Lady of the Lake
Independent Ballet Wales
Lilian Baylis Theatre, Sadler’s Wells, London; November 13, 2010
by David Mead
“The Lady of the Lake” (“Llyn y Fan Fach” in Welsh) is one of the most famous of Welsh folk tales. It tells the story of Owain intoxication’s with Glythin, a mysterious beauty who lives in a lake, and who he takes home and marries while promising never to strike her three times. Glythin’s presence is not welcomed by most of the family though and problems soon follow. Eventually Owain breaks his vow and Glythin returns to her watery world, leaving her husband grief stricken.
Ask someone to image what a lady of the lake should look like and the chances are they would come up with someone like Lauren Poulton. She was a near perfect Glythin. Golden haired and in her flowing dress as turquoise as the waters of her lake, it was easy to see why Daisuke Miura’s Owain was swept away by her.
Artistic director and choreographer Darius James moves the story on quickly, perhaps too quickly, especially in the first act when the action switches constantly from lakeside to home to blacksmith’s forge and back again. The story is told clearly, but many of the scenes are very short, which restricts the dancers’ ability to invest their characters with too much in the way of depth. Although Glythin’s innocence was most apparent, the sense of uncertainty and unease about her felt by the rest of the family never really came through.
It is not until Act II, where the scenes are longer, tend to flow into one another rather than stopping dead and suddenly changing, and the choreography stronger, that one starts to see a dramatic narrative emerge. Suddenly the tensions in the family are clear. A male pas de trois that develops from a family argument and a following pas de six were both particularly powerful and purposeful. Olga Peititeau’s arrival as an alluring gypsy girl adds an extra frission to proceedings. Later, Poulton and Miura dance a quite athletic pas de deux, exploring every part of the stage as the intensity of their feelings finally surface.
Now one really starts to empathise with the predicament Glythin and Owain find themselves in. The scene that sees Glythin dancing beside a rushing mountain stream as she seeks solace from her natural element is quite moving and some of the best in the piece. The pain of her situation is clear for all to see as she seeks solace from her natural element. It is here that Glythin is at home and Poulton really shows it, her flowing arms and non-stop tumbling and rolling reflecting completely the water cascading down the hillside over the rocks on the film behind.
James’ use of film as a backdrop is most effective. Manuel Pestana, Matt Wright and Janire Najera’s projections not only transport us from one location to the next, but add to the atmosphere in a way it is difficult imagining a traditional backdrop ever achieving. It is never overdone. Indoors the backdrops are invariably sparse, often little more than a window through which one can only see a single, leafless, tree. Outdoors, the cloudy, often dark sky and bleak hillsides of the Brecon Beacons add to the moody feeling and sense of foreboding. Again, the best comes near the end when Glythin returns to the lake. By cleverly projecting partially on the stage floor as well as the cyclorama, she really does appear to walk on the water before melting back into it.
James and Independent Ballet Wales must be applauded once again for their commitment to new music as well as new dance. Not only was this whole evening piece performed with just eight young dancers, but it was accompanied by former BBC Young Composer of the Year Thomas Hewitt Jones’ new score for cello and chamber orchestra, partly recorded, but performed with Hewitt Jones live on cello. His score, recently recorded for a forthcoming CD, captures the mood of the story perfectly with moments of happiness and jollity juxtaposed neatly with a more ominous sense of where events are leading.
Since their formation in 1986 Independent Ballet Wales has done much to promote ballet, and design and music for ballet, in the principality with relatively few resources. Such small companies are likely to find themselves particularly squeezed in the forthcoming public spending cuts, but the good news is that, following a recent review of regularly funded arts organisations by the Arts Council of Wales, Independent Ballet Wales is to receive regular funding from 2011, although the precise sum has yet to be determined. The company will also be changing its name to Ballet Cymru (Welsh Ballet).“Lady of the Lake” continues on tour to Cardiff (November 20), Stamford (November 24) and Torrington (November 27). For more details, and “Giselle” dates see http://www.welshballet.co.uk/tour-dates
A copy of this review with images will appear subsequently in the magazine.