BLOG Oliver Heath

NWR Issue r36

National Dance Company Wales: KIN

Contemporary dance as an artistic medium may appear difficult from a spectator’s perspective. Its routines are frequently long, with a variety of intricacies packed into their runtimes, demanding a great deal of physical exertion from performers. The narratives and ideas portrayed in their dances often appear abstract and can be challenging for audiences to discern. Nevertheless, with the three routines showcased in their KIN performance, on 25 February, the National Dance Company Wales (NDCW) has created a show of modern dance that soundly bridges these differences between dancers and audiences, is accessible to people of many backgrounds and is rich with artistic content that expresses the ability of its dancers. This early showing at Aberystwyth Arts Centre demonstrated the goals of the show and the company overall: to create and utilise new styles of dance with the purpose of bringing people together.

Routines penned by the NDCW’s choreographers regularly venture into non-conventional forms of dance, in an effort to create original dancing styles. To choreographer Fearghus Ó Conchúir, these forms of dance share much in common with poetic literature rather than prose, as it can be more interpretive and expressive than rigidly structured. The merits of this approach are quickly made apparent in KIN’s opening dance, 'Rygbi: Yma/Here', premiered by a group of younger dancers prior to the show before airing the full twenty-five-minute routine with the company’s professional dancers. In this process, the versatility of the dance is shown, bringing together disparate types of performance under one banner. 'Rygbi' itself, choreographed by Ó Conchúir, has been performed at a number of locations prior to its inclusion in KIN, from the National Eisteddfod 2019 to the Rugby World Cup of the same year, in Japan. Each show builds on the dance’s development and brings it to new audiences. As for the performance itself, the NDCW’s dancers and choreographers have stated that the purpose of 'Rygbi' is not simply to replicate the beloved national sport but to understand its appeal and translate that into the radically different medium of dance. Particular attention is given to the ways in which bodies connect in rugby; the group dynamic of the dancers used to great effect, producing a series of unorthodox and captivating motions that transition into moments that borrow from the rugby iconography of scrums and celebrations, serving as emotional high points in the routine. These elements come together in an excellent display of talent that is both a celebration of the sport and something entirely unique.

'2067: Time and Time and Time', the second act of the KIN lineup, set its goals deeper towards being abstract and interpretive. From its disquieting vocal passage, written by choreographer Alexandra Waierstall, to its heightened use of props, '2067' amplified the theatrical elements of dance in its efforts to produce a new, immersive world. One in which the viewer is tasked with coming to their own conclusions. The spoken passage provided a striking moment early in the dance, giving a series of instructions that the dancers carried out in hypnotic fashion. It stood in stark tonal contrast to 'Rygbi', but the idea of connectivity again surfaced via the dancers and the scene created: motions and theatrics in harmony. It created a highly memorable atmosphere that stuck with the viewer long after leaving the theatre.

In contrast, the show’s closing dance, 'Lunatic', was far more explicit in its themes and imagery of war, conscription and anxieties in times of peace. Originally produced by Nigel Charnock and first performed in 2009, the NDCW included the dance in their lineup ten years later, likely owing to its continuing resonance today. Its 1950s iconography speaks to a time in which world conflicts were believed to have been peacefully concluded, only for the unfortunate truth of the matter to be revealed later, a message we see echoed in our recent history. Furthermore, Lunatic’s energetic, often manic style, reflects modern entertainment sensibilities - the ‘Youtube generation', as phrased by Charnock – using a mesmerising sequence of short, evolving scenes that directly engaged with the audience. Its inclusion in the lineup of KIN acted as an effective tribute to Charnock’s work and closed the show in resounding fashion.

KIN provides a highly varied show that remains nevertheless consistent in theme and quality; the talents of its choreographers and dancers come together for a captivating performance that is sure to engage audiences with wildly different degrees of experience in the medium of dance. It lives up to the reputation of the NDCW – to create new forms of dance for all kinds of people – and stands as a solid representation of that philosophy.

Oliver Heath is one of this season’s Digital Cultural Correspondent in a new partnership with Aberystwyth University’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.


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