Brief history of dance from Wales

Wales’ contemporary dance scene started back in the early 1970’s in Cardiff with the forming of Dance Theatre of Wales led by Bill Louther and Moving Being led by Geoff Moore, bringing with them an influx of professional dancers from across the UK, some of which still live and work in Wales, and also two distinct aesthetics. These companies were developed independently of each other, one focussed more on pure dance housed at Sherman Theatre whilst across town at Chapter Arts Centre Moving Being was creating multi-disciplinary work. These early beginnings and foundations still influence the current practice in Wales.

In 1976, Sherman Theatre hosted the Cardiff Community Dance Project providing regular contemporary dance classes for young people and adults. Now known as Rubicon Dance, it was one of the first of its kind in the UK and paved the way for Wales long tradition of innovative community dance practice, which is widely recognised for its pioneering work.

The Sherman Theatre also supported the development of Jumpers Dance Theatre founded in 1978. Running alongside this professional company was Jumpers youth company, which provided a host of future dance artists including the late great Nigel Charnock. In 1983 Jumpers was taken over by Roy Campbell-Moore and renamed Diversions, now known as National Dance Company Wales.

In the early 80s another hugely influential multi-disciplinary and bi-lingual company Birth Gof was formed in West Wales. Known for its large-scale innovative experimental work, the company nurtured many of today’s cultural national treasures such as Marc Rees and Eddie Ladd.

In the 80’s independent practice started to take hold supported initially by Dance Wales led by Caroline Lamb and later, between 1992 and 2010, the artists led umbrella organisation Welsh Independent Dance. Both Dance Wales and Welsh Independent Dance supported the career development of many of today’s Wales based artists often providing the first step onto their professional practice. Also in 1986 in neighbouring Newport, Ballet Cymru was being developed by Darius James. Touring extensively with very little public funding, the company has recently moved into their own premises and is now a revenue client of the Arts Council of Wales, and is one of the first Ballet companies to be developing inclusive practice.

Other influential companies of note are the multi-disciplinary companies Earthfall who celebrate its 25th anniversary this year and Swansea based company Volcano who celebrates their 26th anniversary.

Today, Wales has two degree level dance courses based in Cardiff, one focused on training community practitioners and the other on developing performers and creators. The later started in 2016 aims to feed into the independent sector.

Wales has a network of 45 theatres and arts centres from the large-scale opera houses to small rural theatres and arts centres. Creu Cymru, the agency for theatres and arts centres works with these venues to add value through shared programming and support to artists including the highly regarded Dance Buddies, a scheme matching artists with venues. Approximately 12 of these venues regularly presents a dance programme.

Coreo Cymru, the creative producer for dance in Wales programme, was initiated by the Arts Council of Wales in 2012, providing substantial resources to support the development of dance artists, product and to develop national significant projects.

Wales hosts regular festivals including Swansea Dance Days which is part of the international network Dancing Cities and Migrations bringing international artists to North Wales. In 2015 and 2017, the Cardiff Dance Festival presenting Wales based and international work over a 10 day period. Wales also hosted British Dance Edition 2016 in Cardiff and Newport, delivered by a consortium of venues led by Coreo Cymru. Venues included Chapter, Wales Millennium Centre, National Dance Company Wales’ Dance House and The Riverfront who regularly work together to support dance platforms such as Wales Dance Platform in 2012, 2014 and 2015.

We have two regularly funded dance companies- the aforementioned National Dance Company Wales and Ballet Cymru which had national remits and six community dance organisations. Project funding supports independent practice, Festivals and Coreo Cymru.

Wales’s thriving independent sector has over 80 dance artists working across all regions of Wales and in a number of disciplines. The majority are based in Cardiff however in West Wales we have a strong community of artists working within their local communities and across Europe includes movement artist Simon Whitehead. In the North dance artists have formed a collective to support their continued development and to share practice and regularly create programmes of work.

To point out a few artists and companies who are currently touring work-

Jo Fong – who is currently developing a body of work that is concerned with how an audience engages with dance. Highly original and often humorous, her work has been selected for British Council Showcase 2015, British Dance Edition 2014 and 2016 and has toured extensively across the UK and internationally.

Deborah Light – develops work both for her own company and as a commissioned choreographer. She has presented at British Dance Edition during 2014 and toured her work HIDE extensively across the UK.

Bombastic – creates work for children that fuses digital with live performance touring across the UK since 2000. Its artistic director Sean Tuan John has had an extensive touring career with his quirky solo work and was once named the bad boy of Welsh dance by Italian Vogue.

Harnisch Lacey Dance Theatre – working with the Hip hop and street dance genres to create engaging contemporary work both for venues and outdoor festivals.

Kitsch & Sync Collective – retro swing comical dance ideal for festivals and outdoor events with a catalogue of ready-made work easily tailored to your event.

Karol Cyweski –Creates humorous and fun work usually for male dancers based on evolution and science.

The Dance Dome – A 360 degree portable 25 seats immersive cinema experience screening dance films made in Wales, ideal for outdoor festivals.

Gwyn Emberton – creates group and solo work, exploring Welsh cultural life and history and has toured his work across Wales and Europe include British Dance Edition 2016.

Eddie Ladd – internationally renowned dance artists with an extensive track record for producing bi-lingual, multi-media work.

As a small nation we highly value collaboration, with each other and beyond Wales and work closely to support the sector and its needs. Artists are well networked with each other, regularly supporting each other’s practice and collaborating on productions. It’s a friendly place open for business and has strong connections across Europe. For instance Coreo Cymru are key members of the growing European network Dance Roads and sits on the executive panel of National Dance Network.  National Dance Company Wales, housed in a purpose built venue in Cardiff Bay regularly hosts and supports independent and international artists, through its various programmes. International work is presented through the festivals and Creu Cymru’s dance consortium, and we all support the independent sector, nurturing artists together with our main funder the Arts Council of Wales and Welsh Government.