Review Ballet Cymru – The Same Flame/Week of Pines, Riverfront Theatre, Newport by 3rd Age Critic Barbara Michaels

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Ballet Cymru has justifiably earned the reputation of going, artistically speaking, where no man – or woman – has previously dared to tread.   This double bill proves the point with a combination of contemporary dance and, in the first half, a score by award-winning Welsh composer Thomas Hewitt Jones which incorporates a major choral input, and in the second half the music of folk song.

The Same Flame

Music: Thomas Hewitt Jones

Choreography: Darius James, Amy Doughty & company dancers

The dancers of Ballet Cymru showcase their expertise in this piece, based on a 35-minute choral work portraying Olympic values, with lyrics by Matt Harvey sung by the equally skilled Vivum Singers. The combination, in itself unusual, becomes even more so when guest artist Suzie Birchwood makes her entrance. Birchwood, who won a full scholarship to train at the London Studio Centre when she was 16, but had her training cut short a year later by the onset of generalized dystonia which has left her requiring wheelchair assistance, would emphatically not want this aspect of her life dwelt upon in relation to her dancing. So I shall only say that the determination required to appear on stage as a dancer in a choreographed piece that includes lifts and pointe work is mind-boggling.   If that in itself is not deserving of an accolade, then the high standard of Birchwood’s work is even more so.

Darius James is a name well-known to those familiar with the work of Ballet Cymru, and here as is the norm with him he makes huge demands of his team of dancers who rise to the challenge with an evident enthusiasm. This is contemporary dance but James is not afraid to acknowledge, and at times make use of, traditional ballet steps and format, and does so with a seamless expertise which adds much to the success of the performance. The choral input by the Vivum Singers is considerable and of a high standard, but there is a caveat here, in that at times attention is inevitably split between the dancers on stage and the singing.

Week of Pines

Music and vocals: Georgia Ruth

Choreography: Darius James, Amy Doughy and dancers of the company.

A complete change of style, mood and scene for this work by Aberystwyth songwriter, singer and harpist Georgia Ruth, whose debut album is danced to here.   Accompanying herself on the harp, and singing in both Welsh and English, backed by guitar, reed organ, bass and drums, Ruth’s is a talent which cannot be denied. Judging by the audience reaction, and conversations in the bar afterwards, many of the audience came specifically for this and, with each of six tracks telling a different story, there was undoubtedly an extra dimension to be gained for those familiar with the album.. However, for those more intent on the structure and performance as applied to the dance interpretation, some explanatory programme notes would have been helpful. Choreographing such a piece is far from easy, and while the dancers did their best to follow the mood swings of the score it did at times take its toll.

Overall, an exciting and innovative double bill danced by a company of nine dancers all of whom display considerable talent. It remains to be seen whether or not Ballet Cymru’s declared objective of bringing in those who are wary of traditional ballet succeeds. Judging by the enthusiastic reception, it may well have done so.

Barbara Michaels

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