National Dance Company Wales’ one night stand at The Place was an exciting experience that opened with a lyrical duet by Lee Johnston, continued with a witty post-modern work by Alexander Ekman and culminated in Caroline Finn’s startling and theatrical creation Folk.

In Johnston’s carefully constructed and very beautiful They Seek To Find the Happiness They Seem, Matteo Marfoglia and Elena Thomas moved in harmonious synchrony through perfectly spaced floor patterns, conveying togetherness with a sense of separation; familiarity alongside lack of communication.

Ekman’s Tuplet began with the lights up in the auditorium, stage hands laying out mats and a dancer moving rhythmically to the sound of her own breath, while film projected on the backdrop showed speaking mouths and moving hands. Blurring the preparation with the performance is not a new idea, but the dance developed into a fascinating work that questioned the arbitrary connections that we have built between words, sounds and movement: in one scene, a silhouetted dancer moved across the stage, like a figure in a frieze, seeming to follow instructions from the voice-over sound track; in another, a line of dancers responded to the sound of a series of names, repeating movements while the lights switched on and off to the sound of a camera shutter, capturing the dancers’ images as if they were caught in a strip of film negatives.

Finns’ Folk is a remarkable conception. The auditorium was cleared to set the stage (there was no ambiguity this time about when the interval ended and the dance began!) and we returned to see a spectacular tree, hanging from above, its roots a web of tendrils reaching down towards the stage. Beneath it a solitary figure swept leaves into a heap, until the lights gradually revealed a group of dancers stage left, frozen in poses that were grotesque in their stillness, and a woman slowly emerged from beneath the leaves and joined them. An eclectic soundtrack that began with the theme from the Tales of Hoffmann added to the notion that these were figures from European fairy tales. Finn’s movement vocabulary is creative and varied: dancers glide from side to side in bourrées on half pointe, or advance in groups with shoulders undulating and backs arching like animals, or are lifted up as if trying to climb towards daylight. The rustling leaves, the shadows and subdued golden light, the feeling of being underground, and the tension between the outsider and the clan evoke the mystery of a folktale without specific narrative; the dancers seem to be both creatures of the earth and magical figments of a collective imagination.

This was an exhilarating evening and the applause of the audience was rapturous. For more information about this excellent company, including future performances, see their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/NDCWales or website http://www.ndcwales.co.uk/en/what-s-on/folk/

Maggie Watson

13 April 2016

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