Trilogy - Michelle Harris

Cloud Dance Festival: Trilogy
Cockpit Theatre, London – 14 December 2008
By Michelle Harris

For two nights only Cloud Dance Festival brought its latest show Trilogy, to the modest surroundings of the Cockpit Theatre, London. Marketed as a triple-bill-plus-one, this contemporary dance platform   (now in its second year) featured the work of Tempered Body Dance, Cloud Dance, Martial Dance and Beyond Repair Dance companies.

Sunday night’s proceedings kicked off with Tag Along, an intense high energy duet by Tempered Body Dance. Performed to Nina Simone’s aptly named ‘He Needs Me’, dancers Melanie Simpson and Johnny Autin throw themselves through space and at each other, portraying a couple whose mutual passion results in an entangled claustrophobic relationship, bordering on the destructive.

Though short in length the duet is thrilling and daring; sometimes tender, sometimes brutal – at one point Simpson is literally discarded and flung to floor by Autin only to leap up again and dive at her lover. Clinging desperately to his chest she is then spun furiously in a whirlwind of motion.

In contrast Spoke, performed by Cloud Dance - and as with Tag Along choreographed by emerging Canadian talent Magdalene Wynne-Jones - was a more subtle affair. With the formality of a royal court the six female dancers execute polite gestures, teetering on the brink balances and splayed broken arms. This all suggested a group of women who endeavour to communicate and strike a commonality with each other, while possessing the vulnerability and fragility of a flock of birds with clipped wings.

However, despite several solo moments where Laban graduate Rebecca Goor lights up the stage, her captivating presence and assured, mature completion of the steps, is not enough to prevent the work from dragging a little. There is slight variation of pace within the dance and as it unfolds becomes overwhelmed by the superior and exacting Bach score. Although visually striking, things aren’t helped by the choice of black Dr Martin styled boots as costume, which during the group sections proved cumbersome for the less experienced performers, who struggled to keep in time and dance the movement to their fullest capabilities.

Once again the issues of group timing and cohesion popped up in Wynne Jones’ final piece Landing, also for Tempered Body Dance. But this wasn’t enough to overshadow this choreographer’s obvious gift for creating honest yet powerful duets, which draw on the intricacies and complexities of human relationships. In the darkness of the theatre the provocative words of Quentin N Woolf ring out, as a couple writhes sensually on the floor - entwining hips, arms and legs, as if one is witnessing a singular glorious body. Their intimacy is counter point to a lone dancer, contorting his way through his isolation in a corner upstage. Centre stage two females lift, support and lead each other through the imagined terrain. A sense of hardship, the desolate and the sparse is palpatable  in Landing but as this community comes together for the final ensemble, there is hope that their fight for survival can be won.

In conjunction to Wynne-Jones’ choreography, Trilogy also showcased works Yin+Yang, created by Martin Robinson for Martial Dance and Temporate Pulse by Jane Coulston for Beyond Repair Dance.

In Yin+Yang, established performer, Robinson (Phoenix Dance Company and RJC) brought to the stage his own dramatic blend of hip-hop dance and martial art techniques flavoured with a pinch of reggae. Dressed all in white and sitting Buddha style under a suspended punch bag, Robinson begins this solo of opposites sacred and serene before striding forward like Robocop and unleashing an awesome display of body popping and waving. Robinson is a master of his craft, a superb and virtuous technician. His ability to articulate the popping of individual muscles and wave his joints back and forth with the fluidity of rippling water is mesmerising to watch.

But it is in the meeting of the hip-hop and martial art styles that Yin+Yang fails to meet expectations. Not only does there appear to be a lack of martial arts in this Martial Dance work, the opportunity to thoroughly explore a genuine fusion of both physical disciplines, or to push the vocabulary towards its choreographic extremities is overlooked by Robinson. 

Thus the real highlight of the evening was provided by Beyond Repair Dance with the slick cyber dance work Temperate Pulse. Five dancers in black attire, bold red belts and edgy punk hairstyles communicate and integrate with each other, whilst probing a stark futuristic realm. Jane Coulston’s upbeat and refreshing choreography is full of juxtaposition, random connections and meticulous detail. As a dancer’s limbs hit a clean arabesque line, the body undulates, a wrist rotates and in a flash a hand signal is revealed. The image of air traffic controllers on speed is brought to mind at times, with this speedy and precise movement vocabulary, as well as echoes of Wayne McGregor’s Millennarium.

During the last third of the dance there is the urge for Coulston to throw caution  and control to the wind and allow Temperate Pulse to build to a chaotic and frantic conclusion. But then the final tableau of the dancers scattered in all directions, similar to a worn element snapping in an overrun machine is a satisfying one.

All in all the festival – brain child of Cloud Dance Company’s artistic director and producer Chantal Guevara – was informative, engaging and on form for greater successes in 2009.