On its UK tour, Tân, a political and cultural dance tale about the Welsh language, told its story at The Gate, Roath, where we sent Chloé Farand to give her verdict
A FIERY production exploring the affirmation of the Welsh language, Tân takes the audience on a journey of frustration, civil disobedience and freedom.
Sandra Harnisch-Lacey, the German-born choreographer and creative director, returns to Cardiff with a production combining dance, sound effect and original footage, on the theme of the loss of the Welsh language and its awakening in the 1930s.
She said: “Having moved from abroad and now rarely speaking my mother tongue, I have come to understand something of what it is to feel the loss of a language and culture.
“Wales has such a rich cultural heritage. I want this show to communicate not only the burning pain of loss, but also the hopefulness of reigniting a country’s future.”
In the 1930s, the Welsh language was close to extinction because English was the only language permitted in schools.
Tân, meaning fire in Welsh, is the story of three Welshmen: the dramatist Saunders Lewis, the poet Lewis Valentine and the novelist DJ Williams. They set fire to the RAF bombing school in Penyberth, previously a headquarter for poets, on the Llyn Peninsula in North Wales on 8 September 1936, in protest of what they saw as the oppression of the Welsh culture and people.
The “three” as they became known, deliberately surrendered themselves to the police and were imprisoned for nine months and, on their release, were greeted like heroes and continued their battle to revive the Welsh language.
The show features three extremely talented male dancers, one breakdancer and two contemporary dancers, in able panels representing the RAF bombing school, associating the strength of breakdance acrobatics and the fight for identity with the fluidity of language in the contemporary floor work and pirouettes.
The powerful energy emanating from the three dancers drives the show to an explosive climax of the barracks being set on fire.
All the way through, the audience holds its breath, unable to speak, like the Welsh who couldn’t mutter their own language.
The end of the show is a release for all, bringing fresh air and asserting the freedom of the Welsh identity. Tân is a beautiful piece which doesn’t need words to demonstrate the power of language.