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.
Saturday's performance started with FLEXA Dance Theatre and an intriguing work title, Festival and nagune (wayfarer). Ji Park is adept at using the individuality of her two performers – Aurore Marie's odd grace and Adrian White's stillness shine through in the best moments of Festival and nagune, and she literally floats in his arms towards the end, but the work doesn't quite cohere as a whole. Some elements bear little relation to the rest - the dancers are seen shrieking and running, an Edith Piaf song makes an appearance, and bits of dialogue come and go. The books used as props, first neatly divided into piles, then scattered, provide a compelling image of the performers' mental landscape, but despite the clever ending, the work does feel at times impenetrable.
Hyanglae Jin's Life in the womb, on the contrary, is a fully realised organic form, imbued with the strangeness of a Hong Kong film. The fascinatingly alien face of the choreographer and dancer lingers in the mind as she stretches into and retracts from the unknown, breathing with her musician (Revital Snir) - street noises fade in and out like a glimpse of the world outside the womb, heavily reminiscent of Marguerite Duras's L'Amant and its strangely preserved, sweaty atmosphere. Hyanglae Jin looks like she was just born and yet knows more about this world than any of us do as she stands in the end - an Outsider, utterly magnetic.
Extensions and Rooms, following an interval, is similarly the work of a highly individual performer. Petra Söör is a presence so natural and human on the stage that she never looks like she is performing - a soft, beautiful experience for the audience, and her choreography matches her qualities exactly. Extensions and Rooms is a reflection on the way we make new environments our own, and Petra Söör goes from atmosphere to atmosphere, changing dynamics, moving from the corners to a potentially hostile center. She explores each of them in a low-key, simple manner, but her eyes and light, hesitating hands create the limits of the world better than emphatic choreography, until she leaves the premises, switching off the lights herself.
Leaf Dance's Papillon is a lesson in not quoting Rainer Maria Rilke in a programme if you're not making poetry out of your every movement. Leyla Rees, the choreographer, has brought together a very talented group of four performers, but the "butterfly" evoked in the title is not reflected in the movement itself, which is by and large generic. The "exploration of inner hope" doesn't quite come to life, possibly because the response to the music is still very muted in Rees' work - more precision, more accents and personality would allow Papillon to go beyond the charming butterfly make-up to a true, individual language.
This part of the evening alone showed the diversity of the festival, with Slanjayvah Danza's sensual Blind Passion following the very different Extensions and Papillon. Jenni Wren is a master of contact work, and her blindfolded, almost entirely naked duo with Phil Sanger is breathtakingly vulnerable. The blindfolds bring a hesitation to their movements that makes their mutual trust and physical daring all the more fascinating - probably the most entrancing act of seduction and union to be seen in dance at the moment. It is a true shame that the Argentine tango inserted in the first part doesn't match the rest of the work, despite the apt choice of a Gotan Project slow track - born of improvisation, this dance is very difficult to choreograph, and both dancers need more experience in the style to make it the sinuous, feline, fluid vision that it should be.
A second interval brought us two intense works to close the Saturday evening show. Pair Dance’s RUSH is again a complete change of style, pushing physicality to the fore - exploring the madness and chaos of commuter life, represented by the seats lined up at the back, the work is carried by the sheer energy of its performers and Richard Leonard's intense soundtrack. The dancers don't hold back, acting out frustration in an outpouring of movement both drastically accentuated and thoroughly effective, although overall the work could use more contrast. Harriet Macauley's choreography goes for broke, and the dancers match it all the way, leaving the audience stunned.
Finally, the winner of The Place Prize 2008’s audience prize, Dam Van Huynh, took centre stage to send the audience home with an excerpt from Sudden Change of Event. Certainly one of the most professional offerings in terms of costumes and props, it is an absorbing take on chance and possibilities in choreography, as its randomness never looks chaotic. Disruption, changes of direction - it is a world that leaves one uneasy, all the while unfolding seamlessly. The company's dancers bring clarity, fluidity and rhythm to the piece, performed in silence, and it would be interesting to see what the full work, premiered in November, makes of this almost austere section.
Reviewed by Laura Cappelle of Bella Figura www.bellafigura.fr