Reviewed by Steph Elsob.
Sunday 26th April brought Cloud Dance Festival's 'Restless' to a close. The evening presented eight works to a busy and enthusiastic audience. Following the previous night's performance when I had tucked myself away towards the back of the auditorium, I found myself only a couple of rows from the front, eagerly anticipating the first piece.
The Continent Stories Dance Company's exploration into things that frightened us when we were children in their piece 'Essential Spaces to Visit From the Past,' gave us insight into three scenes. From a stalking boar, to dolls with fixed grins and a bear who knows where you live.
The piece opened with a tent, representing a house, set slightly to the left of centre from the audience’s point of view, and three females moving around the stage wearing beautiful dresses and holding torches. A shadow of a wild boar was cleverly projected onto the material of the 'house' with the sounds of snorting and grunting accompanying the shadow. The three females were either looking for, or looking to avoid the animal but with no particular evidence of dance movements yet with a great sense of urgency. I feel the torches could have been used more, perhaps if the dancers had all moved them together at some points or made some sort of pattern with the lights it could have had more dramatic effect. Once one female entered the 'house', her torch was used to trace the outline of the building before the boar and its sound effects reappeared. The end of the fight between the dancer and the animal brought the best moment so far, when the lighting inside the 'house' changed from a stark white to red: to presumably represent bloodshed.
The next scenario brought us two females with great fixed expressions of wide eyes and scary smiles moving around the space on high demi pointe. These were the kind of dolls no little girl would want sitting by her bed! The girls performed a lot of their initial movements in unison, continuously staring into the audience. The movements built up into some quite acrobatic partnering, one girl being flipped backwards over the other’s shoulders, all the while being perfectly accompanied by slightly broken and bitty piano music.
The last of the fears brought us a bear. The bear costume was not the scariest bear I would have imagined, and the dancer in the costume simply crawled out of the 'house' as the dolls were dancing. She didn’t appear to be particularly threatening in any way as she moved to the back of the stage to pick up the black board. Up until now the boar and the dolls had succeeded in appearing to the audience as quite creepy, and one could certainly envisage a child being scared of them. Sadly, the bear, having turned around the black board to reveal the message 'I know where you live' ended the piece with the audience laughing rather than being scared. The projection of the boar was so effective, perhaps a projection of a bear would have had more of a dramatic impact? There also could have been more of a relationship between the dolls and the bear, in a way that the bear could have been stalking or following them at points.
This type of dance theatre is not my personal favourite form of theatre, but I did appreciate the puppetry and was entertained throughout. Although the dance vocabulary wasn’t particularly vast in this piece, it was obvious that the dancers were skilled and they are very talented story tellers.
The second piece of the evening, 'Na Comhguaillithe' by Shine On, opened in a cold blue light. The piece was exploring the use of pentagrams, femininity, and the elements according to our programme notes, but not all of the above were evident as the piece developed. The pentagram initially was easy to spot: there were simply five female dancers who joined into movements one by one until all five were moving in unison. The blue light faded into a large circular spot in the centre of the stage which established itself as a focal point. The dancers moved in circles, following the outline of the spotlight, and hardly moved from that pattern until nearer the end of the piece. Occasionally one dancer moved around the outside of the others, but quickly fell back into place on the circular route. The programme notes did mention that the choreographer would like to eventually perform this piece in the round, so one wondered whether the circular light is representing her ideal staging and in the developed piece whether the light would still be included or necessary?
Throughout the piece there was a continuing theme of one dancer beginning a new movement phrase, then a second, and a third, until eventually all five performed the new phrase together. The women spent a lot of time rolling, or involved in floor sequences. They performed with good focus, however it all appeared to be very light without a great deal of attack or commitment.
Apart from the fact that the dancers were female, there was not a huge deal of evidence that the choreographer was exploring femininity. Females in dance tend to be portrayed as either strong/powerful, almost Amazonian creatures, or as sensual beings, and neither was clear in this piece.
The journey into the elements was not portrayed particularly clearly either. The use of floorwork could maybe be seen as quite earthy movements, and the light. flowing energy of the dancers could possibly pass for water, but there was a distinct lack of fire which would have really brought the piece to life and given it some spark.
By the end of the piece, the circular light faded back into the cold blue state as in the beginning. The movement ideas in parts were nice, but relied on huge amounts of repetition which can only carry a piece so far. The use of unison, canon, levels, patterns and repetition were all extremely clear, but sadly this piece felt bland and unflavoured.
Diciembre Dance Group was founded in 2008 to explore social issues through dance. Their latest offering, 'Mad About You,' looked at the social stereotypes of madness within our everyday society. The piece opened with a female placing a music box onto a chair, which sat at the end of a strip of white tape splitting the stage diagonally. The music box seemed to be a treasured possession, and upon it being taken away, we saw the dancer become slightly withdrawn and less excited. Dressed in white, she began to move horizontally across the stage, followed perfectly by her shadow, a dancer upstage dressed in grey. Both females moved well together, with a great use of pliés and dynamic. This piece already appeared to be a lot more polished and rehearsed than those which preceded it.
At the end of this first section, two dancers, one male and one female, entered the space dressed in white doctor’s coats and approached the first female. She was given a doctor’s coat and put it on, thereby transforming her from a 'mad' person into a 'normal' person with a simple costume change. The women then strapped the male into a straitjacket before leaving him alone on stage. The movements in the straitjacket were fairly basic; it would have been interesting to see more choreographic use of the torso, taking advantage of the dancer being restricted in ways we normally don't see.
The next female solo dancer had great flexibility and her movement was very unique in comparison to the other dancers in the company. Another female used the white tape as a focus point, moving along it as if it were a tightrope. She interjected between the other solos and sections and every time she appeared the same piece of music played. This was a very nice touch: relating a piece of music to a character often makes it easier for an audience to relate to, as seen in 'Peter and the Wolf' where a certain instrument always relates to a certain animal.
The last solo in the piece identified a girl, 'Kate' who heard voices and conversed with the character we only heard but never saw. This dancer performed some lovely movements on her chair which she moved around the stage with her. She repeatedly stood on the chair and turned around herself, focussing up to the ceiling, as if searching for the voice she was hearing. This section was fairly short and it would be interesting to see how it would have been expanded or developed as there were some very interesting ideas.
The piece carried its message well and was very clear in exploring varying degrees of madness. The movements were well executed by the dancers but it did feel that the ideas in the piece were touched upon but not explored fully.
Following the first interval of the night, Armadillo Dance Project presented 'Red Bites For a Rainy Day.' Three large screens were set up diagonally just off centre, leaving the stage left area free for the solo dancer. The piece tracks movements of red items from a camcorder through to a computer using the 'calligraphic sweep of limbs' to create images on the screens. The idea itself is very clever and initially watching the extremities of the dancer being traced onto the screen is entrancing. The first red item is an umbrella, next are socks, and then gloves before returning to the umbrella, using it closed rather than open the second time. The umbrella was more effective when used closed. The movements were slicker and obviously very well-rehearsed as the dancer perfectly executes tricks catching the umbrella.
The use of extremities whilst the dancer wears socks and gloves is much more effective on the screen. The shapes created are much vaster and the difference between a flexed foot and a pointed foot which may appear subtle on the dancer, are very clear on the screen.
The music accompanying the piece is a recording of a piano improvisation which is wonderfully eclectic in rhythm and pace. It works extremely well against the image created on the screen which similarly varies in shape.
The dancer had a lovely energy and was obviously very technically proficient. She did hold focus well but unfortunately the image created on the screens diverted our attention as it became busier and fuller.
'Grounds', choreographed and performed by Maïté Delafin of Nux, was a solo accompanied by a violinist on stage. The dancer begins upstage left on the floor, using a lot of upper body movements, beginning slowly and building speed as the music built at the same time. The dancer had great mobility in her back and explored the movements fully. The floorwork section was perhaps a bit too long and I began to look to the musician for an alternative focus. The dancer gradually rose to her feet, but began a falling sequence which was not carried out with conviction and instead looked slightly careless rather than a deliberate to get herself back to the floor.
The strongest part of the piece came about as the dancer slowly stood up downstage right, almost directly in front of the violinist. She raised her focus very slowly from the floor up to the audience and held her focus there for the first time in the piece. The image created by this gesture was both strong and vulnerable at the same time, drawing the audience in for the next section of movement.
The piece ended with a frantic section of music and dance, which appeared to almost be improvised by the dancer. Initially the movement was very interesting and diverse but quickly settled into a pattern of using circular arm gestures and fewer original movements.
There was no real evidence of a relationship between the dancer and the musician; whether that was intentional or not is uncertain. It may have given the piece an extra dimension if this relationship had been explored further.
A collaboration of two solos between Aya Jane and Hana Saotome created the piece 'April,' which led us into the second interval. The two female dancers were accompanied by a voiceover, recorded by Aiko Horiuchi, and moved one at a time, introducing each of their movement styles. The first dancer used accents in the voice to give her movements rhythm and breath and performed an animalistic sequence across the front of the stage. Her movements were very grounded and driven by her focus towards the opposite side of the stage. The second dancer used beautiful arm and hand gestures, which were very articulate right through to her fingers.
The dancers wore identical costumes in oil slick colours of dark greens and blues. They showed off their bodies and movements wonderfully, however the bows on the back were very large and fussy and often distracting.
As the piece progressed the girls moved together performing the same motifs but on different levels, often with one dancer kneeling in front of the other standing dancer. The use of canon and unison was evident and both dancers performed with attack and looked very well rehearsed. They did however appear to quite literally be two separate solo dancers with very different styles and agendas, and only when they came together was there any evidence of them being linked, and even then this was with movements other than those featured in their solo creations. Both women brought beautiful qualities, but it would have been nice to have seen more facial expression or enjoyment from them both.
After a second interval, I was ready to be drawn into my second viewing of 'Oh Baby', choreographed by Hagit Yakira. Having seen, and loved, this choreography on the Saturday evening there was an element of anticipation and not wanting to have built up the piece too much, but I was not disappointed. The audience was warmer and much more responsive than that of the Saturday show, and smiled and laughed a lot louder in all the right places. The dancers seemed to feed off this extra energy and appeared to be even more playful and interactive. They invited us into their relationship with more spontaneous sounds and smiles, making us feel included in their flirtatious games.
This delightful energy carried into their movements and the technical aspects of the piece were more evident in this second show. Where often we find a piece can appear lazy if performed more than once, 'Oh Baby' had a freshness and vitality to it, and both dancers appeared to be pushing the boundaries of their comfort zones with both acting and dancing on the Sunday evening.
Once again this piece left me smiling and wanting to see more. It would be wonderful to see this piece in a bigger space and with a larger audience to appreciate it!
Restless concluded with Drew McOnie Dance Theatre's 'Be Mine.' Three couples begin, going through the motions of waking up next to each other, although they are vertical rather than horizontal! The dancers all wear black underwear, looking fabulous and confident as they go through the motions of brushing their teeth and getting dressed.
The piece then takes us through scenes featuring various couples and solos, all dazzling us through the wonderful Judy Garland soundtrack. A beautiful secretary, advertising Starbucks, gains the attention of an office worker, a stunning redhead struts her way across the stage in shades, closely followed by her bag-carrying boy. The mood is unashamedly camp and upbeat except for one gorgeous solo on a chair which almost brings a tear with simple facial expressions but even that can't dampen the spirits!
McOnie's dancers are all highly trained and technically proficient, also bringing with them bucketloads of personality and character. They each have their own spark and sassiness which, when put together, create an explosion of glitter and fire, ending the show with a real bang.
Restless could not have finished with two sweeter pieces. The programming for the Sunday evening was perfect and I hope, the highlight of the festival. Cloud Dance Festival is still completely self-funded. The work evident both backstage and on stage proves what can be achieved through real passion and dedication. The standard of the festival is incredibly high and I would love to see what it could become with financial assistance.