So how many festivals actually survive without funding, presenting creations year after year? Cloud Dance Festival has been doing it thrice-yearly since 2007, and proudly introduced its Parade edition in December. Three performances over a weekend featured both favourite artists and newcomers, and although the People Show Studios proved quite small, seeing the performers up close is a privilege often denied in larger venues. The genius of Cloud Dance Festival also lies in its selection of short pieces, some of them works in process – you may not like something, but there are always 7 very different companies to discover, often introducing fresh new works.
Sunday's performance had an altogether different feel to it from Saturday’s, with two "narrative" works to kick off the evening. Diciembre Dance Group, a young company formed by Lucía Piquero, aimed very high with its first creation, The House of Bernarda Alba. It is encouraging to see young choreographers still taking inspiration from literature, and Mats Ek already proved that Federico García Lorca's play was well worth exploring in terms of movement. Lucía Piquero actually tried to go back to the original instructions of the play, and uses a cast of seven women to represent Bernarda, her daughters and the servant. Her style is lighter than Mats Ek's, inspired by the dancers' ballet training, but the mantillas, fans and religious postures bring the right note of obsession and ritual to the actual dancing. Giving a sense of the play's heavy symbolism in such a short time is a feat in itself, and Piquero uses her best dancers to the utmost, giving them short solos that highlight their individual dynamics. The piece could however be tighter and the ensemble parts more precise and powerful – steps were routinely blurred, but it is a promising start for the young Spanish dancer and choreographer.
Sophia Hurdley's Callas, on the other hand, is an absolutely unique work, quite unlike anything else performed that weekend. Based on the love story between Maria Callas and Aristotle Onassis while he was married to Jackie Kennedy, it uses R.J Murrow's voice and black and white film footage to give the audience a welcome sense of the context. Its blend of dance, music and drama is just superb, and Callas features great performers, whose scope and musical instinct are a testament to their West End background. Sophia Hurdley, in particular, soars through the choreography with an elegance absolutely fitting for Maria Callas - her clearly defined lines and the tragic sweep of her dancing bring true emotion to the singer's journey. Shelby Williams is cast to perfection as Jackie Kennedy, neat, clear, her serious austerity perfectly contrasting Callas, and James Leece's nuanced, fascinatingly restrained and awkward Onassis matches them both in acting. The triangle, with R.J. Murrow (Mike Denman) watching over, works dramatic wonders, especially when all three dancers (Callas and the couple) find themselves sharing the stage and mirroring each other. A stunningly expressive work, and a true ode to dramatic dance.
Lîla Dance's Here, Still Here, Still was born from a fascinating idea - what happens when you take away from someone his or her usual partners? A woman, Carrie Whitaker, has to work with the memories of these absent presences, and the seamless, dynamic piece that results shows her as a true performer, twisting and stretching her body into odd positions, moving into and away from the floor like a disturbed puppet character. All very well, but Here, Still Here, Still moves too fast to convey a sense of what is missing from the stage - her oddness is linear, almost too well-knit, and I wish her eyes had expressed more of what used to be. This thought-provoking experimentation just lacks a hint of structure and sense of communication to be compelling.
Free me out of existence, choreographed by Denzil Barnes and performed by Sezdrenah Dance Theatre, is an odd version of the battle between good and evil. A man in white goes through a mental combat of sorts with three figures in black lurking in the background, reminiscent of clichéd drug dealers. His struggle quickly takes the form of a MTV video, filled with relentless music in the background and thoroughly repetitive choreography. The good/evil division is far too simplistic – what exactly is it that they're doing to him? Can it be expressed through choreography? Without those vital elements, the figure in white looks like a martyr in a trance, an entity stuck in its agitation. It is a shame, as the dancers have a natural stage presence, and could do more with the street dance flavour of the work, but strong, well-composed choreography is the necessary evil, and it was missing.
Sol Dans, on the other hand, is a company bursting with ideas, and Melody Squire showed in Groundlings that she is a choreographer to be reckoned with. She was born in Chicago, and it shows, with jazz influences running deep in her vocabulary – Groundlings is American energy as we like it, physical and daring. The six dancers come out as tribal creatures, at once birds and panthers, their wild hair and painted bodies an indication of the form of ritual to come. The choreography hurls them into playful, energetic groups, and is only interrupted by the ribbons of cling film hanging around the stage – giving us the strange, beautiful image of animals suddenly trapped. Watch out for the future choreographic developments of Sol Dans – their escapism is very welcome.
Nexus Dance was billed to perform three solos, but only two made it to the Festival, namely Of Nothing and They Who Have Wings. Unfortunately, short and unrelated pieces are not the best format for a performance, especially without context, and neither registered really strongly. Josh Ben-Tovim is a beautiful dancer, all limbs and angst in Of Nothing, but I'm not sure how this piece differs from the thousands of «emotional» solos performed everywhere. They Who Have Wings was graced with wonderful live music from Tom Kirkpatrick, and his dialogue on stage with dancer and choreographer Siân Hopkins was probably the most interesting side of their work.
Last but not least, Ballet Black made an impromptu appearance, replacing another item. This highly-trained, fascinating company presented Pendulum, a pas de deux choreographed by Martin Lawrance to Steve Reich's Pendulum Music. Cira Robinson and Jazmon Voss both proved excellent in it, handling the classical virtuoso moves and contemporary partnering with flair, and a physical involvement all the more fascinating to watch from up close. The edgy, powerful competition between them wanes when they come together, yet feeds the tension of the pas de deux. It would be contemporary ballet at its best if Lawrance had selected another composer – Steve Reich's repetitive noise of a score gives no basis for movement, and a relationship to music would have given even more impulse to the couple. But Ballet Black's commitment to creation is a rarity in the ballet world, and its dancers are a class act.
Reviewed by Laura Cappelle of Bella Figura www.bellafigura.fr