilst slathering himself in the lard. I’m not sure a strong message or the inspiration behind the piece was truly conveyed, but love it or hate it, I can’t deny that it was one of the most fearless performances I have witnessed and I will certainly be talking about it for some time to come!