It’s an interesting time for National Dance Company Wales: with new artistic direction comes a new approach to cultivating audiences. Previous Artistic Director Caroline Finn was very successful in reclaiming the world-class status that the company had lost for a little bit and, now, Fearghus O Conchuir begins the equally challenging task of introducing that work to a wider audience in Wales. Dance in Wales has historically had a loyal but smaller following, in comparison to other artforms, which is why Roots feels like such a monumental project.
I say ‘project’, because Roots isn’t just a dance production. As is made clear at the very beginning of the night, this is both a performance and a discussion. After each piece, O Conchuir encourages the audience to publicly express what they’ve seen and talk about their responses in a safe space. Some may argue that dance sits alongside opera and ballet as an elitist artform, but this is a demonstration of the opposite.
It also helps that the three pieces that make up Roots were exceptional. Three different choreographers present three distinctly different pieces, all engaging in their own way. Matteo Marfoglia gets inspiration from homeland Italy for Omerta, exploring the role that women play in Mafia society. The first half of the performance is very claustrophobic, making the explosion of movement in the second half that much more powerful. There is rage in the four dancers, and it makes for intense viewing.
Camille Giraudeau returns in the second piece of the night, Bernadette. Choreographed by Caroline Finn, this darkly comic piece is both a satire on reality television and a treatise on mental health. Our titular character is part of a Great British Bake Off-style programme and, as things go increasingly wrong, her movements get increasingly erratic. It stands out from the other pieces because of how strong the narrative is, and Giraudeau is given the opportunity to demonstrate her acting skills alongside her dancing.
After the most narratively-driven piece comes Atalay, what is arguably the most abstract of the three. Inspired by a memorable place in Mario Bermudez Gil’s Spanish hometown, the 22-minute piece fuses dance and music from different parts of the world. Gil makes a point to add a political element to the performance. Just by using part of the Muslim call to prayer, much is laid out about the current global climate. Similarly, a beautiful tableau of Tim Volleman carrying Elena Sgarbi on his shoulders conjures up images of defeated soldiers on a battlefield. The subtlety with which those political motifs are thrown in is impressive.
Atalay is, personally, the piece most difficult to engage with as it’s the piece with the loosest narrative. However that doesn’t take away from the strength of the performances and, overall, the success of the entire night. If Roots is anything to go by, then NDCWales has an exciting future ahead of it, both for the quality of the work and the outreach it has begun to embark on.