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What do oil paintings and Folk have in common


How 17th- and 18th-Century Paintings Inspired NDCWales’ Folk

With its lack of rules, freedom of form and ambiguity of interpretation, contemporary dance is often compared to abstract expressionist art. But when Caroline Finn was looking for inspiration for her first work as artistic director of National Dance Company Wales, the choreographer turned to a quite different category of visual art: 17th- and 18th-century oil paintings.


“I was fascinated by the fact that, within one painting, you’ve got so many people from different classes, different walks of life – from the beggars at the bottom to a cherub or an angel up in the sky,” says Finn. “You’ve got all sorts of people sitting around the table and so many different characters, ages, classes within one context. So I wanted to essentially recreate that for Folk.”


To put this idea into practice, Finn began by showing the performers a selection of oil paintings featuring groups of people and asked them to hone in on a figure they felt particularly drawn to. The dancers were then tasked with creating their own character based on that figure, and deciding how that character might walk and express themselves, before Finn began tweaking their movements and bringing the characters together into a coherent narrative that explores their interactions and relationships.


“I love watching people; their quirks and idiosyncrasies, and the way they function in different social scenarios,” says Finn. “So I wanted to make a piece which is largely about social dynamics – exploring the relationships between people and how they behave when they are in a group compared to how they behave when they are on their own. What makes people form a group or a particular connection with someone? What ostracises people from a group and how does this affect their behaviour?”


With this in mind, Finn chose to begin Folk with the dancers frozen in a tableau that resembles the kind of oil paintings she had turned to for inspiration. As the piece commences, the performers gradually come alive, interact and begin to manipulate each other, allowing the audience to understand both the motivations of the individual characters and the social hierarchy under which they live.


“I wanted to create a surreal yet familiar community for the characters in the piece to exist in – pushing the fine line between fantasy and reality; a world which is not immediately identifiable or recognisable, yet which we can all relate to on some level, ” says Finn. This atmosphere is achieved in part by the presence of an upside-down tree that hangs over the stage, providing a physical apparatus upon which the characters hang symbolic objects during the performance as well as offering a metaphor for the community as a whole.


Employing a diverse array of music – from Adam Hurst’s Midnight Waltz and Mikis Theodorakis’ O Zorbas by to Goldmund’s Threnody and Jacques Offenbach’s Barcarolle – as well as edgy choreography, hints of classical ballet and dark humour, Finn drives the narrative towards its conclusion: the characters returning to the ‘oil painting’ they inhabited at the start. On the surface, everything is the same, but what has transpired over the previous 28 minutes now provides a whole new context for the characters. “The audience has a very different connection to the oil painting that they see at the end,” says Finn.

Tickets have now SOLD OUT for Animatorium and Folk at the new ArtisTree from 24-25 June. 
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