Reviewed by Steph Elsob.
Upon my first visit to Jackson's Lane, I am completely unsure of what to expect both from the building itself and from Cloud Dance Festival. The festival is now into its third year; having been built from a mere platform to showcase Cloud Dance, it is now playing host to twenty-one companies over three nights. The auditorium in Jackson's Lane has a welcoming and homely feel to it. The open brickwork and high-beamed ceilings are a complete contrast to the black box stage. The stage is not the biggest but looks deceivingly larger when the legs are pulled back to reveal the lighting booms and the wing space, which is the way most of the choreographers have chosen to present the space.
"...when a body moves, and a string is plucked, in the discordant harmony we might find a new melody." This is a quote taken from the programme note for Crave Company's ‘Brutal Affinity’, the first piece of the evening. As I sat waiting for the performance to begin a lady in the row behind me announced to her friend: "Sounds great but I don’t really get it..."
As the piece starts we see the female dancer holding out a guitar to the male and her passing it to him. The guitar strings are plucked by both dancers throughout the piece over a continuous soundscape, which would give reference to the quote, but never do they create "a new melody." I feel that in programme notes we often write something we believe sounds appealing, but to an untrained audience they need to see evidence that the dance and the notes correlate, unless of course the piece is pure dance.
The choreography itself was interesting and well executed, although could have perhaps incorporated a better use of the space. The dynamics were evident in both male and female solos as well as a very strong focus, however both dancers could have used more attack as the movements appeared to lack energy and clarity on occasion.
The relationship between the dancers and the guitar was interesting. I interpreted that after the female had given the guitar to the male, she then became jealous of his bond with the instrument. This idea was supported by the section where the female was supporting the male on all fours and as he was playing the guitar, she reached around to untune it. This was a lovely idea which could have been expanded.
At the end of the piece the male dancer is being held off balance by the female, she is struggling under his weight which is a very powerful image, however I would have liked to have seen a quicker blackout for more effect. Sadly, I was instead left with an image of the male struggling to stay off balance and moving his feet to keep himself upright; without seeing that the piece would have had a much more powerful ending.
The story of a woman falling in love is never going to be a straightforward one and Jennifer Essex of The Truth Trading Company puts this across well in her dance theatre piece 'Washed.' The piece opens very cleverly using speech and lighting to introduce the dancer who is in the process of being seduced by the man we only hear about. Throughout the piece we hear both speech and music which gel extremely well, except for the second piece of music which was slightly too loud to hear the dancer's voice over. The broken-up monologue is very amusing in places, using typical female logic; a perfect example would be the line "Have you ever been on a date coz you were too lazy to commit suicide?"
The movement itself was interesting. Miss Essex has great extension in her legs and used them to full capacity while filling the piece with varying dynamics. There was a recurring theme of reaching towards the downstage right corner or travelling to and from that space which was quite powerful, the dancer often trying to hold herself back. The movement vocabulary was quite balletic with lots of leg extensions and kicks, which were made more contemporary with hip movements and a lot of pliés making the movements more grounded. The costume was perfect, a pink dress which would have been ideal for a date, as well as wonderful to dance in!
The piece was quite lengthy for a solo but was cleverly broken down by the use of speech and therefore managed to hold attention very well. I am not usually a big fan of some dance theatre but I particularly enjoyed this piece. Maybe as a female it was easy to relate to the crazy mindset of a woman falling in love and potentially losing love!
Kaleid/Collide, choreographed by Jessica Green, was the largest group piece of the evening so far with five women and one male dancer. The beginning section, with one female downstage right and the rest of the group diagonally behind her felt a bit too long and laboured. The female repeating the same movements but changing direction was a lovely idea, but after too long, the group's sudden movement towards her became expected rather than a surprise to the audience. The first male/female duet incorporated some very lovely lifts and floorwork, and the pair complemented each other well, moving easily between levels and space.
Throughout the piece, I felt the exploration of 'collide' was much more evident than that of 'kaleid,' with the dancers running across the stage and having brief interactions with other dancers once they had collided. There was a 'walking section' where the dancers literally walked in and out of each other in various directions creating a 'kaleid' in theory, but it was not a beautiful form which is the direct translation of kaleid. I was aware of the dancers creating various patterns as they walked but the direction changes could have been much sharper and the walks could have had more purpose, as they appeared to the audience as weak and lazy. The other use of ‘kaleid’ in the piece was during a female trio which took place towards the rear of the stage. The women moved beautifully in a triangle and changed directions to create a new front as in a kaleidoscope when the shapes move.
Between sections of movements as the dancers walked stage right they often looked back towards downstage left. I did not understand the relevance of this motif but it was repeated throughout with no real logic to it.
The last piece before the first interval was KORSNESkompani's 'Hjemme.' The piece opens with a square of light, downstage left. In the light, a female dancer performs a series of movements which build with repetition. The dancer is stationary for a while, so the audience becomes very aware of continuous and expansive arm movements. Both the square of light and the dynamic use of the arms, however, is very reminiscent of Russell Maliphant's style. Arms moving at speed in a stark light always looks impressive as the light seems to trail, lengthening the arms and making the movements appear never ending. Gradually the dancer moved backwards out of the light but kept returning briefly, and with various limbs. This was performed very well and to great effect, but appeared to be too derivative of Mr Maliphant’s work.
As the solo progressed and the square of light faded, the piece found its pace. The music had a grounded regular rhythm, with a slightly rocking feel to it. This continuous slow pulse almost became quite comfortable, a feeling that one would often associate with home, or 'Hjemme,' as the piece was titled. The movements of the swaying hips reflected the musicality perfectly, and this was a theme which recurred throughout. The dancer had a beautiful sensual quality and great energy, really holding her audience as the piece progressed.
In the later stages of the piece, the dancer performed her movements on top of a red stool. What I really admired is that she did not allow her movements to become at all restricted by being on a small surface, nor did the attack or energy of her performance diminish at any point, and this can often be the case. Again the use of repetition was clear and developed by facing various directions, and with the stool, on various levels, both sitting and standing.
I very much enjoyed this piece and would be interested to see what it could become with more development. At times it perhaps became slightly too repetitive, but the movement ideas were interesting and the music was beautiful and very romantic.
Cloud Dance presented us with five female all dressed in white in their offering, 'Come out to show them.' The women hold a strong eyeline to the audience in a very powerful and intimidating force. The piece followed the first interval of the night and brought back our attention immediately. The ladies appeared almost Amazonian in their movements, and they were most certainly going to command their space. The choreography was grounded and at times sensual, having the dancers silently move in and out of floorwork sections with ease and comfort and no noise. Particularly lovely was when we saw the dancers moving in unison, lulling their audience into a false sense of relaxation before new movements suddenly exploded in all directions from each dancer. I also liked the idea of the dancers all lying on their sides and using their legs in a running motion on the floor in unison. It was very effective; however, some things have more impact if repeated only a couple of times. What starts as a great movement idea can quickly become dull if continued for too long.
My only other comment on this piece is of the projected video. About halfway through the piece, I suddenly became very aware of the video becoming busier, and after glancing at it a couple of times, I found myself increasingly watching the reel of dark images, inspired by American Psycho, and eventually becoming drawn into the video rather than watching the dancers. This was a real shame, as the dancers were good and they deserved to be seen. Projection can be very effective if used correctly and should complement what is taking place on stage, not detract from it. There were a few moments of stillness or calmness in the piece during which the video could have pulled focus and worked very well, however, on this occasion I did not feel that the two really collaborated sufficiently.
Right from the first few movements, 'Mixology' by Rancid Ance had character and charm and a hint that we were in for something good. The three female dancers and one male moved casually between each other, swapping seats through flirtatious partnering; when they weren’t dancing, the ladies subtly unfastened one button at a time on their shirts/dresses. The voice of dub artist Sara Fuga was used to maximum effect as the dancers reflected her use of breath and pauses within their movements. Each female had a clearly unique relationship and response to the male dancer, he himself bringing a raw energy and strength to his partnering. The first duet flowed effortlessly and incorporated some tricky lifts and grips that were executed with ease. As well as performing with technique, this piece was the first of the programme where real character and personality was evident. I personally loved that the dancers kept their character when in the wings while watching their boy dance with another girl.
The use of a sheet as a prop worked beautifully. A female dancer covering the male's face and holding him off balance as he leaned into the material was a strong image, as was the male using the sheet to lift a second partner almost as an extension of his own arms.
Throughout the piece there was reference to a flamenco or ballroom partnering hold which was a gorgeous romantic gesture. The piece completely reflected its programme notes and brought us flirtatious encounters which were most certainly "liberating and fun."
Aziyade by Random Transformations Dance Company began with a female solo: from the programme notes one would presume that this is the harem girl referred to in Pierre Loti's love triangle. The music accompanying the solo, a Gnossienne by Erik Satie, is very beautiful and almost spiritual, however this was not reflected in what was being performed on stage. The movements lacked conviction and appeared to be very internal with no defined relationship between the audience, the dancer and the projection.
Following the female came a male solo. This was accompanied by spoken word, taken from the 18th century novel itself, as well as music, but again, there appeared to be no relationship between the words and the movements. If this was to be classed as a dance theatre piece, as it was billed, I would have expected for the dancers/characters to be introduced in a clearer way. There was no interaction between the male and female and therefore no hint of her being his love interest. I did however see a great focus from both dancers.
The guest belly dancer entered the space next. I do not have much knowledge of belly dance, including its technique and subtleties, but with her beautiful costume and jewels, the audience was held, as was I, for the first couple of minutes of her solo. The movements, although very minimal, were very sensual and incorporated great use of the arms and articulation in the fingers. However, without much use of space or changes in dynamics, an audience can soon get lost in watching something they don’t understand, and sadly this solo was just too long to hold interest. I would also question the relevance of including the belly dancer: was she meant to reflect one of the characters, or represent an aspect of the story?
A fourth solo was performed by another male dancer. Initially facing away from the audience, and by only moving his arms and his upper back, he brought some life back to the piece and showed some promise. His movements were a lot more expansive than we had previously seen in the piece, and he had a beautiful movement quality, however the choreography could have made this solo more grounded and a lot more fluid.
This solo was the peak of the piece; after that we witnessed a very stereotypical male duet which could have used some more imaginative lifts. The male duet has been explored so well now, by Matthew Bourne in Swan Lake, and The Ballet Boyz have been pushing the male boundaries for quite some time; unfortunately anything that comes short of these standards seems quite dated and empty. The addition of the first female back into the group did not significantly change the dynamic. The trio continued to roll over one another in varying directions, presumably defining the love triangle, but sadly it all took too long to establish itself and Random Transformations Dance Company had lost the attention of their audience.
Billed at the end of the Saturday evening as the headline piece, Hagit Yakira's "Oh Baby" did not disappoint. As soon as the male dancer entered the stage, took a look around the auditorium, and began to sing, I was instantly drawn in. This piece was the first of the night to communicate genuine personality and humour - it is amazing what difference a smile can make! The dancers were well-costumed, complementing each other in clothing as well as in charm.
Although both dancers were technically proficient, I enjoyed that the actual dance movements were not too obvious; instead they just seemed to carry the couple through space and were blanketed by an overall feeling of enjoyment, a gorgeous feeling to convey to any audience. One of my favourite moments in the piece was when both dancers lay on their backs, and he slowly moved his hand down to gently play with her hair before they carried on. Subtleties like this perfectly sum up the flirtatious and beautiful moments between couples and makes us identify with how vulnerable we can be when are we are loving or being loved.
The piece changed pace regularly from absolute stillness and calm to jumping frantically into each other and running from one side of the stage to the other. Again, these are perfect references to how a relationship can change speed and dynamics within a split second, but they always tend to come back to their neutral place of togetherness. The balance between music and the use of voice in the piece was perfect. From the female demanding hugs, the male shouting at her to 'say something!', and the change in music and rhythm at the end of the piece, it all worked together wonderfully. Hagit asks of Takeshi, "Hug me with emotion!" and that is exactly what was delivered to the audience: a tight squeeze of emotion that leaves you feeling warm and completely content.
In the end of her piece, Hagit asks of Takeshi, "Hug me with emotion!" and that was the perfect way to end the Saturday evening's performance. After a very mixed bill of varying ability and content the audience was left with a tight squeeze of emotion, leaving feeling warm and completely content.