The logistical and fiscal challenges of running a capsule ballet company are well documented but there are also silver linings; one such being the capability for swift opportunism. And, this was very much the case in Ballet Cymru’s partnership with choreographer Tim Podesta, and his muse, former Royal Ballet principal Mara Galeazzi. The Welsh company – not,  I discovered, officially the national ballet of Wales; but certainly the only ballet company in the principality – has grabbed the opportunity for a brief run of Podesta’s latest work, with Galeazzi as the star (three performances only; two in the company’s home, in Newport, plus this lone foray into London).   

© Sian Trenberth
© Sian Trenberth

Shadow Aspect is a dark tale, deriving inspiration from Jungian psychology, and in particular Carl Jung’s philosophy that the shadow represents a personality’s unconscious aspect, often the dark side of human nature, which is not overtly revealed by the consious ego. “Everyone carries a shadow”, wrote Jung, “and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacked and denser it is”. This statement essentially forms the basis for Podesta’s choreographic inquiry.

Galeazzi – now in partnership with Podesta, through their company, M&T in Motion – is the work’s central figure, enjoying several solos, and while she frequently shares the stage with the other eight dancers, it is always as a remote and isolated observer, as if she inhabits a different dimension. With a stunning new, short hairstyle, Galeazzi takes a deep dive into the dark side, moving sinuously, her gestures captured in silhouettes that exaggerated the sinister shapes of hooked arms or claws. Gesture plays a key part in Podesta’s choreographic style, which is admirably suited to Galeazzi’s charismatic delivery. In one sequence the dancers slap themselves rhythmically as an integral part of the choreography.

But, this is no one-woman show and the dancers of the Ballet Cymru ensemble (five men and three women) are slick and strong, working effectively as a group organism and in the many diverse disaggregations into mixed duets and interactive groups.  It is an international collective with two dancers sharing Podesta’s Australian nationality, three from southern Europe (Catalunya, Italy and Portugal), three from England and one from the host nation (Gwenllian Davies from Cardiff). 

The second act appeared more holistic in its emotional resonance and movement structure and I enjoyed it more, whilst the opening section had seemed more challenging in its accessibility.   The soundscape in Jean Philipe Goude’s Aux Solitudes (2008) offered a wide-ranging set of references from whispered French conversation, heartbeats, heavy breathing, through the distinct sounds of fire and torrential rain, interspersed with recorded contralto song. It was an effective counterpoint to the intensity of highly gestural movement that covered a wide range from spiky, dislocating solos to beguiling, soft ultra sensual duets, sometimes flavoured with a kiss. In the second act, particularly, the mix of flamboyant, gestural mime, vivid intensity of movement, emotional resonance and strong use of shadows brought some choreographic ideas of Martha Graham to mind.

After 31 years, Ballet Cymru is becoming settled – with an exciting future in its new premises, in Newport – a strong relationship with the Arts Council of Wales, very effective leadership by Darius James and Amy Doughty, a small but strong cohort of dancers and a loyal following.   Hopefully, it will merit the accolade of being the national ballet of Wales, in due course; but, let us hope that it stays agile enough to remain opportunistic. This fleeting – and, too rare – sight of them in London was extremely welcome; and it is always a delight to enjoy Mara Galeazzi’s exquisite performance style, even when delving into the darker side of the pysche.      

***11