'I've Always Been a Frustrated Ballerina' after Stripping Traditional Welsh Folk Down to Its Bare Bones for the Album Tir, Cerys Matthews Is Now Part of a Collaboration to Reinterpret It through the Medium of Contemporary Dance. She Tells Nathan Bevan Why and How Her Love of Bob Dylan Cut Short Her Budding Career as a Ballerina
THAT Cerys Matthews never ended up becoming one of Wales' most successful ballerinas is entirely Bob Dylan's fault. The former Catatonia singer's formative years in Cardiff had been spent pirouetting in pink ballet pumps and perfecting her plies in front of full length mirror - until that is, at the age of 11, she first heard a certain Robert Zimmerman sing.
"It's true, I'd been learning to dance ever since I could walk really, but I packed it in to be more rock and roll," smiles the 43-year-old.
"Dylan was my secret hero and I just thought, 'Well, Bob doesn't do ballet' and that was that.
"Besides, I'd started playing a lot of instruments by that point - piano, guitar and a few different woodwind things - and wanted to concentrate more on music.
"I didn't want to be a jack of all trades and master of none," she adds.
Nevertheless, when Matthews was approached by choreographers Darius James and Amy Doughty to collaborate with Ballet Cymru on a new contemporary dance production she leapt (a grand jete perhaps?) at the unusual opportunity.
Their idea was to reinterpret the songs from Tir, her 2010 album of traditional Welsh folk, live on stage for a series of shows while the singer and mum-of-three provided acoustic accompaniment.
"It was certainly a strange request, but a really interesting one and there was no way I wasn't going to be up for doing it," says Matthews.
"Although I'm sure Darius had no idea when he got in touch just how interested I'd be, me being a frustrated ballerina and all."
But, she adds, the pairing might not be as incongruous as it first seems.
"Usually traditional songs will have a dance that goes with them, ones that have been honed over many generations.
"So the fact we're choreographing something new for something so old makes it really exciting.
"Just look at a melody like Llwyn Onn, which goes back hundreds of years and tells of a retired sailor who longs to settle down with his true love and have the kitchen of her cottage be the helm of his ship for the rest of his days," says Matthews.
"It's a lovely tune and an even more beautiful sentiment - I sing it a cappella, very fluid and loose."
Other tracks covered on Tir have a drastically less idyllic depiction of relationships however.
"There's a really gothic and macabre element to a lot of Welsh folk music, take Can Merthyr for example," she smiles, recounting the lyrics that portray a henpecked husband beaten by a ladle-wielding wife who never gives him any meat for his soup and keeps all the tobacco for herself.
"Usually I'll precede it with a more well-known love song like Love Me Tender before going, 'And this is how they do it in the Valleys'. …