Mention the world ‘ballet’ and most people automatically think of classic performances like Swan Lake, The Nutcracker and Sleeping Beauty.
But Ballet Cymru has made a name for itself by pushing the boundaries and staging contemporary pieces which reach out to new audiences.
The Newport-based company has already collaborated with Cerys Matthews and Catrin Finch and now the dancers are looking forward to premiering their latest routine after teaming up with Welsh Music Prize winner Georgia Ruth.
They will be bringing to life six tracks form the album which will be played live on stage by the musican.
The dancers first met her when they were all involved with the opening gala for world music market Womex at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff last October.
“I asked Georgia if she would like to work with us and she jumped at it,” says Darius James, artistic director of Ballet Cymru, which was initially known as Independent Ballet Wales and has now been running for 28 years.
“So we met up with her and talked about Week of Pines and got an artistic insight into what she was writing about. It has a tremendous atmosphere and every track tells a beautiful story – and, of course, it’s great music. Georgia is a very talented musician.”
James says the company has always collaborated with contemporary musicians, including the Cardiff-based orchestra Sinfonia Cymru, but it was quite a different experience working with Matthews to illustrate her album of Welsh folk songs, Tir (Land). The performance attracted many fans of the former Catatonia singer who may never have never been tempted to buy tickets for the ballet before.
“Our audiences for our collaborations with both Cerys and Catrin Finch were different to a usual ballet audience,” admits James. “But we want younger people to come along to the ballet and for music fans to come along too. It’s really nice to get different people into the theatre.”
But do such projects alienate the more traditional ballet audiences?
“They haven’t so far. We’ve never been traditional – we’ve always been risk-taking as a company. This year we’re also staging (the classic) Beauty And The Beast and even in that the Beast will be on jump stilts,” adds James, whose previous work includes a performance of Romeo amp; Juliet featuring clog-dancing.
Week of Pines is the debut album from harpist and singer Ruth, who spent her early years in Llantwit Major and Aberystwyth but now lives in Caernarfon. It was recorded with producer David Wrench at Bryn Derwen Studios in the foothills of Snowdonia,
As well as winning last year’s Welsh Music Prize, she was nominated for Best Traditional Track (for Codi Angor) and the Horizon Award (for Best Emerging Artist) at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards.
Welsh Music Prize co-founder and Radio 1 DJ Huw Stephens said as her win was announced: “Georgia’s hard work and unique talent has made her one of Wales’ favourite new artists, and her music in Welsh and English has found favour around far beyond Wales. Her win is very well deserved.”
Now James is looking forward to audiences’ reactions to the dancers’ interpretations of the six tracks as the musician plays alongside them.
It will be part of a double bill opening with The Same Flame which sees the company work once more with composer Thomas Hewitt Jones, an award-winning composer of both concert and commercial music. It will be performed by professional disabled dancer Suzie Birchwood, who is artistic director of ActOne ArtsBase which runs inclusive arts projects.
At the age of 16, Birchwood won a full scholarship to train as a dancer at the London Studio Centre. However, at 17 she developed the neurological condition Dystonia, which causes involuntary, uncontrollable muscle spasms throughout the body. But she has not let her condition get in the way of her dancing and now performs in a wheelchair.
The double bill will be staged at The Riverfront next weekend and James hopes it will be taken to further venues later this year.
Meanwhile, in between rehearsals and performances, the company of nine professional dancers from all over the world, is settling into its new home in Newport and finding time to carry out its important educational work in local schools.
And the dancers have also been proving that dance doesn’t just have to unfold in the confines of a theatre – one of Ballet Cymru’s latest projects saw them perform at Newport Market.
“We want to push ballet forward,” adds James.
Ballet Cymru performs Week of Pines and The Same Flame at The Riverfront, Newport on May 3 at 7.30pm. For tickets, call the box office on 01633 656679 or visit www.newport.gov.uk/Riverfront