Ballet Cymru’s artistic director Darius James always manages to bring something new to his company’s productions of some of dance’s best loved classics.
This season’s ballet, Romeo a Juliet, based on the glorious Prokofiev music, will be a Welsh take on the ballet, incorporating traditional clog-dancing into the choreography. It means that this take on Shakespeare’s story about the star-crossed lovers has a very different take when it comes to one of ballet’s most iconic scenes – the Dance of the Giants.
Chatting with James and his team during a break from rehearsals at Newport’ s Riverfront – where the new show opens on May 3 before embarking on a UK tour that runs throughout the year – it quickly becomes clear that this will be a special production for the company. It is the first major collaboration between Ballet Cymru and Coreo Cymru, the dance development body initiated by the Arts Council of Wales in the same year that James’ company achieved revenue funding after more than two decades of bringing ballet to audiences far and wide.
“Being a co-production with Coreo means we are again able to take another step up as an organisation and for this production we will have our biggest ever set,” he says.
“For the first time we have been able to commission a set from a professional company, Bay Productions, and costumes and designs by Georg Meyer-Wiel who has worked with both Birmingham Royal Ballet and Australian Dance Theatre. It allows us to continue pushing up the quality of what we are doing in every way.”
James says the relationship with Coreo Cymru has also been instrumental in the inclusion of traditional Welsh dance into the ballet.
“I was brought up on the iconic Kenneth MacMillan choreography of the ballet with what seems like hundreds and hundreds of dancers in the famous Dance of the Giants. I have always thought I would only want to present that ballet when we had something completely different.”
Last summer the company dancers worked with clog-dancing specialist Huw Williams.
James says it works particularly well in this scene and that while he sees it as being Juliet’s “coming out party” it is a very masculine scene which will be reflected in the set and costumes as well as with the clog-dancing.
“It’s strong, it’s Welsh and it’s different,” he adds.
The company tours well beyond Wales and taking clog dancing to new audiences also fulfils part of Coreo Cymru’s brief to widen awareness of Welsh dance.
In 2011 the company also brought something different to Beauty and the Beast – with jumping stilts for the Beast. That show also toured extensively, including to sell-out audiences in Italy.
The production has two other key partners, The Riverfront and the young Cardiff-based orchestra Sinfonia Cymru. The musicians will play live at the two performances of Romeo a Juliet at The Riverfront and they will also be recording the score to be played when the company tours.
Ballet Cymru has also tried to be innovative in other mediums, such as working with Cardiff-based Polish photographer Michael Iwanowski and incorporating projections of his images and video during the performance.
The relationship with The Riverfront is important to the company which still lacks its own home production base.
But if it can raise £67,000 that will all change. Ballet Cymru has purchased a building at Rogerstone, near Newport, with financial help from ACW, the Foyle Foundation and the Garfield Weston Foundation. The new building needs refurbishing and converting to suit its needs and that means finding 30% of the cost to trigger the release of 70% ACW funding.
But, for now, James and his team are focusing on the tour which so far includes 16 venues (more will be added as the year progresses), including the Lilian Baylis Studio at Sadler’s Wells, a key London venue with which the company has established a strong relationship during the last six years.
The company now has 10 dancers and an apprentice who are employed on contracts that exclude January and February each year when they are encouraged to extend their experiences with other ventures.
“We always make sure our dancers get the chance to dance strong roles, to have experience of teaching and directing and that also contributes to developing their careers.”
Romeo a Juliet is at The Riverfront, Newport on May 3 4 before touring. For full details, visit the website at www.welshballet.co.uk