Judith Mackrell, The Guardian-Triple Bill

Judith Mackrell, The Guardian

Tuesday 1 December 2015

3 stars

Ballet Cymru Triple Bill, Lilian Baylis Studio, London

Cerys Matthews joins dancers for mercurial performance

The singer makes a major contribution to a show inspired by her album of Welsh folk music, part of the bold dance company’s mixed programme

What a cheerleader Ballet Cymru have in Cerys Matthews. As the company’s patron, she’s not only gifted permission for their work Tir to be based on songs from her Welsh album of the same name, but she’s on stage with the dancers, performing the material live.

Viewed purely as dance, Tir is a maverick experience. As Matthews introduces each of the songs, she chats irrepressibly about herself and her connection with the company – a heroic product of Newport, which is “a town that even Wales forgets”. And she’s so winning a personality, so mercurial a performer (her voice ranging beautifully across the minimalist, raunchy and haunting styles of her material) that she distracts from the actual limits of the choreography. While Darius James and Amy Doughty sensibly aim to evoke mood rather than narrative, too much of the movement feels like a cute side order to the songs. Best are the solos, which evolve into a proper dialogue between lyrics and dance: a study in grieving staggered lines to a lament of unrequited love; a swaggering mix of disco and ballet to the song of an errant tinker.

Some of the company look inexperienced, and in the slower lifts and balances of Celtic Concerto they’re technically overexposed. But James and Doughty also play to their strengths and in the bright allegro sections, which scud sweetly over Catrin Finch’s titular score, they look far more easy and assured.

Choreographically the best of the evening is Marc Brew’s Traces Imprinted. Structurally it doesn’t always gel, but its exploration of the ways in which bodies interact, through touch, through partnering and across space is achieved through some grownup, inventive dance. How good it is, too, to see men partnering men in ballet, women partnering women.

Ballet Cymru are small, but they’re bold.

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