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The Riverfront, Newport, Thurs 19 Oct

Contemporary dance can often seem incomprehensible to many and dance theatre, purporting to be a representation of a modern-day issue, contrived at best when tackled through this non-verbal medium. Gwyn Emberton Dance’s Raft had no such problem at the Riverfront in Newport.

Twenty-four-hour news coverage force feeds modern-day society with endless opinion on issues like the migrant and refugee crisis. Indeed, it was a Daily Mail article on the very subject that incensed and inspired Emberton to produce this performance in the first place, and he doesn’t hold back in what is an outstanding piece of theatre.

From the outset, high production values are evident with Sion Orgon’s pulsating soundscape drawing you into a brutal, abstract stage design from Becky Davies and dark, menacing lighting from Aideen Malone. It is a fractured scene we see before us, as Emberton and his team paint some incredible stage pictures through stunning sound, set, lighting and movement to tell their story. We see a broken jigsaw of wooden slats, tackled by the supremely talented cast of dancers who labour themselves physically in the early scenes to make the set and their bodies somehow fit together on the vast open spaces of the Riverfront’s stage. At times, it doesn’t feel of this world.

Of course, this isn’t of another world, and Emberton brings it right back to our doorstep with the haunting sounds of a male voice choir, synonymous with our wonderful Wales which always keeps a welcome in the hillside. But does it? The talk from Emberton in the programme notes beforehand spoke of challenging his audiences to ask themselves, “what if it was me?” and by the end of the production, the director’s pre-show prompt simply wasn’t needed. For me, for the first time, the choreography and the exquisite and painfully tender performances from the international cast of dancers spoke louder than any words.

There are two pivotal moments in this important piece of theatre. The first I’ve mentioned above with the sounds of a choir; the other comes in the second half, as the action changes from the strenuous, agonising physicality of a foreign landscape to something much more urgent, dynamic, real and closer to home. I won’t mention it here; I suggest you book yourself a ticket to find out because it gave me and the largely young audience in Newport a fresh perspective on this issue, leaving us asking ourselves, “what if it was me?”

Raft performs at Theatr Hafren, Newtown on Tue 24 Oct and Y Galeri, Caernarfon on Fri 27 Oct.


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