Terra Firma

Caroline Finn, Mario Bermudez-Gil, Marcos Morau

National Dance Company Wales

Sherman Theatre

On 08 February 2018

Review by Othniel Smith

The UK-wide tour of Terra Firma, just commenced in Cardiff, home city of National Dance Company Wales, gives this reviewer the rare opportunity to experience two major pieces for a second time. They comprise two parts of a wildly diverse trilogy, each being under 30 minutes in length, the broad theme being “stories drawn from the very ground on which we build our communities”.

The first piece, Folk—from Caroline Finn, the company’s resident choreographer—was first seen in 2016 and is only showing in some venues on this tour (being replaced in some shows by The Green House, another show from the company’s repertoire). The piece is firmly set in some other-worldly rural location—whether idyllic or not is debatable.

Our attention is immediately drawn to a tree, apparently rooted in the air, on Joe Fletcher’s set (he is also responsible for the murky lighting design). Beneath it, someone is sweeping up a pile of leaves; meanwhile, a group of young people clad in autumnal tones (costume design by Gabriella Slade) observe from a nearby bench.

It soon transpires that the pile of leaves conceals another performer (in the piece’s previous incarnation, this was only revealed towards the end), who joins with her colleagues in a series of readily relatable scenarios.

Accompanied by a varied soundtrack (the Barcarolle from Offenbach’s Tales Of Hoffman, and Theodorakis’s theme from Zorba The Greek being the most familiar), they give us vignettes from everyday life—work, domesticity, revelry. A woman yammers in Italian before being subsumed into the crowd. A young couple’s romance seems to flourish and come to an unhappy conclusion.

Universal human experience is depicted with subtlety and grace; the piece concludes with the suggestion that the cycle will continue into eternity.

The second piece is the newest—Mario Bermudez-Gil’s Atalaӱ, whose title seems to reference Turkey; the Mediterranean mood is set up by a woman in a traditional headdress who bangs a staff upon the ground, conjuring up a quartet of dancers.

At first the four, clad in tunics and trousers (costume design by Brighde Penn) perform exuberantly and in unison, to an Asian Dub Foundation tune combining elements of the  traditionally eastern and the hedonistically electronic. Soon, however, things grow more sombre and pensive, with the quartet splitting into same-sex couples; again, relationships seem to end badly.

It is this piece which contains the most conventionally virtuosic dancing, on a bare stage spotlit from the sides and back of the stage (lighting design by Joe Fletcher). It comes as a relief when, towards the end, the dancers are a celebratory foursome once more.

The final piece is the highly anticipated Tundra, the presentation of which, as part of the company’s P.A.R.A.D.E. extravaganza in 2017, earned choreographer Marcos Morau a well deserved Wales Theatre Award.

Beginning with an Inuit-style chant, it segues swiftly into the remarkable segment in which the troupe of eight, clad in voluminous dresses, appear to float magically across an icy landscape, framed by a rectangle of fluorescent light (design once more by Joe Fletcher).

The remainder of the piece has its work cut out in terms of competing with the magical impression left by this section. The ensemble, dressed in costumes redolent of both winter cosiness and futuristic endeavour (design by Angharad Matthews), operate beautifully as an intricate multi-bodied organism, with the occasional stray quickly brought back into the fold; they are clearly existing in a harsh environment in which interdependency is the only means of survival.

The company is to be lauded for its artistic ambition and the dancers (Kat Collings, Nikita Golle, Cyril Durand-Gasselin, Ed Myhill, Julia Rieder, Evan Schwarz, Elena Sgarbi, Tim Volleman, with apprentices Marine Tournet and Mathew Prichard) for their skill. Terra Firma is deeply pleasing, with much to offer even the unschooled spectator.