Poppet / Quite Discontinuous / Collidron

Jem Treays / Jasper Van Luijk / Phil Williams
Cascade Dance Theatre
Taliesin Theatre, Swansea

Poppet Credit: Roy Campbell-Moore
Quite Discontinuous Credit: Roy Campbell-Moore
Collidron Credit: Roy Campbell-Moore

Cascade Dance Theatre is a new company, set up by Ebbw Vale-born Phil Williams, its aim being to tour the best in contemporary choreography to small and medium-sized venues in Wales which see very little of it. Those who are familiar with his previous work with Shock'N'Awe Performance Company (e.g. the masculinity-themed Muscle) will recognise his commitment to exploring complex issues in an accessible manner.

The company is also committed to building links with the communities in which it performs. On the opening night of their first tour, this was manifested in the energetic entertainment which preceded the main show: a flamenco-inflected vignette from the Swansea University Dance Society, choreographed by Williams.

The first piece in the trilogy proper comes from Jem Treays (whose charming father-daughter piece Jem and Ella toured earlier in the year). This features all five dancers in the company—Jamie Morgans, Maria Fonseca, Miyako Asano, Albert Garcia and Faith Prendergast—as well as a sixth cast-member—Poppet, the title character, who comprises two arrangements of limbs made of sticks and a rudimentary head made of papier maché (or something similar).

Having first introduced Poppet and themselves, the spoken word being an essential element of this segment, the dancers move fluently around the bare stage, accompanied by Sion Organ’s intermittent, percussive score. They wantonly manipulate Poppet’s body and its various elements, sometimes making him an equal partner, sometimes using him as a mere prop for their playfulness, sometimes screaming their personal traumas into his expressionless face. At around fifteen minutes, Poppet consistently amuses.

Following a brief interlude, during which choreographer Jasper Van Luijk’s spotlights are put into place (lighting design in conjunction with Rob Daanen), Quite Discontinuous commences. Unfolding in semi-darkness, it is a duet for the two male dancers (although, on some nights of the tour, the performers will be female), with a subtle, ambient electronic soundtrack by Lennart Siebers. It starts with one man seeming to support the other, who appears to be ailing; the apparently weaker partner then revives and dances virtuosically, observed by his friend; they then then duet, deftly mirroring one another.

Soon, however, there is stillness, and one man lovingly arranges the lights around the inert body of the other. It is clear that the subject is bereavement; the piece is deeply moving.

Post-interval, the final part of the trilogy (and the longest, at around half an hour) is Williams’s Collidron, inspired (somewhat vaguely) by Einsteinian physics. We begin with all five dancers, all clad in different colours (costumes designed by Jiyoon Jung) clustered together, moving as one, like electrons around a nucleus. Soon, though, one breaks away, and the dancers start to revel in their freedom; although, paradoxically, this is the piece which contains the most conventionally synchronised movement.

They are joined onstage by young composer Harriet Riley, whose beautiful live score (in conjunction with recorded music by Jak Poore), is played on an imposing assemblage of tuned and untuned percussion, dominated by a marimba. Her visual contact with the performers suggests that elements of the score are improvised; this renders it all the more impressive.

Three contrasting but highly enjoyable pieces, then, ranging from the irreverent to the elegiac; skilfully performed, and conceived in such a way as to engage all but the most stubbornly resistant choreo-phobe. The tour continues throughout Wales—details available on the company web site,

Reviewer: Othniel Smith