Cloud Dance Festival - behind the scenes

Back in 2007 Chantal Guevara posted a call on the noticeboard for choreographers and dancers to work with her newly formed collective of dancers - some working professionally, others aspiring to do so.   Out of the flood of responses , Cloud Dance Festival, a thrice yearly platform for up and coming new dance was born.  In three years there have been nine festivals, involving 80 companies and an average of 100 people involved in each festival across a range of London venues.  The next one takes place this weekend  (5 & 6 Dec) at the People Show Studios, Bethnal Green.

The success of this independent initiative is largely down to one woman - Chantal continues to organize, programme and manage it all- alongside the demands of a full time day job.  And she even found time to answer afew of our questions...

How did Cloud Dance Festival come about?

Back in April 2007, I was researching studio space for our company Cloud Dance, when I noticed the low cost of some venues, and realised that it might be completely insane, but otherwise feasible, to hold a platform on two or more days - and still manage to break even. There was absolutely no point in booking a venue for Cloud Dance alone, so we'd have to invite other companies to perform anyway  - and I had some in mind from the start. And so the festival was born.


What's your background - are you a dancer? 

I'm not a dancer, sadly - I started taking contemporary dance classes back in '95, and although I dreamed of applying to dance school about eight years ago, I've had to stop dancing altogether for the past few years due to knee problems. I'd love to return to class, but given the choice between fixing my knee and working on the festival, the festival always wins.


What's your main aim with Cloud Dance Festival?

I noticed that of all the art forms, contemporary dance seems to be the least organised, with the most gaps and fewest resources, and over the last three years, I've been interested in looking into them and seeing what I can do about them. With the festival, I've wanted to address the large number of highly talented choreographers and dancers based in London and beyond, with few opportunities to showcase their work, or little incentive to create new pieces.


How do you fit into the London dance scene?

We don't actually have much contact with other dance organisations (except through Twitter!), although that's mostly because there's very few of us, and we're normally completely swamped with working on each festival.


Through Cloud Dance, we had a lot of contact with most of London's dance studios, and one side-effect of the festivals is that with a large proportion of the pieces being created specifically for the festival, that generates a lot of business for the studios. We also provide the participants with a list of recommended studios, and we hope they're benefiting from that.


Are you hoping to provide a platform for the companies you feature to go on to other things?

Of course we hope that they'll stay with us, but we do get very proud when we see them move on, and we support them as much as we can.


You always use different venues - is that out of choice?

It's entirely not out of choice - I've often said that I long for the festival to have a home of its own, so that we can keep holding it at the same venue again and again. It's all about availability - we started seeking a venue for the next festival seven months in advance, and ended up approaching 49 venues.


An obvious disadvantage of moving around is not being familiar with the venue in question, especially when it comes to knowing what's achievable, and also when answering queries from the performers. It was wonderful holding two consecutive festivals at Jacksons Lane, and it made it so much easier for us to prepare for July's festival as a result.


A benefit of moving around, however, is the opportunities it creates in bringing contemporary dance to a new community, something we plan to explore further next year.


Ballet Black are a late addition to December's programme - how did that come about?

That was all down to Twitter! I've seen Ballet Black several times this year, and I've dreamed of having them in the festival, but never dared approach them about it. Then a week ago, they heard through Twitter that we were having a line-up crisis, and they offered to step in. At the same time, other Twitter users were encouraging me to go with Ballet Black - it was a very entertaining Sunday night online!  In hindsight..

Tell us about your line up for Parade this weekend.

The first thing to say about it is that it's mostly audience (and our) favourites from the past year, and the matinee is going to feature the highlights of the whole festival (excepting Ballet Black, who are only performing on Sunday evening). Only five of the companies were applicants, and two of them have performed in past festivals.


Sophia Hurdley has worked with New Adventures for several years, so we're really looking forward to seeing her work; Nexus Dance completely amazed us with their performance in July, so we're thrilled that they're returning. Slanjayvah Danza is one of the 'new' companies, but we absolutely loved the clip of their piece, and it will be wonderful to have them in the festival. Ji Park is someone I've supported a lot this year - her work is very experimental and creative, but sadly she's having to return to Korea shortly, so this will be her final performance with us.

Whats next for Cloud Dance Festival? 

 We're aware that the festival needs to develop to avoid stagnating, so we've been working hard on our plans for next year, which include attracting larger-name companies to our line ups, and focusing more on artistic development and support - trying to see how the festival can better benefit its participants. I'm also starting to think we need a theatre of our own...


This is all going to require funding, which will be a challenge for us, as we've been unfunded till now, but certain things are becoming urgent, such as needing salaries and office space!  For the most part, I've run the festival by myself, but I already have a full-time job and as the festival grows, it's becoming harder to juggle the two. I have an arts manager, and we have occasional volunteers, and we've been lucky that most people involved in the festivals (our stage manager, ASMs, photographers, video editor, reviewers)  have been willing to work for reduced rates or for free, however we're aware that we're going to need to start paying them, or face losing them.


Meanwhile Parade is going to be the celebration of three years of Cloud Dance Festival, and a tribute to all it's achieved in that time - from an ad posted on and a subsequent pub meeting, to being able to hold its own 'best of' event, with our most exciting lineup yet!

Original interview published on