November 2021

Ballet Cymru’s Giselle treats the well known story in a fresh and original way that nevertheless respects the original text.  Both the score by Catrin Finch and Lee Child, and the choreography (attributed to Amy Doughty, Darius James and dancers of the company) draw on the nineteenth century ballet to create something completely new.  There are musical quotations from Adolphe Adam’s music, and the dances also echo the original in interesting ways, for example using the posés temps levés with ballonés that are traditionally Giselle’s on her first entrance for the whole cast.  Nevertheless, this is a wholly new creation.


Agudo Dance Company’s Carmen takes a fresh look at a familiar narrative, using a movement vocabulary that draws on Flamenco, Kathak and contemporary dance.  At the start, seven beams of light from above gradually illuminate each of the dancers, as they crouch in darkness on the floor, slowly creeping towards the audience, their hands clasped behind their backs.  The four men and three women dance barefoot, so the sound of Flamenco rhythms comes not so much from their beating feet as from composer Bernhard Schimpelsberger’s percussive score.

Jose Agudo has created an expressive and exciting dance style that successfully integrates Kathak-like footwork with the strong oppositions, arched backs and intense focus of Flamenco, and the freedom and generous breadth of contemporary dance technique.  The dancers move with strongly supported upper backs and arms as they perform swift glissade-type steps, pirouettes en dehors in attitude, dramatic spinning turns that freeze abruptly, and quick backward flicks of the foot.

Although there is a story, taken direct from Prosper Mérimée’s novella rather than from Bizet’s opera, this is not a detailed retelling of the tale.  Carmen’s relationships with the other dancers form the heart of the work, whether she is competing angrily with another woman or ensnaring the man who will eventually kill her.  We know that he is an outsider from the subtle flashes of red in the lining of his jerkin, which match her scarlet dress as they perform a duet that consists almost entirely of complex and erotically charge lifts, in which she seems hardly to touch the ground.  The women’s swirling skirts, the rugged machismo of the men, and the music interwoven with a thread of Cuban Bolero create an exotic, dangerous and reckless atmosphere.  Carmen’s death seems inevitable, and when at the end her lover holds her lifeless body in his arms, she seems to be a sacrificial victim, mourned by her companions in a frenzied dance.

This was collective work, and as the cast list did not attribute roles to individuals, I name all the dancers:  Nikita Goile, Joshua Scott, Luke Watson, Yukiko Masui, Faye Stoeser, Juan Sánchez Plaza and Nicola Micallef.

Maggie Watson

3rd November 2021

Find out more about Jose Agudo and his company here

The Midnight Bell, Matthew Bourne’s latest New Adventures production, presents a cast of ten characters and their personal tragedies.  Inspired by Patrick Hamilton’s novels, and set in a seedy 1930s pub and its environs, the music, designs and choreography capture a mood of gloom and desolation, punctuated by moments of humour and occasional happiness.  Bourne uses movement and dance to reveal the tension between the inner and outer lives of his characters.  Each has their own way of standing, sitting and walking, and there are continual shifts between external reality and inner fantasy, revealing a complex web of social and sexual relationships.  Amusing, touching, enraging and pathetic by turns, the six intersecting narrative plots gradually drew me in:  I felt like cheering when Miss Roach (played Michela Meazza), bound the wrists of the cad Ernest Ralph Gorse (Glenn Graham) to the bedstead in a down-at-heel hotel with his own tie, leaving him helpless and ridiculous with his trousers around his ankles.  Bryony Harrison gave a moving performance as Ella, a barmaid, who initially accepts a proposal of marriage, to social approbation, and then withdraws because she loves Bob, the waiter (Paris Fitzpatrick).  Bob, meanwhile, is infatuated with sex worker Jenny Maple (played by Bryony Wood), who touts for business under a lamp post.

The action begins a little slowly, as the characters are introduced, but the drama builds thoughout, and we share the shock when Albert (played by Liam Mower) realises that Frank (Andrew Monaghan), with whom he has had a homosexual encounter, is a policeman.  Likewise, we feel relief when the schizophrenic, played by Richard Winsor, discovers that he has not in fact strangled the actress (Daisy May Kemp) in a psychotic episode, and she is perfectly all right.

Lez Brotherston’s spectacular sets evoke the dingy poverty of a 1930s working-class area of London, offset by the changing colours of the skyline and the gorgeous pink and green of Jenny Maple’s costume.  Terry Davies’ original score ingeniously integrates the 1930s songs that the dancers lip-synch, the words confirming what their movement and dance already expresses.  Matthew Bourne’s work always excites and entertains; I found this to be his most interesting work since Play Without Words.  There are still chances to see it on tour in November

Maggie Watson

31st October 2021