Reviewed by Michelle Harris.
The weekend of 24th – 26th May marked the return of another splendid Cloud Dance Festival. With twenty works showcasing over three nights, Restless, Cloud Dance’s latest contemporary dance platform promised to be stimulating and informative.
If you go down to the woods today...
...you’re sure to find a Wendy house, grizzly bear, a wild boar, scary clockwork dolls and any other thing that scared you as a child. This concept was the premise for Essential Spaces to visit from the past by The Continent Stories Dance Company, who kicked off proceedings for Sunday night’s festival.
In trying to explore the personal bodily memories of the dancers’ childhood experiences, the work presented some rich movement ideas. The stiff-jointed plastic demeanour of the toy dolls, who eventually break down internally to form a heap on the floor and the animalistic convulsions of a dancer as she tries to fight being possessed by the spirit of a wild boar, the beast within, before he later devours her.
The Shadow puppets in the darkness of the stage are also a nice touch, although the exposure of one of the puppeteers at the start almost spoilt the magic. And why is this dance so unexpectedly short? With further development and more thrilling stories this quirky Blair Witch-inspired work in progress could make a spooky yet charming piece, for a children’s theatre production.
A strong emphasis on ritual and worship is evident early on in Na Comhguaillithe, Debbie Shine’s rework of Cloud Festival 08’s Elemental Magic, an exploration of the pentagram, femininity, the four elements and the circle that represents life.
Appearing like Isadora Duncan devotees, in a moonlit forest on Midsummer’s Eve, the symbol of the pentagram is signified as five females enter the space. They execute leaps, turns, rolls, kicks and body leans in the round, emphasising a circle of projected light fixed centre stage. As the dancers seem to build on their personal energy and synchronicity to form one kinetic body, there is the possibility of generating a frisson of activity that overwhelms and draws you in. However, Shine On doesn’t achieve this and the out of sync performers, along with the work’s overused circular format are in danger of careering towards tedium.
It is in the criss-cross opening of the performers in Na Comhguaillithe, that the depth of the dance really lies. Unconstrained by the circular aspects of ritual, Shine’s initial choreography explores the pentagram especially, using the dancer’s own extremity of body line. This approach hints towards the Bauhaus technique of point, line and plane, which, as a choreographic tool feels potentially more challenging and absorbing.
A single, a strip of masking tape forming a diagonal line from up stage to down stage, a music box yielding a childlike eerie melody, and a collection of dancers in white sets the scene around a sanatorium in Mad About You, by Diciembre Dance Company. But there is a twist. How can we tell the mad from the sane?
Two female performers who practically resemble twins perform an identical duet. The black dress of one girl is the only indicator of her sanity as opposed to that of her partner wearing a white dress - the clichéd ‘mad’ attire. A respectable male doctor removes his obligatory white coat to also reveal an inmate’s white gown. His lean legs lead him through a Gollum-like solo, wily and meandering, and so it emerges that perhaps this bastion of society is darker and less rational than his status implies. Even the controversial theories of German psychiatrist Sigmund Freud are put under the investigative spotlight, as a ‘mad’ girl stands on the chair, and hears aloud the requisite voice in her head, trying to convince her of shameful secrets buried deep in her conscious mind.
The repetition of specific motifs, such as one dancer who periodically repeats her phrase along a taped diagonal line, reminds us that this dance is a construction, manmade, not the absolute truth. Thus, perhaps just like our own stereotypical thoughts on madness and mental health. With exceptional strong dancing, Mad about You is a thoughtful and attentive work that refreshingly refrains from being too preachy.
In the experimentation of dance and multi-media technologies, factors such as time, money, availability of resources and sound creative ideas can limit the likelihood of producing interesting and sophisticated works. Armadillo Dance Project’s Red Bites for a Rainy Day, is a great example of a fairly simplistic concept combining dance with the projected image executed well.
With a camcorder and computer, choreographer Kathleya Afanador uses red items, a sock, glove, umbrella, to track her own dance movements and gestures; the pixels of which are then projected onto three freestanding giant white Triptychs. The wondrous result is literally witnessing an abstract painting created in real time. In fact, as the MIDI piano improvisation sound score builds, along with the washes, scattering and layering of blue, violet, green and yellow hues on the backdrops, one might imagine that it is the dancer’s moods and emotions unfolding before our eyes.
A second solo with dancer Emma Batman also intersperses this work, which apart from Kathleya acting as a catalyst to the screen projection, seems to have no more to it thematically than an engaging study into expression. However, Red bites for a Rainy Day is a visual treat, which not only warrants for its choreographer further investigation into more ambitious studies of this kind but would also serve as a fun and wonderful interactive installation, accessible to the public in an art gallery or as part of a dance expo.
A section of text from L’avalee des avales by Rejean Ducharme provides the inspiration and vehicle for Grounds, a novel dance work by Nux. Within the twitching of her head, fingers and toes, her lizard-like belly crawls; her impossible dislocating shoulders and writhing back; her whipped head and torso rolls which build rapidly to a captivating intensity, soloist Maïté Delafin is seeking an elusive and frustrating knot that is her inner self. In the background violinist Poppy Ackroyd plucks shrill and sombre tones on her strings, which amplified echo thickly through the air.
Choreographically the play with tension and resistance of the body against the surface of the ground, has allowed for some challenging movement choices. It’s just a shame that this solo didn’t stay true to its title and remain grounded. For the moment Maïté shifts to standing upright, the poetic struggle she is attempting to portray is less convincing, dissolving the charm and illusion of the dance. Disappointingly, Grounds which begins as an intriguing and above the ordinary study into the human condition, instead becomes an at times clichéd and self indulgent offering.
In April, sisters Aya Jane and Hana Saotome demonstrate their knowledge of contemporary and traditional Japanese dance forms with two individual solos, reworked into a lively and well-executed duet. Decked out in blue and green Robert Cavaliesque printed leotards, with mini bustles and black lace shorts, the girls appear mysterious and iridescent as they enter at different points of the stage. In turn each dancer explores then claims her territory, twisting and undulating limbs, listening, creeping and strutting about confidently, amid pockets of serene slow motion or alert stillness.
However it is when the two interact together that this collaboration becomes truly satisfying. Performing a series of travelling motifs in a cannon, unpredictable and as fluid as mercury, the sisters dart about, probing, entwining and circum-navigating the others personal space.
Performed to an atmospheric sound score complete with tribal drums and snatches of Aiko Horiuchi voice over, Aya Jane and Hana are like two exotic, mythical creatures playing in April showers. Or perhaps they themselves are the raindrops, chasing each other down an imaginary window pane.
In Oh Baby, dancers Takeshi Matsumoto and Hagit Yakira embark on a boy/girl relationship and explore the stuff that transpires and gets under your skin, within the event of loving somebody and being loved. As they enter, bounding confidently across the space and conversing in their respective languages, the ground is laid for communication verses miscommunication, and we are reminded that men and women aren’t just the opposite sex but perhaps they are two entirely different species altogether.
Reflecting the early stages of infatuation, they mirror each other, smack their own chests, then chase the others pathway before bodies collide; they need to touch, explore, and enjoy each other. Caught up in the drama of romance and in need of reassurance, Hagit yells hug me, stay, turn, fall, roll, kiss me... Takeshi eager to prove his affection and with the promise of love returned, is more than willing to obey, responding physically to her requests faster and more furiously, like a pet puppy on a lead. It’s here that the work strikes a chord, as we witness the dual male and female characteristics that potentially exist in all of us. And when Takeshi finally explodes, exhausted by her relentless demands, we can’t help but feel sympathy for his plight, whilst still utterly adoring Hagit.
It’s a physical yet cheeky romp by choreographer Hagit Yakira that is notably happy to be just an enjoyable voyeuristic, study without trying to offer a solution to the time old male/female conundrum.
From the opening scenes of Be Mine, it is clear that choreographer Drew McOnie has a knack for recreating well-crafted, striking dance images enthused by the famous MGM and Hollywood musicals. A couples’ “wakey, wakey” morning routine scene; an inspired slow motion backdrop of commuters on a rainy day; sweethearts playing cat and mouse games of love; a Pyjama Game-inspired ending where the cast strip off to finish the dance where it began. From the smooth nimble-toed Fred and Ginger-styled quick steps; the hunched-shouldered, knocked-kneed, broken-wrist stance of Fosse, to the explosive leaps and cracking body layouts of Jerome Robbins, this dance work also looks wonderfully authentic. Danced to the velvety yet haunting tones of Judy Garland, the company of nine dancers that make up Drew McOnie Dance Theatre give highly energised, expressive and polished performances. While the boys exude the cool, cocky slick of Gene Kelly, the girls emulate the sophisticated, dynamic sass of the two Ann’s, Miller and Reinking.
Admittedly the format of the dance work looks familiar in shape of Mathew Bourne, and McOnie is a past member of his New Adventures company. That said, elegant and glamorous, this is good old fashioned, feelgood razzle dazzle, carried off by McOnie in masterly fashion.