BLOG Katya Johnson

NWR Issue 111

Folk, Tuplet & A Mighty Wind

“What would life be without rhythm?” asks a sassy American voice during a scene-change in Tuplet. It is a fitting epigraph for the whole evening’s performance: a presentation of three contemporary dance pieces performed back-to-back at the theatre of the Aberystwyth Arts Centre, starring National Dance Company Wales. Some audience members may have already been familiar with Tuplet from its tour at the Arts Centre last year, but A Mighty Wind and Folk were fresh off the shelf – the former, choreographed by Jeroen Verbruggen captured ‘the intensity of a storm, set against the power generated by an alternative rock music concert’ and the latter, Folk, choreographed by the company’s new artistic director Caroline Finn, had its world premiere that evening.

Though they were presented as a triptych and performed by a near-identical cast of dancers, Folk, Tuplet and A Mighty Wind presented three completely different vocabularies of movement and music. Tuplet, felt the most modern and experimental of the three – with dancers body-popping on moveable plastic sheets that looked like yoga mats, and quickly responding to barely audible rhythmic or musical cues. A Mighty Wind, described as a ‘rock ballet’ by one of the dancers in the post-performance Q&A, made at times stunningly effect use of stage fans, and had a camp aesthetic, with dancers prancing about in billowing, androgynous silver shirts.

Of the three, Folk was my hands-down favourite, and acted as the perfect dénouement to the evening’s entertainments. The magical atmosphere of the piece was initially signposted by the presence of an enormous tree suspended in the air above the stage. Then a female figure cracked out from a pile of yellow leaves scattered about its base like a modern-day Cleopatra unfurling from her rug. The energy of the piece built slowly and organically, responding to a group of dancers amassed stage right. There was something tense and surreal about this huddled group of ‘villagers’; their movements were odd and restrained, like a community of jittering asylum escapees. As the piece developed, their movements became more expansive and complex, responding to the ebb and flow of the music behind them, sometimes reminiscent of the French village with Barcarolle waltzes and strains of gypsy jazz. Visually, Folk was very pleasing, but the quality of the dancing and choreography was also extremely high, featuring complex group compositions and duets – where the eye was often drawn to a number of competing scenes and dramatisations. Overall, the tone of piece was pastoral and celebratory, and its odd and unhinged qualities happily prevented ‘folk’ from slipping into ‘volk’.

After the performance, choreographer Caroline Finn was present along with three of the dancers for an informal Q&A session. In it she explained her vision for the piece: she wanted to create a “surreal universe … with lots of different stories taking place”. A Hispanic dancer from the company explained that for him Folk was “a piece about social dynamics … about how people behave as part of a group.” During the Q&A session the audience got a sense of the different life cycles of the pieces, directed by various European choreographers, bought and sold, passed through different hands and performed in different contexts. As well as offering an insight into how the world of contemporary dance production works, it underscored the breadth and variety of National Dance Company Wales’ repertoire. Folk, Tuplet & A Mighty Wind were three very different projects, but their contrasts and differences all contributed to a very rich and rewarding performance. Contemporary dance at its very best.

This blog post was written in April 2016 during the National Dance Company Wales spring tour. They will be touring these pieces across Europe over the rest of the year. For more information visit National Dance Company Wales .

Katya Johnson is a PhD Candidate in English & Creative Writing at Aberystwyth University.


       


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