Run away to the Circus..

You never forget your first time with NoFit State circus.  Mine was January 2013 seeing the sensational Bianco (literally) on stage at Wales Millennium Centre.  It was one of the most incredible experiences of my life.  Never before had I seen such death-defying stunts, such strength and such raw excitement from a company.

So when I saw that this world-class show had returned to Cardiff, this time taking place in the big top, I knew I had to see it again.  After a pretty vanilla few weeks, I needed that NoFit State injection of madness.  I needed to be transported to another world.

Stepping inside the big top, you knew something incredible was going to happen.  This expectation and intrigue in the air was palpable.  As the performers started “setting the stage”, limbering up and yelling instructions to one another, as the live band (an epic addition to the performance) started to play, the big top was totally absorbed.  And that says a lot seeing as it was a matinee performance; it must be the first time I have been to a performance at this time when a room full of children were silent the whole time.  It really does say a lot about the power of the production.

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Property of NoFit State website

And once it kicked off, it really kicked off.  Aerial stunts that left me totally speechless, my heart threatening to explode out of my chest… how could these stunts be physically possible?  How could the human body move in such a magical way?  What was truly spectacular however, was the way NoFit State told a story purely through the power of movement.  From start to finish a mesmerizing story unfolded before our eyes.  In my opinion, no other touring company quite manages to tell a story like they do.  It was intoxicating.  They managed to perfectly balance the raucous hysteria one might associate with the circus in big group numbers with intimate, sensual solo and duets; of course accompanied with absolute perfection by the band.

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Property of NoFit State website

Every performer was flawless, with a total disregard for gravity.  This team did things that humans should not be able to do.  They challenged the boundaries of physics and gave world-renowned gymnasts a run for their money.  Each one was fully engulfed in their character, making the performance all the more believable.

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Property of NoFit State website

After an extravagant two hours of explosive stunts, Bianco closed in a simple, beautiful and artistic manner.  The perfect close to the party, it drew this awe-inspiring show to a subtle and sophisticated finale.

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Property of NoFit State website

NoFit State are masters of the profession.  Forget clowns and slap-stick humour, forget the wackiness for the sake of it of Cirque du Soleil.  What NoFit State manage to do is present a magical world in a contemporary and classy way.  They take the audience on a journey, leaving them dazzled and delirious.  For anyone who ever dreamed of running away to the circus, this is the show for you.  For anyone who didn’t, you’ll leave ready to pack your bags.

Bianco is showing in the Big Top until June 7.  For £15, this spectacle is worth every penny.  Find out more here. 

 

 

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PREVIEW: NDCWALES EXCITE THE CAPITAL..

This month the awe-inspiring National Dance Company Wales (NDCW) will be returning to Sherman Cymru with a triple-bill of dynamic dance and classic Welsh talent.

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The award-winning contemporary dance company are taking their ever intelligent and inspiring work on a tour of Wales and England, with a one-day stint at Sherman on 10 February.  This season’s programme features the work of world-class choreographers and promises to be a mesmerizing and intoxicating series of dance.

The intriguing triple bill includes:

Stephen Petronio; Water Stories

In an exclusive premiere of his latest work for NDCW, Stephen Petronio teams up with Grammy-winning composer Atticus Ross (who created the score for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) as well as the original visual design work of Matthew Brandt.  A delightful combination of sound, movement and sight, Water Stories portrays the magical and abundant waterscapes of Wales.

 Lee Johnston; Purlieus and They Seek To Find the Happiness They Seem

Working with the talented lighting designer Joe Fletcher, Lee Johnston presents two beautiful pieces of work.  Purlieus explores the intricate relationship between movement, light and animation in a bid to fully immerse both audience and performer in an overwhelming experience.  They Seek To Find The Happiness They Seem focuses on choreography, lighting and costume to evoke visions of dislocation and separation in relationships.

 Stephen Shropshire; Mythology

Stephen Shropshire’s captivating Mythology promises to capture and astound the audience.  Accompanied by Frederic Rzewski’s Coming Together, an avant-garde composition for piano, jazz ensemble and spoken word, this piece promises to attack the senses and absorb its audience.

Tickets are £15 – £22 with under 25s half price.  Book your tickets here.

THE BIG 2013 ROUND-UP..

After starting this little blog only five months ago, I’ve been invited to some fantastic shows and events.  I’ve had tickets to the ballet, Shakespeare, site-specific dance, political comedies and daringly realistic plays.  I could not be more grateful that these fantastic, exciting theatres and companies have wanted me to review their brilliant shows; the arts scene in Cardiff is superb, and something I am incredibly passionate about, so to be able to express my opinion on it is a wonderful feeling.

So in good New Year fashion I have decided to post my “top five” events of 2013.  Here’s to many more inspiring shows in 2014!

5) Cedar Lake

NECESSITY, AGAIN, Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, Baden Baden, Germany.

Contemporary ballet is my favourite form of dance, and Cedar Lake ticked every single box for me.  The New York dance company are known for their edgy, adventurous performances, daring to be different whilst providing exceptional talent through their awe-inspiring dancers.   This trio of performances was exciting, dynamic and captivating.  The time flew by, leaving me wanting more from this exciting company.  And more I certainly got, as a few weeks later I won a signed programme from the team – perfect!

 

4) Takeover Cardiff

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In October I followed the first Takeover Cardiff (put on by British Council Wales).  I interviewed three fantastic international artists and then attended the day long event before writing a review of the whole event.  The event was thought-provoking and touching; a showcase of young talent in South Wales, it took artists to the iconic cultural hubs of Cardiff.  These were kids that would normally not be given the platform to play out their talent.  British Council Wales gave them the chance to throw it into the public’s attention.  The day left me feeling like anything was possible if only you have the passion, confidence and drive to achieve it.  A stunning event which I will always remember.

 

3) The Selfish Giant

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Although not technically a performance, I can’t have a write up of 2013 without mentioning The Selfish Giant.  Clio Barnard’s modern adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s fairy tale classic affected me in a way that I’m not sure a film ever has before.  It was poignantly beautiful and utterly raw, leaving me quite literally breathless in the closing scenes.  It is a film that didn’t shy away from the uncomfortable truths encapsulating modern society, whilst reflecting the most delicate friendships and love in a superb way.

 

2) Clod Ensemble’s An Anatomy in Four Quarters

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Last month I was invited to a rather unusual show.  The advertising around it gave little away.  I had no idea what to expect… but always keen to see something new, I went into it with an open mind and intrigue.  What I experienced was something I could never have expected.  An Anatomy in Four Quarter’s was spellbinding, exquisitely intelligent and overwhelmingly consuming.  A mesmerizing combination of drama, music, dance and spoken word, the performance brought the audience into the performance and took us on a journey through the anatomy of the body and the theatre.  It really was an exceptional experience, and one of those performances that days later still left you questioning the deep messages behind every movement.

 

1) Dirty Protest’s Parallel Lines

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There is no doubt for me that the highlight of 2013 was Parallel Lines by Dirty Protest theatre company.  The powerful play depicted the gritty and forbidden relationship between a seemingly perfect teacher and an under privileged student, set on the simple set of two parallel kitchens.  Everything about this play was superb; the acting, the script, the direction… it all fell together in a fantastic presentation of class, truth and relationships.  The deeply disturbing subject matter was portrayed with maturity, authenticity and skill; Katherine Chandler truly has a talent for the written word.  I cannot do this play justice; but what I can say is I cannot wait to throw myself into more of Dirty Protest in 2014.

 

I hope you all have a beautiful New Year!  Let me know of any shows that have made your 2013 special… and remember, email me if you would like me to review any of your shows in 2014! Peace!

INTRODUCING… MUTLE MOTHIBE: THE SPOKEN WORD ARTIST WITH A DIFFERENCE..

This Saturday will see the first Take Over Cardiff event, a one-day taster where the city’s major cultural venues are handed over to the brightest young talent.

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As soon as I heard about the event, I was determined to get involved.  The event, run by The British Council Wales, hopes to engage young performers with their peers, showcasing new and emerging Welsh and International talent.

Kicking off at 11am at the Senedd, the event will take its audience on a journey through all the cultural hubs of Cardiff, with dance, slam poets, musicians and animators exposing their exceptional talent.

Today I met Mutle Mothibe – a South African spoken word artist – for a coffee and a chat.  Mutle will be performing at 4pm at The National Museum Cardiff… and I can’t wait to see his work first hand!

Mutle’s exceptional talent and humble personality is normally showcased as a member of Word N Sound, a spoken word arts organisation in South Africa. His work is topical, thought-provoking and innovative – and I had a fantastic time chatting to him about his inspiration, plans for Take Over and highlights of the event so far… 

Q: Can you tell me a bit more about your work – what does being a spoken word artist include?

 A: Essentially, it’s all about being a poet. However, I don’t just use the spoken word (despite the title!) – I like to incorporate different mediums of multimedia to keep the whole thing fresh and interesting. I’ve been working with Grass Roots (a charity dedicated to 16 – 25 year olds) as a part of their exhibition this Saturday at the Museum, which has been great. It’s my first time overseas – in South Africa I work as part of Word N Sound, a platform bringing together older practitioners of literature with youths, to encourage and inspire them and to give them a sense of the trajectory of a literary career. So this project is very similar, and I’m really happy to be a part of it.

 Q: What inspired you to become a spoken word artist?

 A: I have loved writing since I was in Grade 5 – back then I used it as a form of escapism and expression. It was a medium to express things I had pent up inside. Throughout University, I began to explore the performance side of the art – since then, I just seemed to become a spoken word artist professionally… 10 years and still going strong!

 Q: What does your work tend to be about?

 A: Mostly where I am in my life – be that relationships, social issues, personal struggles… in a nutshell, the things that are effecting me at that time. That’s why it is such a fantastic form of expression. I try to be really creative with the way I project this. I like to use more than just words; I fuse music, dance and images together to create a representation as a whole. This isn’t typical of spoken word artists at all. With my work, you’ll find contemporary dancers on stage, breakdancers, live singers… anything I can incorporate to make the work special.

 For this project, I have been working with 18 – 25 year olds from disadvantaged backgrounds, and have created a piece using the information I have gained from them. We have been holding work shops with them since Monday, through until this Friday at Grass Roots. On Monday, the kids weren’t as keen to get involved. But then we created a video for them (http://bit.ly/1gr0Rlu), showing them what we wanted to do. We showed them the video, and today the workshop was absolutely packed! It was an incredible sight. That shift was the nicest thing for me so far. It was a bit like coaxing the cat… we had to show them how cool it could be, and then just sat back and watched the crowds build!

 Q: Why did you want to get involved with Take Over Cardiff?

 A: I was chosen by the British Council as part of an exchange programme in South Africa. There’s a really interactive relationship here, in which artists from South Africa come to Wales to showcase their work, and vice versa. I know that the British Council would like to see this event extended in the future, and I am excited to hopefully be a part of that.

 Take Over Cardiff is a great way to connect as an artist with other artists. I am staying with two other poets – Michael from New York City and Martin from Wales. It’s fantastic as we feed off one another, and can exchange any tips or advice. It’s great fun to have three creative individuals under one roof.

 Q: Do you think events like Take Over Cardiff are important to promote the arts to a younger audience?

 A: Absolutely, but also on the flip side they expose younger artists to an older generation! We are holding our showcase at the museum – a place normally associated with older individuals. So it will be exciting to give this audience a taste of the work by young individuals from the community, and literally put the talent right in front of their faces. A lot of the kids we are working with thought you had to pay to visit the museum! So I hope this will also open a lot more doors for them in that respect, introducing them to iconic venues around the city.

 Q: What do you hope to get out of your work with Take Over Cardiff?

 A: Firstly, I hope we can create an opportuny for kids to take advantage of – there are a lot of chances waiting for them, particularly in great places like Grass Roots, that I hope we can raise awareness of. Grass Roots provides a safe place for kids to harness any artistic inspiration they have, as well as offering several free courses (such as sound and engineering)!

 For me , the whole experience – seeing how other artists carry out their work and approach their craft – is a great opportunity. All the connections I have already made makes it very worthwhile! The arts community of Wales is so welcoming, and everyone seems really happy to help. There’s a very communal feel to it all – a very different atmosphere to my work in South Africa.

 Q: What can we expect from Saturday’s showcase?

 A: Lots of surprises! When I left South Africa, I had one idea in my head. Since then, it has changed many times! The show as it is now is much more collaborative – but it is still constantly changing. There will be clips scattered throughout for people to watch, as well as break dancing, contemporary movement, live music and singing. Fundamentally, I just want to expose the audience to everything the kids can do!

 Check out Mutle’s video: http://bit.ly/1gr0Rlu 

To take a look at the work Mutle does with Word N Sound, have a look at their website.

 Find out more about Grass Roots Cardiff here.

 For more information on Takeover Cardiff visit the British Council website.

Follow them on Twitter @bcwales, Like ‘British Council Wales’ on Facebook, Hashtag: #TOC #YoungCurators.

HEADS WILL ROLL..

There’s no time period quite like The Tudors – it’s dangerous, exciting and sexy.  Often found at the heart of literature, TV and films, it’s rare to find someone that doesn’t find the guts and gore of this thrilling time in British History absolutely fascinating.

So I was delighted to hear that the Welsh National Opera would be bringing a trilogy of shows, retelling some of the most ominous tales of the Tudor times, on a tour of Britain.

The marketing surrounding the new operas, created by the talented Donizetti, was fantastic.  It is clear the WNO is trying to bring opera to a younger audience – and rightly so!  The stigma attached to opera needs to be eradicated.  If you’re a fan of drama, suspense and incredible music, then opera is surely the perfect thing for you.  The stories are easy to follow, and grab you from the opening note.  The music takes hold of your body and transports you to another world.  The words are like syrup gliding through your subconscious.  It is a powerful art form, and an experience like no other.

On Friday, I went to see Anna Bolena at the Wales Millennium Centre – one third of the epic trilogy.  I’d been so excited – the story of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII is a story like no other.  A fiery female caught in the web of a mad man… I had seriously high expectations for the opera adaptation.

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The Opera – always a fabulous chance to dress up!

And of course, it was fantastic.  The show focused on Anne’s final days in the corrupt court of Henry VIII, and the lead up to her untimely death.  Each voice was simply sublime, from the main stars right through to the ladies in waiting.  Striking solos and divine duets, classic chorus numbers and an overwhelming orchestra – Anna Bolena had it all.

Each character was played to perfection.  Anne, unsurprisingly, was the star of the show.  With her head held high, she seemed (on the surface) strong and confident.  But her turbulent world encapsulated her, and her distress and pain were clear as the story darkened.  Your heart called out to her as her life went from bad to worse.  Her fate handed to her on a plate, you were shown the cruel injustice of the monarchy, and reminded of just how twisted the Tudor times really were.

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Photography by Robert Workman.

Henry was as sly and sinister as you could imagine.  Skulking around the stage planting his evil seeds with every step, Miles played the villain fantastically.  Terrifying and without a soul, he was like an animal devouring anything in his path.  Once again, your heart called out to not only Anne, but Jane Seymour.

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Photography by Robert Workman.

“The other woman” – you would expect to feel a similar hatred for Jane.  Henry’s new “toy”, was she not the reason for his determined need to dispose of poor Anne?  But Donizetti portrayed Jane in such a beautiful and touching way, you could not help but feel pity for her.  Consumed by guilt, Jane conveyed a deep longing to escape.  However, we all know in the kingdom of Henry VIII, there was no escape.  Once he had dug his devilish claws into you, you were his for the taking.

The story – full of twists, turns and thrills – came to an explosive end as Anne awaited her death.  Without a doubt, this was the highlight for me.  In these final scenes, Anne sunk into a pit of madness.  Farnocchia was unforgettable in these moments.  Her talent and ability to connect with the audience was second to none.  In a touching scene, Anne imagined she was back at her wedding day, with a child and then thrown back to her girlhood romance with Lord Percy.  Disheveled and with an insane twinkle in her eye, you knew she had reached the edge of sanity as she tried to forget her fate.  Curled up in a child’s cot, the scene was almost uncomfortable to watch.  To see such a strong woman brought back to a child-like state at the hands of this horrendous creature was unbearable.

Anna Bolena - Donizetti - Welsh National Opera - 7th September 2013Giovanna Seymour (Jane Seymour) - Katharine GoeldnerAnna Bolena (Anne Boleyn) - Serena FarnocchiaSmeton (Mark Smeton) - Faith ShermanEnrico (Henry VIII) - Alastair MilesLord Rochefort - Da

Photography by Robert Workman

Then, almost as suddenly as she had diminished, the powerful Anne returned.  The moment she accepted her fate, she regained her inspiring and iconic nature.  Robed by her ladies in waiting in a deep red coat (the only splash of colour on a dark grey set – I believe symbolic of the blood that was to be shed), she turned to the audience with the power and confidence she was renowned for.  Her swan song reminded the audience that here was a woman never to be forgotten – she was Anne Boleyn.  Queen, icon and one of the most influential females of British History.

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INDULGE YOURSELF IN THE BEAUTY OF TOSCA..

It’s been quite a lucky weekend for me,  Not only did I win tickets to Chapter Friday night, but last night was treated to two free (and I must say, fantastic) seats for Tosca opening night, as well as a fabulous champagne reception.

We arrived at the Wales Millennium Centre to a warm service, as always. Ian Douglas, the Welsh National Opera company director, greeted us with tickets and a programme, directing us up to our champagne and pre-show treats.  It was all very lovely and fancy, and a great way to start off the evening.

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We took our seats – and what seats!  Perfectly in the middle at the front of the mid stalls.  As someone who can normally only afford the cheapest of the cheap seats (sob!), this was fantastic, and really added to the incredible experience.

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The show itself did not disappoint.  Tosca is an operatic thriller.  It’s fast, exciting and quite literally takes no prisoners.  This production encapsulated the dramatic thrill of the story superbly, as well as the poignant love between Tosca and Cavaradossi.  The lovers, played by Mary Elizabeth Williams (in her WNO debut) and Gwyn Hughes Jones, were engaging, relatable, funny and charismatic.  In particular, Williams’ voice was spine-tingling – so powerful and full of layers and layers of emotion.   Their love was incredibly vivid and real, you could feel your own heart calling out to them as the final scene grew closer – Cavaradossi’s execution.

The political and religious undertones of the story were portrayed through the impressive sets and costumes.  In fact, I felt these really added to the performance.  The stark contrasts between the three acts was emphasised through the three very different sets.  We saw Tosca’s religious commitments and inner peace through the first set of the church, and her good-natured, albeit jealous disposition.  The next set was dark, cold and claustrophobic, hinting at the intimidation and evil of Scarpia as he planted further poison into Tosca’s life.  For me, this scene was the most poignant.  The tension rose and rose as the scene unfolded.  You could feel yourself on the edge of your seat as you knew what was coming.  Williams’ furtive glances towards the glistening dagger, Scarpia’s evil and self assured demeanor as he prowled around the room, blissfully unaware of his looming death.

Tosca, by the Welsh National Opera

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Photography by Robert Workman

Tosca’s pain was palpable as she battled with her religious commitments and her deep love for Cavaradossi.  Should she give in to the cruel demands of Scarpia, or remain true to her soul mate, destroying her beliefs in the process?  Her anguish was intense and agonizing, marked by her passionate and harrowing song.  As she took the dagger, plunging it into Scarpia’s back, you could hear the whole audience catching their breath.  Williams did not hold back – throwing herself into the act, no gore was spared.

The final act was set in the powerful scene of the execution site.  Dimly lit, a stone angel loomed over the stage – a sign of what was to come.  As the lovers are together again for one final time, we once again were subject to the intense love they shared.  The scene was beautiful and fantastically played.  The excitement and promise of a future made you want to jump from your seat and shout the truth at them.  The moment Tosca realises the execution of her love was not a hoax at all was excruciating.  The sheer anguish expressed by Williams in those final moments was incredible.  As she threw herself to her death, the crowd erupted.  It was a closing scene near on perfection, played with precision, honesty and unadulterated talent.

All in all, the night was an absolute delight.  Aside from the fantastic cast, the words themselves found their way into my veins and just swam through my body.  I indulged myself in the beauty of the script – the most sublime poetry.  Tosca was gripping, enchanting and hair-raising – a pleasure of an evening.

RIDICULE IS NOTHING TO BE SCARED OF..

Yesterday I was fortunate to have the chance to see The Blueblack Hussar at Chapter Arts Centre, with a brilliant talk by the “posh-bruiser” himself (his words, not mine!) Jack Bond afterwards.

I’d won a pair of tickets to Chapter the night before at Ignite Cardiff, and after a quick glance on the website and a lovely chat with the Centre’s helpful box office, I was all set to share my Friday evening with Adam Ant, a fiery director and of course, the stunning cinema.

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The Blueblack Hussar is a documentary style film following Adam through his determined, methodical and let’s face it, intriguing climb back to fame.  His history tells its own tale, and Bond doesn’t feel the need to reiterate it whatsoever.  A brave choice, but in my opinion, a wise one.  We all know the ins and outs of Adam’s decline, his battle with mental illness, his wacky and weird ways.  But what we don’t know – at least, what I didn’t know – was who is the man that he has now become?

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I’d think of Adam Ant, and I’d think of the iconic white stripe, Price Charming, the Napoleon jacket… well, the stripe is gone, but the jacket still remains!  One of the first shots of Adam is of him strutting through the streets of London, pirate hat on, jacket proudly worn with a fag hanging out of his mouth.  His flamboyant style is still there, as is his chaotic personality.  He’s expressive and self-assured – almost to the point of arrogance.  You don’t see a man sectioned under the mental health act three times.  You see  the eighties pop icon, albeit it, one that has become lost along the way.

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As the film progresses, Bond follows Adam through gritty small-time gigs, comical photo shoots, awkward interviews and a sudden departure to Paris.  Adam’s personality switches from brash and angry to soft and reflective.  Never alone, he’s always closely tailed by his new, young and “colourful” band – his faithful followers.  On stage they are as one, but off set Adam very much comes across as a lone ranger.  The whole time I was watching it, I just couldn’t quite figure him out.  I didn’t really know whether I liked him or not – or whether I was even meant to.  His erratic personality threw me – who really was he?

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One thing that was evident was the relationship between Adam and Jack.  Jack is just the king of cool – you’d have to be mad not to be absolutely enthralled by him.  Two confident and assertive personalities, they just seemed to click.  Jack has a “take no shit” approach, and I can just imagine him whipping Adam into shape.  This notion was confirmed in the Q & A with Jack afterwards – he had a tale or two to tell about the many occasions where he had to take his “posh bruiser” approach with the iconic singer – well, he didn’t get the nickname for nothing!

Now and again, there were sudden glimpses of the real man underneath.  When the pair returned from Paris, Adam brought back piles of quirky trinkets.  The way he spoke about them, showing them off to Jack, was really quite lovely.  With a big smile on his face, he just seemed so excited by these tiny goods.  And so proud – proud to show them off, and proud he had found them.

The film builds up flicking between performances and Adam’s everyday goings on – with the climax being a performance at Hyde Park.  And this is the moment.  The moment your heart falls into your stomach, and all the hairs on your arms stand on edge.  The way Bond shoots it is so poignant – so simple, so effective.  The camera follows Adam as he takes the long walk backstage.  The facade is gone – you can feel how much this means to him.  After doing so many small time, grotty, penniless gigs, you feel so proud and happy for him.  As Adam reaches the side of the stage, he crosses his chest, takes a deep breath and walks on stage.  And there, the film cuts.

It was a beautiful moment to cut, and as Bond described afterwards portrayed the bird finally taking flight – it was up to us where that destination was.

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This was a beautiful, fascinating film, made even better by the wonderful talk by Jack afterwards.  Fan of Adam or not, I would recommend it to anyone.  Adam is a captivating individual, not afraid to take a chance and keep his character alive.  After all, ridicule is nothing to be scared of.