My People, presented by Gwyn Emberton Dance, is inspired by Welsh writer Caradoc Evans’ collection of fifteen short stories of the same name. Evans’ first and most successful work, it highlights what he felt was the hypocrisy of the non-conformist church, finding its self-righteous piety in stark contrast to the poverty and injustice faced by ordinary people. These are dark, parable-like tales that involve madness, sin, ambition, pride, temptation and abuse, and ultimately the abandonment by the self-styled righteous, of those deemed undeserving.
The performance begins with a grim image of a woman tethered by a rope like a beast, walking towards the audience into a low light, until she strains at its limits, madness in her eyes. Such strong, stark images pervade the whole of the piece, which has a bleak intensity throughout. Comprising a series of interconnected short scenes, the performance intertwines several such elements from Evans’ stories together, and there is a definite intensity to the dancing that is in keeping with the harshness of his tales.
Recurring ideas, such as the use of white shirts by the dancers to symbolise religious virtue, work well, and tie the scenes together in an effective manner. White shirts was a term that Evans used in his writings to mean ‘white robes’ or religious raiments (gynau gwynion). As dancers fall from grace, they are divested of their white shirts, and consequently rejected (and possibly abused) by the rest of the community.
However, despite many very strong ideas, and much good work from the dancers, the choreography runs out of energy towards the end of the show, losing its focus as ideas are repeated. This, coupled with the fact that the seating is such that it is difficult to see the dancers unimpeded, means that My People does not deliver its full power.