Friday: Lesley Perez

Season after season, one of the greatest delights Cloud Dance Festival offers up is the pleasure of the unexpected. Although the London-based dance festival draws a few big names every year that add sparkle to its lineup (with the Royal Ballet’s Kristen McNally and SYTYCD’s Tommy Franzén grabbing many of the headlines this year), important exposure for the upstarts and relative unknowns continues to be CDF’s primary focus. And it is when these likely unfamiliar names and faces sweep you up in their passion, creativity and skill that the real magic occurs. Overall, the opening night of Firefly was an excellent example of that magic, which continues to draw dance lovers year after year.

Opening the festival on Friday night, Just Us Dance Company perfectly embodied the type creative potential CDF promotes. Picture Perfect contrasted striking improvisational-like contemporary movement full of anguish and isolation with the often contrived ‘happiness’ of social interactions. Joseph Toonga’s fluid choreography was powerful and affecting, particularly as interpreted by dancer Hannah Anderson-Ricketts. However the grinning friezes which the group of females repeatedly reverted to distracted from these strengths as an unfortunate and unnecessary overly-literal interpretation of the work’s title.

Next up in the lineup, Threads, by Udifydance Company, proved to be an exciting fledgling gem. Originally created for two of the all-male company’s apprentice dancers, the duet utilized a fascinating language of contact improvisation-based movement to explore the idea of working together towards a common goal. A captivating piece high on choreographic inventiveness, Threads would have been intensified further by more confidence from its two male dancers. Apprentice Sam Harbour and Christopher Reynolds, replacing Udifydance's other apprentice, gave sensitive, cohesive performances, however some extra intensity to really reach through their limbs and deliver a more emotionally engaged performance would have really taken this slightly overlong piece to the next level.

Bringing to mind recollections of Jarkko Lehmus in Cloud Dance Festival's previous festival, Dom Czapski took to the stage beneath a stark solo spotlight that illuminated the ripples of every muscle and sinew beneath his flesh in his highly-charged interpretation of a text meditating on the meaning of death. In Sea of Love, Czapski held the audience rapt as he danced lyrically through the tips of every finger and toe, driving home the closing message of: “Love life. You are alive.” A powerful, extremely moving performance demanded the short interval which luckily followed.

The night’s second set of performances began with a slice of a very nostalgic, contemplative and child-like world, courtesy of Diciembre Dance Group in Lewis After Wonderland. The confidently-danced duet for ‘Lewis Carroll’ and his fictional Alice was steeped in melancholy for moments passed, and was a beautiful example of how a fairly literal starting point can be used creatively to communicate much more universal experiences and emotions. The brevity of the piece only added strength to its well-formed artistic intentions. Simply a delight.

Unfortunately, Thirty-Two by Jui-Wei-Hung was not quite as successful. The admittedly abstract piece for three female dancers had no identifiable rhyme or reason to its form, darting between moments of wistfulness, lightheartedness, anger and foreboding, while a hastily edited soundtrack and garish costumes detracted from the actual quality of the movement. Although possibly in need of more considered choreographic ideas, the dancing itself was polished and technically adept, and the performers danced as a confident unit who also complimented each other extremely well.

Charlie Dixon Dance Company closed Firefly’s second set with a performance that stood out as one of the major highlights of the evening. Dixon was true to her programme notes in presenting a dynamic, high-powered style of contemporary dance that explored Darwin’s ideas on evolution. Like fellow Laban-alum Joss Arnott, featured in last year’s CDF, Dixon utilizes an intricate language that allows her choreography to adapt itself to the artistic requirements of each piece. In the case of Wise Man, this meant that her highly able dancers took on a terrific animalistic quality as they crept across the stage and balanced upon each other like organisms exploring themselves and each other for the first time. A company to definitely keep an eye out for.

Sol Dans continued the momentum with an intelligent, tongue-in-cheek mashup of children’s stories including Rumplestiltskin and Red Riding Hood. Grimm Times effortlessly blended the best of hip-hop, contemporary and jazz movement with stylish costuming and an effective ‘scene by scene’ structure to create something wholly innovative and highly entertaining. The one negative in this intoxicating concoction was that the performance seemed to lose steam towards its conclusion, finishing somewhat abruptly to leave the unfortunate impression of style over substance. Sol Dans seem a company capable of exciting things if they continue to push and refine their very unique offering.

In Lunar-tic, CDF veteran Slanjayvah Danza presented a powerful and personal solo work by choreographer Jenni Wren. Wren cut a striking figure in red, seeming both vulnerable and highly driven to fight for her place on the stage beneath a lone spotlight. Referencing cyclical transitions found in nature and the creative process, Wren was in turns dominated and carried away by a forceful, at times earsplitting, score. Her quiet step out from beneath the light at the end of the piece carried enormous meaning, indicating a seeming refusal of external pressures in favour of a more mature acceptance of ‘what will be, will be’.

Closing the programme, James Cousins Dance brought true wow-factor to the Pleasance Theatre stage with the primal, piercing Taste Water Again. Cousins stood out as an exceptional talent amongst Friday’s artists, his creative vision and choreography seamlessly taking the audience on a haunting journey of one woman’s struggle in response to some unknown event. The device of a lone female dancer who never left the stage amongst a shifting, intimidating and unaffected corps worked well to heighten feelings of despair. A brilliantly constructed piece, thrillingly danced, and an excellent closing to an overall varied and uniquely magical evening of performances.

Written by Lesley Perez of See It! Hear It! Live It!