ContemporaryDanceFestive 18/19North East & YorkshireReview

Ballet Cymru – Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre, Leeds

Writer: Dylan Thomas

Music: Cerys Matthews MBE, Mason Neely

Choreographer: Darius James, Amy Doughty

Reviewer: Beverley Haigh

Ballet Cymru’s festive offering is A Child’s Christmas, Poems and Tiger Eggs, a reworking of the poems of Dylan Thomas by Cerys Matthews. Whilst spending Christmas in South Carolina in 2015, Matthews’ love of Dylan Thomas was reawakened and she was inspired to set his work to music to mark his centenary.

A Child’s Christmas, a full-length piece of prose recorded by Thomas in 1952 and one of his most loved works is prefaced by a compendium of some of his most popular and revered poems, including And Death Shall Have No Dominion and Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night. Narrated by Cerys Matthews, who is appearing at select venues on this tour (Leeds unfortunately not being one of them), and set to her folk-inspired and befitting music, Matthews’ gentle Welsh lilt provides a soothing soundtrack. Thomas’ work is brought to life as it was meant to be, with passion, yet a softness, as though enticing a child to sleep. Each poem is depicted in a series of short stand-alone pieces by an ensemble of 12 very capable dancers, who perform traditional ballet steps in a contemporary, starkly minimal setting. The simplicity of the design and Chris Illingworth’s lighting creates a harmony between the narration and movement and it becomes almost hypnotic to watch. 

A Child’s Christmas is introduced by video footage of children and their associations with Christmas before the screen turns into a backdrop for the rest of the piece, depicting snow-filled streets as though a window with a view of Christmas. Although not purely a narrative-led piece, A Child’s Christmas doesn’t follow a conclusive story, it relays the memories of a young boy and his idealistic version of Christmas as he was growing up: “It was snowing. It was always snowing at Christmas” echoed by the omnipresent falling snow on the screen.

The narration continues with recounted tales of uncles with cigars, aunties and parsnip wine, Useful Presents, Useless Presents and snowballing cats. Xolisweh Richards captures the uncontainable excitement of a young boy at Christmas and the rest of the ensemble create the host of other characters, family members and neighbours. The post-war era is depicted through costume and projected geometric wallpaper backdrops as Auntie Hannah staggers and sways en pointe, swigging port and “singing like a big-bosomed thrush”, children blowing up balloons to see how big they can get before they burst and wake the uncles; all like characters inside a snow globe as still the snow continues to fall.

Ballet Cymru’s treatment of this work is unarguably contemporary: groups of dancers performing a number of different scenes at the same time on stage, stylised movements and part physical theatre, yet still within the confines of classical ballet. Incorporating humour and a slightly deprecatory view of Wales at times, this nostalgic view perfectly encapsulates a traditional Christmas. A beautiful tribute to childhood memories and a true representation of a child’s Christmas in Wales.

Ballet Cymru provides a perfect way to start the festive season with their heartwarming depiction of Christmases past.

Reviewed on 29th November 2018 | Image: Sleepy Robot

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