I have no wish to offend the good people of Wales but – as an Englishman, through and through – it seems to me that there can be nothing in culture more evocative of that beautiful country than the poetry of Dylan Thomas, being read by Cerys Matthews as the foreground (how could it be background?) to the buoyant and breezy dancers of Ballet Cymru. One does not need to be Welsh to have fully appreciated the harmonious artistry of this uplifting event.

The evening was presented in two distinct parts, tied together by both being based on Matthews’ CD with the same enigmatic title as the programme; opening with an anthology of Thomas’s poetry interpreted in danced episodes, choreographed by the company’s Artistic Director Darius James and assistant AD Amy Doughty. These poems were read live by Matthews and the unique landscape of her expressive voice, adding intonation and suggestive impact to enhance the lyrical intimacy in the golden thread of Thomas’s words, was effectively supplemented by a range of instruments played live onstage by Arun Ghosh.

It has to be a brave challenge to take on the rampant emotional power of Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night and Death Shall Have No Dominion (and any of the other dozen or so poems for that matter) and translate them into choreography but this was a fine job. A series of dances reflected the expressive intent of the poetry, in turn ebullient, vivacious, cheerful, poignant, and intensely sad. It’s difficult to single any of it out for special mention but the tender duet between Beth Meadway and Krystal Lowe to Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night was breath-stopping in its intensity, a feeling of everything else being immaterial that was hugely enhanced by the captivating words, sung-spoken by an enchanting voice.

The anthological feel of the opening act was replaced by the consistent narrative of the second, with the whole act given over to A Child’s Christmas in Wales, a work in prose, completed by Thomas in 1952, the year before his death, as a child’s eye comedic reflection on Christmases past, full of nostalgia and idyllic memories fuelled by childish exaggeration (“It was snowing. It was always snowing at Christmas”). The words were again wonderful readings by Matthews, but this time her lilting Welsh musicality was delivered through her CD recordings of Thomas’s work.

The nostalgia of A Child’s Christmas in Wales will affect anyone born in immediate post-war Britain; Welsh or not. The humour of “snowballing cats” (though I hasten to declare that I never did that), the “useless presents” and There Are always Uncles at Christmas are beautifully observed in Dylan’s prose, Matthews’ delivery and these danced interpretations. And then there was the drama of Mrs Prothero (Meadway) discovering her house on fire – Alex Hallas giving a comedy cameo as her useless spouse; the “Hippos”, the “Hooting of Ships” and the inevitable Christmas Ghost Story – all evocatively and arrestingly portrayed in words, dance, a little light music, and the impressive video projections by the work’s catch-all designer, Chris Illingworth (Ceri Benjamin was responsible for relighting it all).  

It was a true ensemble work with fast interchanges to provide an ever-rolling cast of characters, with each of the dozen dancers (including a trio of pre-professional apprentices who were seamlessly absorbed into the company) getting a chance to step into the spotlight with the central narrating child portrayed charmingly by Elmhurst graduate, Xolisweh Richards. Here was a small company of dancers – from as far afield as Bermuda and Australia – clearly having fun while also providing their audience with tremendous enjoyment. I was also proud to be an honorary Welshman, even if only for a couple of hours.

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