Sunday, 21 May 2017

The Light Princess - a Special Ballet for a Special Company

Copyright 2017 Ballet Cymru: all rights reserved
Reproduced with kind permission of the company

BalletCymru The Light Princess, Riverfront Theatre, Newport 20 May 2017, 19:30

In 2015 Ballet Cymru's Cinderella was my ballet of the year and its Tir was the runner-up (see Highlights of 2015 29 Dec 2015. Last year Gwenllian Davies was my young female dancer of the year for her magnificent performance as Juliet on 5 Nov 2016 (see The Terpsichore Titles: Outstanding Young Dancers of 2016 28 Dec 2016 and A Romeo and Juliet for our Times  7 Nov 2016). Quite remarkable, I think you will agree, for a small company in a city with a slightly smaller population than Huddersfield some 140 miles from London.

Yesterday I tried to put my finger on what made Ballet Cymru special and this is what I concluded.

First, the company is lucky to have as artistic directors Darius James and Amy Doughty who are two of the finest choreographers on the British stage. Their ballets with expansive upper body movements and sudden spins, whether chaînés, fouettés or pirouettes, are thrilling to watch. James and Doughty create their work in collaboration their dancers with the result that every movement showcases the artist's personality as well as the vision of the choreographers. Each of those artists is young at peak strength and energy, When James unfurls them, as he does at the end of company class, they are a wonder to behold (see Ballet Cymru at Home 5 Oct 2015).

Secondly, this company is unmistakably Welsh. Its dancers may come from all parts of the world and it visits nearly every part of the United Kingdon on tour but its credentials are entirely cymric.  The company's name, after all, is "Ballet Cymru" - never "Ballet Wales", the literal translation. There are Welsh characters even in Romeo a Juliet and Cinderella: Juliet's confidante in Romeo a Juliet is Cerys, Cinderella's half-witted step brother is named Cas and her step sister is called Seren. The backdrops projected onto the screen are created digitally from scenes of Wakes ranging from the subway under the arterial road near the Riverfront Theatre in Romeo a Juliet to Lake Bala in The Light Princess. More importantly, the company commissions scores from outstanding Welsh composers like Jack White who wrote the music for Cinderella and Stuck in the Mud and Catrin Finch who contributed Celtic Concerto as well as The Light Princess to the company's repertoire. I am most grateful to Ballet Cymru for introducing me to those composers.  I am now a fan of both.

Thirdly, James and Doughty make clever use of technology. I have already mentioned the projected backdrops which are designed for the theatres around this island which might struggle with conventional scenery. Yesterday, there were gently floating images as the overture concentrated our thoughts on weightlessness. We saw circus hoops courtesy, no doubt, of Citrus Arts who had previously worked with Ballet Cymru on Cinderella.  For those who had not read the programme or my preview, the synopsis in two languages flashed onto the gauze with occasional directions to the audience such as "hiss". Did you know that the Welsh for "hiss" is "his"?

Like The Sleeping Beauty, George McDonald's story begins with a christening for a princess to which three of her relations had not been invited. Like Carabosse those relations were witches but, instead of sending the royal household to sleep for 100 years (a fate that Exeunt's Anna Winter might regard as lenient (see Exeunt's Ballet Reviews - Mayerling and Casanova 12 May 2017) they made her weightless with the result that she had to be tethered with ropes. The king and queen consulted Kopy-Keck and Hum-Drum, Chinese experts in spells as to what might be done but they offered conflicting and equally useless advice. At a water carnival on Lake Bala, the princess discovered that she could acquire weight under water. She nearly floated away again when a visiting prince dived into the lake to rescue her for which gallantry he received no thanks at all from the princess. Realizing that their spell did not work in water the witches tried to drain the lake. They were foiled when the prince offered his body to plug the drain. The prince's willingness to sacrifice himself for the love of the princess broke the spell. A cartwheeling king and equally ecstatic queen allow the princess to marry her rescuer. All, no doubt, lived happily ever after.

Anna Pujol, who had delighted the Millennium Centre as Little Red Riding Hood before Christmas (see Ballet Cymru's "Sleeping Beauty Moment" 5 Dec 2016), danced the princess. She showed formidable strength and artistic versatility with her floorwork representing her swimming and her adeptness with hoops. Her prince, Andrea Maria Battagia, partnered her gallantly. I loved Robbie Moorcroft's performance as king (particularly his cartwheels) and was impressed by Beth Meadway, a recent recruit to the company, as queen. I was also impressed by another recruit, Miles Carrott, who complemented Miguel Fernnades and Natalie Debono as the vindictive, serpentine witches. Gwenllian Davies was one of the experts and the magnificent Krystal Lowe (anything but humdrum) was the other.  Davies showed that she can dance character roles as convincingly as she can dance Juliet. Daniel Morrison danced the butler and Ann Wall the nurse with their usual flair. Each of those roles offered the dancers a chance to shine and shine they did.

Something that made last night particularly special was the appearance of Catrin Finch in the orchestra pit. This was not the first time that the company had performed with live musicians.  The last time I saw them they shared the stage with the entire National Orchestra of Wales, but it was the first time that I had seen them with their own ensemble and the result was magic. Sadly, the musicians cannot follow the company everywhere so the performances at Bury St Edmunds, Llanelli, Milford Haven, Stevenage and Newcastle under Lyme will make do with recorded music.

Those performances will still be worth seeing.  This is the best ballet that I have seen from this company ever and it is the best new ballet that I have seen so far this year from any company.

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