Dawns Ysbrydion / Ghost Dance

Ghost Dance, or Dawns Ysbrydion as is the Welsh title, uses three female dancers to explore the parallels between the displacement of Native Americans and the Ghost Dance of 1890 – a religious movement that became incorporated into multiple Native American belief systems – and the destruction of a Welsh village in order to allow the construction of the Tryweryn reservoir.

The performance has visually stunning moments, but falls flat due to the more ambiguous scenes that confuse the audience.

The design was both versatile and beautiful. The whole stage is covered with blocks which, as the show progresses, become the maps of beloved rivers and homelands of people and their ancestors – only to be broken, torn and destroyed during the rest of the show. These blocks prove impossible to rebuild into the original whole and leave the performers scattered, adrift on the fragments, creating a stunning moment impossible for the audience to forget. The most compelling point of the show was when one performer beat one map panel to pieces whilst another tried to cower behind it.

The collections of stunning tableaux unfortunately distract you from the story being told, dragging the pace down. The choreography is hit and miss – one section with three men travelling through the snow is captivating to watch, as the trio weave, fall and twist their way across the stage – but sadly this is the highlight of the choreography. Some scenes felt very peculiar and insular in a large venue; others suffered from being uninteresting and the ending felt very prolonged and frankly boring. In a show that should really pull at the heartstrings of the audience, it was very disappointing.

Whilst most of the story and information was carried across by the translation smoothly, there were moments that were lost. In one static scene the three performers became three Welsh men who gathered and chatted into one microphone where it became difficult to make out faces. This made it hard to feel much empathy for them, even more so for those of us with the English translation, as when they had this fast-paced conversation the translation simply said that they ‘discuss’ their situation.

Whilst some of the effects worked, others fell flat. There is a lengthy section where the set is broken to pieces as an exploration of the rage felt by those ripped from their home and set adrift. The explanation for this only arrives near the end of the scene, but it feels hollow as there is no anger in the destruction going on onstage. The scene seemed only to exist to set up a grand finale which didn’t work very well and was pretty underwhelming.

Although the lighting design was gorgeous and clever it was generally too dark, leaving you straining to see the performers’ expression and movements and eventually disassociating you from them entirely. The sound design was fantastic: Y Pencadlys provided a live electronic musical accompaniment, putting as much blood and sweat into the production as the dancers.

Overall the performance has visually stunning moments, but falls flat due to the more ambiguous scenes that confuse the audience.  

Reviews by M Johnson

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The Blurb

A story of endangered cultures, language suppression and the subjugation of nations, as told by the Welsh-language national theatre company. Fifty years since the drowning of a Welsh village to create the Tryweryn reservoir to support the expanding population of Liverpool, and taking inspiration from the Ghost Dances performed by some of the North American First Nations at the end of the nineteenth century, internationally acclaimed performer Eddie Ladd leads an all-female cast in this unrelenting dance for survival. Co-directed by Montreal choreographer Sarah Williams, with live, original electro score by Y Pencadlys.