Breakin’ The Bay

Breakin’ the Bay takes place at Wales Millennium Centre annually, usually around the August bank holiday. It’s one of my favourite arts events to attend in Cardiff and I think I might have been to every single one. In different years, the programme has varied from including a main-auditorium evening show to just sticking with the essentials of live graffiti art and hip hop dancing.

Breakin The Bay

This year I popped along to WMC in time to catch some of the dance tournaments in the Glanfa, and some graffiti work going on outside the Centre. Inside there were people of all ages, races, genders and styles participating or watching dance competitions. There are competitions for freestyle, popping, locking, individually and in teams. The standard of the dancers is incredibly high, despite the fact that some of them cannot have been more than about 10 years old. It always amazes me.

Outside people of every age were watching and admiring the graffiti artists, taking and sharing photographs and commenting on the quality of their work.

Breakin The Bay

What makes me really happy about Breakin’ the Bay, though, is the atmosphere. Whoever is dancing, they get a cheer. There is hip hop music playing but the crowd consists of everyone from young people to passing families, older people watching with a cup of tea to 30-something couples bobbing their heads along with the music. We often make assumptions that certain types of art, music or creative practice are only for one type of person but Breakin’ the Bay does a brilliant job of flouting that myth entirely. Everyone in the crowd is involved with the spirit and you rarely see so many smiles in an arts centre these days!

I hope Breakin’ the Bay continues into the future, and I really hope that all those people – young and old – continue to see that there’s plenty available in an arts centre for them, even if it’s not exactly what they thought it would be.

Breakin' The Bay

Tablets as Performing Arts Spaces

There’s a lot of ‘digital’ going on in the arts at the moment – in productions, in communications, straddling the two, augmenting our live work and standing in and of itself. I read an article earlier about an iPad app which has been created as an entirely different type of performance space for dance. Rather than trying to replicate or augment the experience of a traditionally placed audience, this work is created just for the iPad and is interactive in its nature.

Called Dot Dot Dot, it is created by 2wice Arts Foundation and features dancer and choreographer Tom Gold. The app allows you to tap areas of the screen and ‘create’ your own version of the piece, which is made of pre-recorded segments of dance. The introductory video gives more of an insight: 

Dot Dot Dot from 2wice Arts Foundation on Vimeo.

It turns out this isn’t the first iPad app 2wice Arts Foundation has created. Their previous effort, Fifth Wall, also uses the iPad as a new creative space for dance. This time a piece was filmed in a particular environment – a large rectangular frame – and the user can change the orientation of the frame, add multiple versions and resize each of them. The dance being performed doesn’t change, but the user’s experience of the piece is exactly as they determine it. You could watch it hundreds of times and each time get a totally different perspective on the work.

Here’s the video for that one:

Fifth Wall from 2wice Arts Foundation on Vimeo.

In other arts app news, I also read today (on ClassicFM’s website) about the launch of an app showcasing Benjamin Britten’s orchestral work The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. For those unfamiliar, the work, written in 1946, showcases the different sections of the orchestra in ‘variations’ on a theme by Henry Purcell and is therefore a really important way for music learners to start to understand the complex workings of the symphony orchestra. 

The app announced today is part of the Britten 100 centenary celebrations of the composer, and is available free. It uses a new recording of the piece, alongside games, quizzes and an interactive musical score to enhance learning and demonstrate the potential and complexities of the symphony orchestra to young people. 

There are probably loads of examples of apps and other digital projects creating entirely new ways to experience and create different types of art. I particularly like that the examples above are not only pushing the boundaries of performing arts but also of the tablet as a device and an experience. I think the proliferation of tablet devices is going to turn out to be one of the most dramatic changes in the way people consume and interact with the content and the world, so it’s definitely interesting to see how the performing arts fit into this. 

I plan on downloading and having a play with all the apps mentioned above so I’ll be sure to review them as soon as I can! 

2012 in Arts and Culture

In yet another 2012 annual roundup post, I wanted to document some of the artsy, fun things I saw in 2012. It didn’t quite fit into one a month, but here’s a selection anyway.


Classical Club Night (January)

Young performers associated with the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Rambert Dance Company performed Trapeze, an early ballet score by Prokofiev, in the Clore Ballroom at London’s Southbank Centre. This was free to attend, late in the evening (starting at 9.45pm), and presented in the Southbank Centre’s ballroom space which is really open and has a bar. It was great because I could take pictures, move around during the performance and go to the bar when I wanted.

The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning (April)

A play telling the story of Bradley Manning, the US soldier accused of leaking a large number of documents to the website wikileaks. Written by Tim Price and directed by John E McGrath. In addition to being performed site-specifically in three high schools, the show was broadcast online alongside a chat stream and links to further information. One of my favourite plays ever.

(Disclosure: This show was produced by my employer, National Theatre Wales)

Spymonkey’s Oedipussy (April)

Spymonkey’s hilarious take on the story of Oedipus. Five great performers and two hours of laughing so hard my stomach hurt. Brilliant. Here’s my full review from earlier in the year.

I’d Hide You (May)

Blast Theory created this unique live and online gaming experience for The Space. Three ‘runners’ were on the streets of Manchester trying to catch each other on camera. Online participants were invited to help or hinder the runners by sharing information about the whereabouts of the other players.

Coriolan/us (August)

Mike Pearson and Mike Brookes took the text of Shak

espeare’s Coriolanus and Brecht’s Coriolan and re-told the story in a huge disused aircraft hangar in the Vale of Glamorgan. They used silent disco technology, live filming and cinema screens to give audience members the choice of how to watch each scene. I’ve never properly embraced and loved a Shakespeare play before, so this was a great moment for me.

(Disclosure: This show was produced by my employer, National Theatre Wales)

Llwyth (September)

I’ve seen this show three times. I think that covers how much I like it. Here’s a review from the second time.

Nina Simone (A)Live (October)

I saw this biopic of Nina Simone at MC Theater in Amsterdam. It was in Dutch, but the range of storytelling devices used meant that I understood everything that was going on, despite barely understanding a word of the language. The show, unsurprisingly, used a lot of music but rather than just performing Nina Simone’s music exactly a she would have done, there was everything from classical piano to hip hop and live multi-track mixing. A great experience and a really interesting place to visit if you’re ever in Amsterdam.

The Breezeway, Rockefeller Center (December)

I couldn’t really get through the review of the year without including something from my trip to New York. At Top of the Rock, the Rockefeller Center’s viewing platform, there’s a room which knows where you are, assigns you a colour and changes the light and sound display. I also thought it was quite cute that if you were blue and your friend was red, you could stand on the same place and hug them and the colours sort of merged above you. A great idea, well executed. Here’s a video, to explain better how it works.

What were your arts and cultural highlights of the year? What are you looking forward to in 2013?

Cardiff Design Festival 2012

Cardiff seems to be full of art and design at the moment. Artes Mundi 5, Made in Roath 2012 and Cardiff Contemporary are all on at the moment. The 2012 Cardiff Design Festival, has also recently taken place.

I didn’t manage to get to as many design festival events as I’d have liked to this year, mostly due to my being in Amsterdam for half of it, but I really enjoyed the few things I did make! I’ve already posted about Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Pointe Blank exhibition, which has inspired me to think of other ways in which one art form can respond to stories and ideas associated mainly with another form.

My highlights of the rest of the festival were:

Trade School Cardiff

Again, my being in Amsterdam led to me missing half of this but I made up for it on the final Saturday when I joined classes to learn How to Write a Life List and Projection Mapping. Sarah‘s Life List class was really fun, and involved handouts which asked us to think about what we enjoy, our favourite things and some goals and then turn them into the beginnings of a life list. At the Projection Mapping class, Chris Mog demonstrated a selection of open source software that can be used to create 3D animations and projections, and all the fun that can be had with them. I left both classes with my head bursting with ideas. Now all I need is a few hours and a projector.

The best thing about Trade School is that the only thing you have to do to attend a class is barter for the knowledge. This amounted to providing some lovely notebooks for Sarah, and interesting flavours of tea for Mog. If you don’t know about Trade School, I really recommend finding out what it’s all about.

Doodle Noodle

During the festival, the team adopted an empty shop in the Morgan Arcade which became Design Festival HQ. Matt and his fellow illustrators created a giant doodle in this space, spread across several large canvasses on one wall. Anyone and everyone were then invited to come along and colour it in.

I loved just sitting for a few minutes and colouring in some doodles. I could have stayed for hours, I think, and just chilled out colouring in little cartoon dinosaurs, bees and other characters.

What also struck me at the time was that this kind of thing would be great to offer to workplaces and maybe even educational environments as a product. I would love to commission an illustrator to produce a giant doodle on the wall of my office and then leave a box of felt tip pens and the doodle ready to be coloured in by the staff whenever they felt like it. It could take days to complete; it could take months. Either way it would bring visual art and creativity into the workplace and would be a great way to relax and free your mind up to think over problems and solutions without feeling the need to be sat at your desk. When all the colouring is finished, you’d end up with a mural in the office to remain for as long as it was enjoyed.

It’s such a fun idea, and I really hope Matt and the other illustrators have the opportunity to create something similar again.

 Trade School image borrowed from thinkARK on Twitter; Doodle Noodle image from Cardiff Design Festival

Pointe Blank

A year or so ago I saw a tweet from RobBirmingham Royal Ballet‘s New Media Officer, announcing a new project, Pointe Blank, in which BRB had commissioned a number of illustrators and designers to respond to the plot and themes of the ballet Coppélia. The work was shown in Birmingham and also online, at

The work was wonderful, and showed a really interesting variety of responses to the brief. From a ballet marketing point of view, it opened up a new way to discuss the themes of the production and from a creative point of view gave the artists the opportunity to engage with a different creative form in a new way.

Following that exhibition, BRB repeated the project earlier this year, this time using their production of Hobson’s Choice as inspiration. The images were again shown in a gallery and online.

Next month BRB are bringing their production of Swan Lake to Wales Millennium Centre, so they decided to commission a new Pointe Blank collection, inviting illustrators and designers from Cardiff and South Wales to respond to the plot in the same way as before. On Monday I went to the opening of the exhibition at Milkwood Gallery in Roath, and it was great to see responses to the story by some artists I know, and others I don’t.

One of the highlights is Laura Sorvola’s hand-drawn illustration which depicts the entire plot of the ballet inside the lettering of its title. Laura has blogged creating this piece here. I also really liked Matt Joyce’s graphic pattern piece, and Joanne Hawker’s masked swan. You can view the full Swan Lake collection here.

I really like the big idea behind this – inviting creatives from one artform to respond to another artform in their own way, and it has prompted me to think about ways in which visual artists could be invited to respond to theatre, or perhaps theatre makers respond to visual art or music.

The exhibition runs at Milkwood Gallery until 8 October, and is part of Cardiff Design Festival.

Images by Claire Hartley. The full gallery is on the Pointe Blank Facebook page

This post was originally published on National Theatre Wales Community

Review: My Life in CIA

Last week I went to Give It a Name’s My Life in CIA. I reviewed it for Buzz Magazine. You can read my review here.

Livestreaming, Video and Theatre

Which is better? What does it mean? Where are the lines between each format? What’s it all for?

Guardian Culture Professionals raised these questions in a live chat last week, which you can view in its entirety here, but they have also produced a round up of some of the ‘top tips’ from the chat which you can use in your organisation. They included a couple of my suggestions and ideas, along with several from other interesting people. Check it out here.

Also, if you’re not yet a member of the Guardian Culture Professionals network I suggest you sign up. They send you lovely emails rounding up the week and on the site there are loads of articles, chats, tips and ideas.

Review: Spymonkey’s Oedipussy

Review: Oedipussy (by Spymonkey, at Wales Millenium Centre 27 April 2012)

Johan Persson / Spymonkey

The first thing to say is that this was one of the most enjoyable evenings of theatre I’ve had in a long time. The cast of four began out of character, mocking each other and reviews of their previous shows, and then launched into their very special take on the Greek story of Oedipus.

A mix of scripting (by Carl Grose), music (with several live vocal and instrumental sections played live by the cast), physical comedy and circus techniques, the show had a great pace and was genuinely gripping the whole way through.

The design of both set (Michael Vale) and costumes (Lucy Bradridge) was really impressive. A minimalistic-looking set gave a huge range of possibilities, featuring as ladders, stairs, walls, columns and a walkway transcending space and time on occasion. Costumes were also notable, particularly the use of a huge hat to turn the narrator into a Grecian column and a flock of sheep created by a long coat with giant pompoms around the hem. Ribbons and fabrics were also used to great effect to represent blood, in ever more surreal ways as the show went along.

Particular moments of hilarity included Petra Massey ‘misunderstanding’ the Sphinx and appeared on stage completely naked but with a giant cat head, the song ‘Leprosy’s Not Funny’, complete with audience participation in a repeating chorus, and a Morris dancing scene which, despite obviously covering a costume change, was perfectly placed and choreographed.

Each performer took a turn in stepping out of character and addressing the audience in tongue-in-cheek monologues, mostly involving how fat/old/talentless their fellow cast members are and what they plan to do when the tour is over, alongside sharing a host of medical complaints all apparently exacerbated by performing in the show.

Overall this was a wonderful night of theatre. Four incredibly skilled performers had me gripped not only by a story that’s a thousand years old, but also by their creative style and natural creative humour. Catch this if you can – it’s on tour at the moment – and if not I’ll probably see you at their next show!

Johan Persson / Spymonkey

Johan Persson / Spymonkey

Roundup of 2011 Part 1: QR Codes

I haven’t been amazing at updating this blog and one of my New Year’s resolutions is to be a bit better at it. For now, here’s the first of a few little roundups of some things that happened in 2011.

QR About Me

Part 1: We all talked about QR codes. A lot.

And I sort of got bored of it. The main points made were as follows:

  • They’re quite cool and we think people scan them because they’re interesting
  • Very few people are actually backing up (or disproving) the above with analytics data
  • They’re not as pretty as we’d like them to be
  • A lot of people are using them very badly (for example to link to a non-mobile-optimised homepage)
  • We can do more with them. But we’re not.

So what can we learn from this? Well, I’m steering clear of any “2012 is the year of the QR code” nonsense, but I can do think that they are a useful and interesting way to provide creative extra content as part of a communications strategy.

Here, then, are my top tips and thinking points for using QR codes in your marketing:

  • Be absolutely certain that whichever URL your QR directs to is mobile optimised. Test it.
  • Try directing QRs to other places. It doesn’t just have to be a URL. What about using it on your gig poster to add the event to the user’s calendar? Or use one on your business cards to add your details to the user’s address book. You get the idea, and there’s a helpful list of possibilities here.
  • If you are going to use a URL, make it a good one. An exclusive behind-the-scenes video, a wallpaper or song download you can’t access any other way, for example.
  • Use Google Analytics (or or other web analytics system) to find out how many people are using your codes and arriving at your site by scanning them. If nobody is, re-think where they are and what they do.
  • Make sure it’s scannable. It needs to be large enough, clear enough and situated somewhere with mobile internet signal. Don’t become one of Mashable’s Top QR Code Fails.

Check back for part 2 later in the week!


Review – Sinfonia Cymru, Dora Stoutzker Hall

Sinfonia Cymru, Dora Stoutzker Hall

31 October 2011

A training orchestra of sorts, Sinfonia Cymru bridges the gap between student and professional by providing young players with orchestral performance opportunities alongside high-profile soloists. Young performers tend to have an energy not always present with more seasoned players professional players, and this was certainly noticeable in this performance.

Given the late start time of 8pm, the programme was quite long and a few audience members did slip out before the final piece. Two symphonies and a piano concerto were packed in alongside the shorter Serenade for Strings by Dag Wirén, which rode along with joyful spirit in line with it’s folk-like style and tonality.

The first of the symphonies, Haydn’s No 83, opened enthusiastically and ended with triumphant gusto, though with a slump in energy during the central movements. Llŷr Williams then joined the players to perform Mozart’s Piano Concerto No 27. As usual, he brought a technically brilliant performance, with just the right amount of depth and expression for the work. Williams is a fascinating pianist to watch, as he cares for every phrase and expresses far more widely than just with fingers on the keyboard.

The programme was concluded with another Haydn symphony, No 85 in B flat major, into which the orchestra launched with almost joyous abandon. This was an enjoyable performance right through to the racing finale which, although taken at quite a pace, was as accurate and thrilling as could be demanded.

Overall the playing was excellent, the odd slip in synchronicity and some unloved ends of phrases aside, and all in all a very enjoyable evening. The players are obviously learning the ways of a professional orchestra and this is occasionally apparent in their manner and enthusiasm but they make a really excellent sound together, something that was only enhanced by the acoustics of the wonderful Dora Stoutzker Hall.


© 2018 Jen Thornton

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑