Gwanwyn Festival at the Sherman by Response Critic Leslie Herman Jones

Suitably staged (and not just for seniors, but for families and young people, too) at 2.30 on a Sunday afternoon, Stepping into Spring drew a good-sized, intergenerational crowd. It was a joyful experience, and I was moved to tears of joy more than once.

Dressed in his Sunday best shorts and t shirt and straight from the surf so he said, Age Cymru’s new Chief Executive, Ian Thomas, made the introductions to this Gwanwyn Festival event: the culmination of a collaborative workshop by dance organisations, and dance professionals, semi professionals, people who just love to dance for dance’s sake, and newcomers to the art form, who participated in a weekend of dance for older people in Wales.

Existing dance groups from across Wales came together at The Sherman in Cardiff for the workshop – 8 groups in all -- to celebrate creativity in older years. How marvellous!

The Gwanwyn Festival gets the credit for being the great big, Wales-wide umbrella under which this and all of the other arts activity for and by older people during the month of May each year gets their support, and that backed by Wales Government and Arts Council Wales.  

Word of mouth was clearly at work at this event: the audience was almost definitely full of family and friends, but where were members of the general public getting information about the 2014 festival from? I found out about those Gwanwyn events which I attended this year via Facebook and/or through my critics circle, but was surprised when I was unable to get further information from the Gwanwyn website. ( seemed to have links to the 2011 and the 2013 festivals but not to the 2014 events and activities.)

The afternoon’s production was shaped by the various groups’ performances and, by way of introducing the acts and by segueing from one to the next, each group’s choreographer/leader taking the stage and doing a little solo act -- each one was original and entertaining, as well as purposeful and relevant.

The event was high spirited and extremely uplifting. It was a pageant in the best sense of the word, enriching us all with a show of energy, passion, some real beauty and a love of life.

Here, the line – up:

Cardiff Line Dancers led by Nicola Strensom, and choreographed by Nicola and the group. All those women, in lines and clearly enjoying themselves, kept just the one man, dressed the part in a Stetson and cowboy shirt in line, too.  Their enjoyment and those funky not-so-easy-steps made to look easy -- I did tear up a bit. 

Senior Moment (UM), part of the Powys Dance group led and choreographed by Beth Smith. A dignified performance despite the most undignified props: a reggae number performed wearing leopard skin print pinnies and waving dusters?   

Tystion, TAN Dance, from the Swansea Bay Area. Carol Brown, group leader and, choreographer told us the piece would be ‘deep,’ that it had an ‘internal life story’, but that it could also be enjoyed at face value.  Another one man/several women group, they danced to David Bowie, with strong stage presence, and some very cool moves, well performed. Visually, it was very interesting, and I was intrigued by the ‘story’. And how fitting for it to close with Bowie’s most recent single, ‘Where Are We Now?’ I was moved to tears and out of my seat for a standing ovation.  

Rhuddem Dance from Aberystwth, led and choreographed by Catherine Young, is an interpretation of a poem by Mererid Hopwood, Y Rhosyn a’r Gwynt’. ‘The poem tells of life cycles and how, with age, comes beauty, strength and completeness.’  A positive message poetically, it reached and touched me with its sadness. The combination of the music (That Man, Caro Emerald), and the movements (long, stretched, slow, reaching), I hoped it would get less sad, and then a baby started crying -- that juxtaposition made it even sadder. The costumes were thoughtfully simple with the varied placement of a red rose on each of the dancer's black -- on a shoulder, a head, a side, a breast, as a corsage -- provoking the piece’s depth and beauty.

Credit to the production’s overall direction: positioning NuWave, (part of Rubicon Dance, Cardiff, led by Sophie Batey and choreographed by Sophie and the group) after Rhuddem was a good call. Short and sweet, this performance was lively, colourful, well executed, and a welcomed return to a piece that brought tears of joy.

Atgofion/Memories Dance Group from the Rhondda Valleys (Julie Evans, choreographer), has been with Gwanwyn Festival since its launch. A mix of storytelling, song and dance, the performance was sincere, honest, and fun, evoking the innocence of youth. There is something so pure and simply beautiful about a circle. 

Senior Momentum came back with its Llandrindod group -- also part of the Powys Dance group. This portion of the show got the audience clapping and rocking in their seats!  

Excited and impressed to note that Striking Attitudes, Cardiff based theatre dance company, led by Caroline Lamb was heading to Sadler’s Wells with this piece. Dear Miss Griffiths, (choreographed by Caroline Lamb, and assisted by Janet Fieldsend) brought the production to a polished and poised close. A diary danced, this period piece was inspired by real people, and the story was spun around the lost art of letter writing.

The programme notes tell that the groups’ ‘creative sessions focus on the beauty, calm, inner strength and experienced physique of the older dancer’ and their performance illustrated all of these. Graceful, beautiful, and full of pathos, the movement, music, readings, and period costumes all tugged at the heart strings, and inspired an overwhelming appreciation of the older dancer. 

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Comment by Claire Bottomley on June 10, 2014 at 23:06

Great that you have done a review for us Leslie. I’d like to note, however, that the Gwanwyn Website very clearly directed visitors to the Facebook page, which listed all events throughout the month. We also used Twitter for the first time this year, and enjoyed widespread coverage through the more traditional print media across Wales. I am confident therefore that this year we increased our reach of publicising the full range of events that were part of the festival.

I have added some more images to celebrate the diverse event

Claire Bottomley, Age Cymru


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