ft. Ballet Cymru, Georgia Ruth and her band, Thomas Hewitt Jones and The Vivum Singers
at the Riverfront Theatre, Newport
Following the critical and commercial success last year of Ballet Cymru’s collaboration with Cerys Matthews (where the cutesy roots music that Matthews has made her modus vivendi was put to Darius James’ and Amy Doughty’s choreography) the Riverfront Theatre in Newport hosts a show that is in many ways a sequel to Tir, a conservative extension of that success, and the tentative steps of the production are felt throughout.
There is much of interest here – the delicate folk of Georgia Ruth entangled with the always interesting explorative ethos of Ballet Cymru; Ballet Cymru’s new look troupe – with the marvellous front line of Emily Pimm Edwards and Daisuke Miaura moved on to pastures new, there is a chance to see the apprentices step up to the plate; a new collaboration between composer and conductor Thomas Hewitt Jones and poet Matt Harvey for the first half’s The Same Flame; a chance to see the Vivum Singers perform The Same Flame for the first time. There is a great deal of talent on display, but somewhere it all seems to lose its balance, to wobble and teeter, and ultimately proves to be a brief, repetitive, curiously half-hearted, unsatisfactory show.
The first half, The Same Flame, as a lead up to Georgia Ruth, Welsh Music Prize winner for the album that will be choreographed here, Week of Pines, is the perfect example of how the balance comes undone. It is an uncomfortable partner to Week of Pines’ slightly discombobulating happy hippy hipster concept (which is something I didn’t find in the album itself), although the dancers do a sturdy job of papering over the cracks. Hewitt Jones’ music is strong when drawing on the bouncier rhythms of the likes of Steve Reich and Terry Riley, and there are moments when it might have become quite exciting, but too often did the edginess slope into schmaltz and a grating sub-par Gilbert and Sullivan (which, where I come from, is about as low as it gets). The Vivum Singers did a wonderful job with some extremely dubious lyrical turns; their sound is warm and lifting, and at times gave undue gravitas to verse that, if meant to be comical, missed that trick, too.
The Same Flame, inspired by ‘Olympism’, started sprightly, but was prone to repetition. Lydia Arnoux, of whom I am on record as being a great admirer, continues to stand out in the company. She is now front and centre, where I hope to see her for the next few seasons at least. Her style combines the crisp discipline of a grafter with the fluency and sensuality of a natural dancer, an artist. For some there was an air of ‘going through the motions’ during The Same Flame, such was the lack of narrative to which to attach a heart and soul, but Arnoux seemed to create a narrative all of her own, a back story and character arc that pulled everyone else on stage closer to her. Anette Antal, Natalie Debono, Krystal Lowe and guest artist Suzie Birchwood were also excellent in turn, suggesting life after Pimm Edwards for Ballet Cymru will most likely be one rich in the pickings.
The second half welcomed Georgia Ruth to the stage with her band to perform an abridged version of her award-winning album to dance accompaniment. The concept appeared to be loosely based around a teen hippy experience, but unfortunately ended up closer to the plastic beach party of an Apple promo, camp fires and hipster sing-alongs, each healthy middle class teen handed gap year props by the marketing department of a huge shiny advertising company. It was clichéd from the centre outwards, from the movement to the narrative. Georgia Ruth and her band were curiously lacking in charisma or stage presence, positioned at the back of the stage against a faux brick backdrop. Sadly, as the dancers came on, the scene looked eerily reminiscent of a nightclub gig that had only sold fifteen tickets. That is not to say the dancers did not put their shoulders to the wheel – they pushed the half-heartedness of Ruth’s performance and the concept as a whole through to a swift finale; but there was a feeling all round that this was an honourable if largely forgettable evening, certainly to be lost amidst the memories Ballet Cymru (and Georgie Ruth) can instil.