BLOG Katya Johnson

NWR Issue 110

Shadow of a Quiet Society at Aberystwyth Arts Centre

The premier of Shadow of a Quiet Society, a new dance theatre production by the Gwyn Emberton Dance Company, was performed at Aberystwyth Arts Centre on 20 January as part of a Welsh tour that recently ended. The show was delivered through the medium of contemporary dance and presented a thrilling dramatisation of the internal forces which can affect community and individual life. Stunning choreography and strong performances were seen throughout.

The show follows the award-winning début production of My People, adapted from Caradoc Evans’ book of the same name by Welsh choreographer Gwyn Emberton, and performed at the Arts Centre on 20 March 2014. Like My People, Shadow of a Quiet Society insisted on asking the big questions such as who we are and who we want to be. As the production title hints, psychologist Carl Jung’s theory of the penumbra or ‘shadow’ was a vital part of the production’s conception. ‘A man who is possessed by his shadow is always standing in his own light and falling into his own traps’, explains a sub-heading on the performance flyer. In this production, the presence of the shadow was dramatised by the slinking, sinister movements of the Welsh dance and performance artist Eddie Ladd. She was joined on stage by a cast of five other female dancers, including two alumnae of the National Dance Company of Wales.

The performance was structured into a number of dance movements, or chapters, vitalised by solo dances or more complex group arrangements. In the first of these, one of the cast’s strongest dancers performed a deeply exciting, physically energised piece beneath a white cave-like awning. The percussive musical accompaniment, bare stage and final striking pose of the dancer – a yogic headstand – emphasized the primeval, atavistic dimensions of the production. And the tableaux which followed were equally abstract; in one, a dancer wearing a black Delphic robe scrawled chalk onto the wooden stage like Phaedrus cutting sand; in another, a central figure leashed to the other dancers was tugged to and fro like a driver trying to control a team of wild horses. Later on, a dancer wearing a blood-coloured dress was stripped and shifted about between the shoulders of figures, all of them wearing suits. This was deeply symbolic terrain to me, a realisation through dance of the human psyche’s geography. The compositions of the dance seemed to emphasize how conscious and unconscious urges like sexuality and power, coupled with our struggles to control them, can help to shape us.

I was lucky to have brought one of my friends along for the ride. A contemporary dance aficionado, she explained that the dancers were employing a release-technique style of modern dance which places expression at the core of movement. Though it was obvious that many of the dancers were classically trained, the movements in the production were vigorous, raw and dynamic; they were clearly in conflict with the symmetrical forms of traditional ballet. She explained that this expressive dance arose as part of a collaborative exchange between dancer and choreographer. Her instincts were confirmed after the show when we spoke to one of the dancers in the production. She explained that many of the pieces were devised initially by the dancers and then modified by the choreographer. Impressively, she also said that the dance company had put the entire production together in less than six weeks.

After the show, everyone had different ideas about what the performance meant: some saw Shadow of a Quiet Society as a commentary on gender roles and identity, while others could discern parallels with contemporary politics and the Syrian refugee crisis. Everyone praised the quality of the dancing and choreography, and all enjoyed the brooding atmosphere of the production.

Katya Johnson is a PhD candidate at Aberystwyth University.

Shadow of a Quiet Society is a co-production between Gwyn Emberton Dance and Aberystwyth Arts Centre. Artistic direction and choreography by Gwyn Emberton. Produced by Kate Perridge.

       


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