Contemporary dance is often met with groans and confused looks, but this audience was both appreciative and intrigued to see more. Trouble and Desire, following suit from the 9 festivals before it, provided a platform for emerging contemporary choreographers and companies to show their work in The Pleasance Theatre, Islington. Offering these opportunities thrice yearly, Cloud Dance Festival is an unfunded organisation working to develop audiences for contemporary dance and is successful in its mission.
SuperB Dance Theatre opened the second night of the festival with No Sense? Nonsense!, an exploration into the emotional journey of a classical dancer who loses the use of her legs. With a striking blue backlight dancer Lucía Piquero sits on a chair facing upstage, delicately stretching her arms into classical positions. After dropping her hair band, the dancer reaches to retrieve it and rather over-dramatically falls to the floor. Later, intricate folding of the legs slowly move the body through the space, hands forcing the limbs into manoeuvrable positions with much effort. The challenge this dancer faces is most clearly represented here, and paired with the often pedestrianised movement marries the wealth of emotions with the choreography.
Although there are these moments of clarification and unity, I can’t help but wish choreographer WooJung Kim had worked with a performer who is actually in this situation to create a more powerful work; there are certainly plenty of amazing disabled dancers who would be able to fulfil this role.
Journeys Bound performed by Tunbridge Wells-based Cascade Dance delves into the concept of ‘home’ and reveals a glimpse into the six performers’ experiences of travelling. Cascade Dance usually creates site-specific work, so when showing in a theatre this bridge was beautifully gapped by projections engulfing the back of the space. Looking out the windscreen of a moving car the audience are taken to various locations, however this shift is not always apparent in the choreography. The limited movement vocabulary seems to halt innovative combinations and the dancers tended to seem hesitant with no real dynamic flow.
The section that seemed to lift the piece was unfortunately short in duration and came towards the end. The gradual diffusion of one movement phrase through the group transcends uniformity and emphasises the individual journeys these dancers have taken. A promising relationship between technology and the body which would benefit from an enhanced movement language.
The only solo of the night, Love Me Again, choreographed and performed by Jui-Wei Hung, provided a technically strong and beautifully performed declaration of love. With dim lighting through to a passionate red backlight, Hung balances movement and drama perfectly, allowing us an insight into this rather desperate relationship with her lover. An intriguing performer and a promising choreographic talent.
With the constant ticking soundtrack Taciturn present Grapple. The strongest opening of the night by far sees four female dancers in a steep diagonal line hitching and balancing to the point of collapse. This ripple of movement throughout a dimly-lit space creates an almost haunting effect. When the lights slowly come up the dancers are seen to be wearing black business suits, shuffling across the stage in a group. Lunges, jumps, rocks and slides form the tightest unison phrases I’ve seen in contemporary dance for a short while, emphasising the slickness of the choreography. With a subtle shift in lighting, a large iron clock casts a shadow downstage and becomes the focus during the incredibly physical contact sections. Huddled under the clock the group display an innate understanding of the principals of weight sharing and produce a series of highly physical lifts with carefully measured dynamics. The development of Grapple from start to finish leaves the audience out of breath and intrigued.
From here on in I found that I could not tear my eyes away from the stage long enough to make any notes, which is a rarity and a tribute to the fantastic programming of emerging and professional dance companies in Cloud Dance Festival.
Ffin Dance presented an extract of full-length work Sweetheart Roland and boy, do I want to see the rest of it. Based on the gruesome story of Sweetheart Roland by the Brothers Grimm, choreographer Sue Lewis and designer Steve Denton have collaborated to create an endearing and jam-packed world. From the three sections that were shown the song choices are exquisite and complement the fantastic dancers beautifully. In a horizontal line the four dancers dash up stage packing a punch to a Radiohead track, extending and folding their way expertly through the space with tact and grace.
In the programme note choreographer Jenni Wren quoted ‘passion cannot be described only experienced’ and this is true of Slanjayvah Danza’s Blind Passion – Live Cut too. Dancing with Riccardo Meneghini, Wren has created an explosively seductive yet non-erotic duet. The seamless fusion of contemporary and tango enthralled the audience. There is a constant strength behind the movement and the dancers combine powerful lifts with unyielding eye contact until the beautifully timed introduction of blindfolds. By shedding their tops the couple become completely equal, both with heightened sensitivity to touch allowing them to feel their way through the complex choreography. The removal of their blacks pants resemble a state of nakedness, adding yet more intensity to the movement. In a moment of suspense Meneghini grabs Wren by the face and throws her across the stage; a daring lift executed with extreme poise and strength (accompanied by a small gasp by the person sat next to me). With no added drama needed, Blind Passion choreographically allows for muscle tensing suspense for the audience; do not pass up the opportunity to see this work.
Morgann Runacre-Temple’s Shrewlands is reminiscent of works that commonly grace the stage of The Place. With a few unfortunate technical hitches sometimes the choreography was masked, especially the opening duet made up of predominantly intricate arm gestures. Squares of light canvassing the space attempt to dictate where the audience should look, however Runacre-Temple seems to have forgotten to choreograph the moments when the dancers wait in the (not so) dark areas of the space, as the audience see the performers paused, waiting for their cue. When one of the final duets takes the stage the real intricacy of the work comes through, as a confident and polished pair execute their movement material superbly. Overall choreographically Shrewlands is intricate and demands a keen eye for detail to be fully appreciated; without the technical problems and onstage waiting, this work could become an exciting composition.
Renowned choreographer and dancer Mavin Khoo closed the show with Amour, his take on Romeo and Juliet’s innocent love for each other. Using Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet as a score provides a bold challenge to both performers and audience, but Khoo manages to balance the drama in the score and on stage beautifully, although there is still room to layer more intricacies to the tale. Khoo’s signature style infuses the classical movements to take this work further than other interpretations of this infamous coupling, allowing for a new, rather uncomplicated reading of this ultimately tragic narrative. Dancers Lucía Piquero and Ricardo Vitello inject a sense of tentativeness and curiosity, a state somewhat enhanced by Romeo’s hesitancy to touch Juliet at points and her rather coy gesture of lifting her skirt up to let him lie underneath her. With some moments of stunning imagery where leg extensions seem never-ending and eye contact is unrelenting, Amour offers a new look at an old classic in Khoo’s unique style.
Reviewed by Laura Bridges for Cloud Dance Festival.