Saturday, 23 November 2013

Now the Dust Has Settled

Experimentica 2013 Roundup
Chapter Arts
6th – 10th November 2013

Experimentica was established in 2000 in order to offer a new platform for experimental and interdisciplinary artists to share their work. Initially the focus was on Welsh work with strong links to various universities but as the festival has grown its appeal has become international and has helped to forge new artistic communities.

This is the second Experimentica I have attended and the festival keeps going from strength to strength. This year the focus was on the number 13 (as this is the 13th year of Experimentica) and the artists were encouraged to explore the themes of risk, failure and luck.

The programme was exciting and varied, even those completely new to the often intimidating world of performance art could find something to catch their eye during the five day programme. The huge range of disciplines and performance styles meant that this year’s offerings were incredibly accessible and inclusive.
Surprisingly there was nothing on the programme that I didn’t enjoy. There were works that I found difficult or  that I struggled to comprehend but I still saw a lot of value in every single work.

Perhaps the most challenging was Cian Donnelly’s Strawberry Necklace. I left the theatre completely confused about what I had seen.   But as the days went on the character from the piece just wouldn’t leave my head! Luckily Cian stayed for the whole festival and very generously spent a long time chatting to me about the work. 

We discussed his odd, clown-like character linking him to people on the fringes, he is an outcast yet I really felt I wanted to make a connection with him, “it’s about appealing to basic human kindness” says Cian. The word  “damaged” kept coming up, this character has been through enough grief and heartache and although the character had a definite darker edge Cian believes “so many bad things have been done to him, he couldn’t actually possibly hurt someone else.”

This character was born out of the drawings Cian does before any performance work. He turned up in a sketch of another character, yet he caught Cian’s eye and the artist felt that the river clown’s story was worth exploring. His performance work is all about the sensation in the moment and taking the audience with the character through a whole range of abstract thoughts and feelings. It’s about taking everyday moments – watering the garden, sitting by a river – and making them completely extraordinary.

This is the kind of work that can polarise opinion, its ‘meaning’ is elusive and the range of sensations and emotions it creates are hard to process during the performance. The odd and slightly sinister sexual comments contrast so heavily with the playful song and dance routines it really is hard to comprehend. As Cian puts it there is “laughter then a feeling of cold sadness – should I have laughed at that?”

I think this is the kind of work that you need to open your mind to, it’s easy to shut off if you ‘don’t get’ something. For me the work was initially confusing and somewhat intimidating but the more I think about it, it’s actually a really innovative way of looking at human emotions and everyday situations. By creating this not quite human character Cian offers a new perspective on the human experience.

This piece is definitely my Experimentica 2013 highlight! Art should be challenging and this character will definitely stay in my mind for a long time to come. Cian hopes to develop the character over time, possibly through the medium of webcasts or a sketch show. I really hope I get to see more of the river clown and I hope that one day he will find some happiness.

To see my original review of Cian’s work click here.

My other highlights included two of the day one pieces. Nicholas McArthur and Robert Molly-Vaughan’s The Dancing Plague of 1518 was so exciting and visceral it was impossible not to get swept up in the moment. This is proof that extensive research can really pay off, the performance was well informed and the historical facts just added to the sense of danger. Messy, physical and completely brilliant! 

Totally on the other end of the scale was Richard Bowers’ slow burning ‘film without images’ The Passion of Joan of Arc. The complete dedication and commitment to the nine-hour performance was incredible. The Stwdio became a hypnotic whirlpool slowly drawing you in until you became attuned with the pace and dynamic of the intriguing installation.

For a full review of day one click here.

There could be no better end to the festival than Nigel Barrett and Louise Mari’s Probing Elvis. Having attended the annual Porthcawl Elvis Festival with a group of artists the pair curated an evening of experimental performances paying homage to tribute artists. For me the event encapsulated everything that Experimentica is about – experimenting, laughter, serious artistic investigation and most importantly a welcoming platform in which to share work and get meaningful feedback.

Another brilliant Experimentica that will keep people talking for a long time to come. Next year I hope the standard keeps improving. I would also love to see a return to an idea of the 2011 festival which had on-going projects that you could re-visit throughout the week and watch grow into something spectacular. This on-going engagement offered an extra element that tied the separate events together and really created a community feeling.

It’s so exciting that a festival like Experimentica happens every year in Cardiff. Chapter are really working hard to make performance and interdisciplinary art accessible and available to all. Far from being a high-brow, exclusive event Experimentica is exciting, gutsy and really does offer something for everyone. When theatres worry that they aren’t getting enough people through the door they need to take a look at this kind of energetic, ground-breaking work that really engages people.

I want to take this opportunity to thank all at Chapter who make Experimentica possible year after year – without it Cardiff would be seriously lacking in interdisciplinary work and we certainly need it. 

For more info on Experimentica and Chapter Arts please visit:

Or visit my Pinterest board to see a collection of reviews, images and links from the festival:

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

The Exciting Premier of Katherine Chander's Award Winning Play

Preview: Parallel Lines
Dirty Protest
Chapter Arts
20th-30th November 2013

When 15 year old student Steph makes a serious accusation about her teacher Simon both of their worlds seem ready to implode. As doubts from Steph’s mum and Simon’s wife grow how can they go on leading their normal lives?

In 2012 Katherine Chandler’s uncompromising Parallel Lines won the Wales Drama Award. A year on the script is now part of a perfect team with new writing fringe company Dirty Protest. This month the play will get its much deserved premier in Chapter Arts, directed by Catherine Paskell.

Last week the company were kind enough to let me sit in on rehearsal and what an exciting project to be working on. The play deals with so many of the hidden issues that still plague Welsh life; the underlying and ever increasing class divide, the fear of sexual harassment in the work place and the exposure of young people to inappropriate materials.

Despite the heavy topic the play is refreshingly humorous in places, really picking up on the Cardiff accent and sense of fun. The characters are recognisable and honest reflections of contemporary life and it’s hard not to feel your sympathy shift from one to the other as the tightly wound narrative slowly unfolds.

Each character is perfectly cast. Recent RADA graduate Rachel Redford is particularly convincing as confused teenager Steph and her chemistry with Jan Anderson is so touching, they really have formed a mother-daughter bond. Gareth Pierce and Lisa Diveney are perfectly tense as the professional couple under strain and it will be fascinating to see how their relationship develops or breaks down over the run.

When people complain that the theatre Scene in Wales isn’t exciting enough this is the perfect performance to prove them wrong. A small fringe company have taken on a huge challenge in this gripping and complex tale and they have certainly risen to the challenge!

For more information about the play and to buy tickets please visit:

For more on Dirty Protest:

Award Winning Dance Theatre Earns Its Reputation

Home For Broken Turns and It Needs Horses
Lost Dog
Tuesday 12th November

Formed as recently as 2004 Lost Dog have already proven themselves a force to be reckoned with. Their very first duet, Pave Up Paradise, won numerous awards including first prize at the Burgos International Choreography competition. Now on tour with some of their newer pieces it’s clear to see why It Needs Horses won the much coveted Place Prize for Dance in 2011.

Home For Broken Turns
On the outskirts of civilisation a group of women, a family of sorts, look after each other, determined to keep their dwindling pack together. Their home is simple and tinted with melancholy but it’s theirs and it’s all they have.

Staving off the boredom of provincial life they play, they chase each other and they imitate the animals they encounter. Their play soon turns sinister, with the group turning on one of the girls, barking to chase her off.

As people pass by they try to lure them in, make some money or persuade the men to take them away from the empty wasteland they call home. The sadness and light are beautifully intertwined through the physicality of the piece.

Occasion speech, a mixture of English and French, peppers the performance. What the women are literally saying does not matter, the desperation or joy behind the words is always painfully clear. The mixture of kinetic freedom and profound sadness pulls the audience into the odd home wishing that they could offer these women a better life.   

It Needs Horses
 A couple of circus performers, clearly past their best, try to wow the audience with the tricks they can no longer remember. As the once glamorous woman stands on the trapeze her fear of falling is clear to see. She is presented to us by the ringmaster, a melancholy clown who has nothing left to lose.

After stumbling through some disjointed dance routines the lady faints. At first her companion seems worried but he soon seized the opportunity to take advantage of the unconscious acrobat, making her perform lewd gestures for his own benefit. The piece frequently took these sinister turns, which offered a serious social commentary underneath the layer of dark humour.

These washed up entertainers take advantage of each other, doing just about anything in the hope that we will throw some coins into the clown’s battered hat. As the tension builds the pair up their game until they reach the thrilling climax in which the acrobat takes the place of the traditional horses, galloping around the ringmaster with before unseen grace.

It all gets too much, stepping out of the circus ring not looking back she leaves the clown alone, as he screams with the agony of loss. Touching on the darker side of human relationships and the lengths people will go to, to hold onto the past this exciting  and original performance has certainly derved its huge reputation.

This double bill of dance theatre is everything that the elusive genre should be; exciting, visceral, intelligent, accessible, touching and born out of real emotion. As the company themselves put it “We began with an idea and we continue to wrestle with it, to say what needs to be said and dance the rest.”

For more on the company and these pieces please visit:

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Captivating Triple Bill from NDCW

National Dance Company Wales
Autumn Tour 2013
Wales Millennium Centre

To celebrate the company’s 30th birthday National Dance Company Wales are staging a triple bill of new works on various stages around the UK. Since 1983 the group have performed to over 500,000 people and have developed a strong and respected identity. The new collection is a vibrant and varied sample of the company’s work that fully showcases the dancer’s strength and virtuosity.

Virtual Descent

Photograph from

In a post-apocalyptic future the dancers must fight to regain our lost humanity. Choreographed by NDCW performer Eleesha Drennan the piece was physical and intense – helped by the live pounding percussion concerto written by Mark Bowden. 

Despite being on the huge WMC stage the piece felt moody and claustrophobic, dark and passionate. The solos and duets being particularly emotive as individual personalities broke free from the group. 

As the dignified but abandoned figures struggle to communicate they are forced to evolve new ways to become the saviours of humankind. Feisty and primitive the movement elegantly battled against hopelessness and despair – there will be a future and these will be the pioneers.


Photograph from

“As far as my memory goes, weddings have always seemed to me like strange tragedies” says choreographer Angelin Preljocaj. This highly dramatic and confrontational work perfectly depicts what he sees as “the consented rape” of the bride.

The fast paced and dynamic choreography is perfectly complemented by the music choice of Igor Stravinsky’s Les Noces. The precision and boundless energy of the two forms blended into one to form a highly explosive battle of the sexes.

The bride mannequins used throughout were sometimes distracting and seemed out of place but their earned their stage time when the ensemble began to hurtle them through the air, creating a violent storm of white lace that objectified the women, turning them into commodities used and abused by the husbands.  

The live females held their own against the males who tried with all their might to coerce them into passionate embraces, fighting with all their power to resist. The heart-stopping climax in which the women leapt from benches into the arms to the men is as powerful an image as you can get, haunting and disturbing.

Water Stories

Photograph from

Inspired by the various watery landscapes of Wales, Water Stories is a collaborative piece choreographed and conceived by Stephen Petronio. Created through a group process of discovery the movement- rather than narrative- based piece utilised beautiful projected images captured by Matthew Brandt and an original fluid score by Atticus Ross.

Not at immediate and intense as the previous two works this piece allowed the dancers to showcase their technical skills in Petronio’s blend of contemporary and ballet styles. Gentle and beautiful the piece flowed through lakes, reservoirs and rich green landscapes.

The movement was often mesmerising and dreamlike, especially when the cast were dressed in flowing white gowns or flesh coloured tops and mossy shorts evocative of mythical water sprites. The only downfall was a single harsh green dress that stuck out like a sore thumb as it did not fit the colour palette at all. This was even more of a shame as the dancer in the dress was so highly talented and captivating, yet she was upstaged by her clothes.

An interesting collection that blended bold, uncompromising physicality with gentle, graceful skill. I look forward to next 30 years of daring and innovative work that is sure to emerge from Wales’ leading contemporary dance company.

For the full programme visit:
For more on the company: