Cloud Dance Festival- Showtime
Saturday 17th November 2013
By Bryony Cooper

Cloud Dance Festival returned to the Bernie Grant Arts Centre for the second time this year, with a packed line-up of multi-regional talent, and, to the relief of director Chantal Guevara, the support of the (as some might say) ‘pesky’ Arts Council England. Needless to say, for that very reason, expectations were at their highest.

‘You have just signed up for a tour of my house’ we are told, through a microphone by Anne-Gaëlle Thiriot, creator and performer of Vertigos. An aptly-fitting statement you could say, to a clearly-lit visual of scattered red sheets drooping from a giant, podgy, white hanging bag. But, after a few moments of spoken, rather (un)comical punches, a voiceover begins to give facts about the function and anatomy of our respiratory motor, quickly and rather cleverly reforming one’s perception of the set.

The proximity between Thiriot and the dangling organ fluctuates as the voiceover continues. Gallivanting through the space, Thiriot rolls, turns, falls and runs, even head on into it. Notable at times were her interesting, European- contemporary sense of style: fearless, grounded and easy, but disappointing for me was the lack of continuous connection between content and concept. Not the strongest opening to the evening but Vertigos is a quirky framework with much potential nevertheless.

If there were ever an award for emotional commitment to a work, Francesco Conquista and Simone Donati of Simfra Dance Company would be in the running, without a doubt. Don’t Let Me Go, a love-themed duet created and performed by the pair is quite touching, maybe for the wrong reasons, because the physical that it encompasses is nothing that hasn’t been seen ten thousand times before, but the sheer dedication with which both attend their subject is noteworthy.

‘Distressed clowns on fire meets waiting for godot’…not the first thing that springs to mind after watching Quirk’s (Mikkel Svak’s) Moon, but unpredictable, I would certainly say.

Here a warm-coated, bare-footed, homeless-looking guy, some shabby blankets, small pans (that eventually light a fire), an amp, and a barely-lit stage create a homeless kind of setting to a homeless kind of audio (traffic). Pretty clearly setting a theatrical scene that Svak then removes himself from to take up seat, well bed, with the audience. Between gazing at the moon and back at his unfortunate circumstances there are only a few ‘danced’ moments, but as simplistic as they are, Svak’s technical Rambert training definitely peered its head. It also has to be said that he certainly sustains his vulnerable, pained character throughout, so much so that I truly felt for this man. Unexpected were the fire smearing, fire eating moments that helped conclude the piece…very unexpected. All a little too time-indulgent maybe, but full credit must be given for the injection of difference.

Duet by Declan Whittaker Dance, has to be respected foremost for its uncomplicated nature. Neither tedious nor inspiring, Duet simply is what it is. The famous spotlight, grey shades of complimentary costume, plinky-plonky music, various lines and shapes, the interconnecting of two bodies in space- nothing out of the ordinary. In terms of performance presence, a female domination is apparent, but that could be a sign of a successful communication of the intention- ‘the play between spectator and subject’, though I would argue that there was much ‘play’.

The State In-Between, a duet by Mbulelo Ndabeni, is really in a different league to the two duets previous. A highlight and much-needed breath of fresh air. Stunning is Simone Muller-Lotz, who, clad in a beautifully prim, dated skirt and blouse introduces this piece with malleable hand gestures. Her old-fashioned but elegant manner captivates, along with her remarkable execution of all that her pas de deux with Ndabeni himself (also extremely competent and slick) encompasses, from the intricate footwork to exuberant lifts. The themes of individuality, relationship, difference and connection are all clear but are not exhaustive. The State In Between is kind of like watching one of those movies where two people from two different worlds, who should never meet, meet… enticing, exciting, and a beautiful occurrence.

Joelene English and Wayne Summerbell, in smart 60’s attire (tux and tie and a polka dot dress), present English’s February 11th 1963. A darkened space, lit only by a tall lamp, is designed with scattered papers from a book, a desk and chair, and is accompanied by the sound of a clock chiming. It’s a promising, atmospheric set up and I was sure that I was going to be engrossed, but actually despite its hearty idea (Sylvia Plath’s suicide), I can’t help but feel it lacked substance. I appreciate that a defining moment isn’t always needed, but here I felt like I was being set up for one for it never actually to come. The dancers dance separately throughout, English sits alone, passive, while Summerbell, distressed and tortured, shows us just that. Then he leaves and we see English in her despair. Both dancers are competent and engaging performers, however the piece as a whole was hard to follow and for that reason seamed lengthy.

Its second feature at Cloud Dance Festival and my second viewing of it, John Ross’s Wolfpack concludes the evening. And I have to say, seeing it in its entirety instead of a ‘sneak preview’ is wonderful. I wasn’t crazy about either of Ross’s works that were presented as part of Cloud Dance Festival’s July edition, Wolfpack or Man Down, so when I read recently that he was in receipt of Mathew Bourne’s New Adventures Choreographer Award, I was intrigued to see his work again. And I am very glad I did: not only does Wolfpack provide a light-hearted relief from the rest of the evening’s rather serious programme, it also provides us the opportunity to see dancers give everything they have and really enjoy themselves while doing so.

Four young males, some misplaced/stolen/left behind (who knows?) female underwear, and some groovy music: depictive of a typical guys’ night out for sure. Recognisable amongst the jigging, joking, and humorous tableaux were some possible outside influences: the unison danced sections seemed slightly sprinkled with a seasoning of Shechter or Batsheva, in the way that they were both composed and performed - hunched shoulders, bent knees, grounded quality and space hungry, and the overall idea and portrayal along with the dancers’ qualities and interactions had a somewhat DV8’s Enter Achilles similarity. The most surprising aspect, however, was seeing how the piece’s tone adjusted: funny and upbeat turned subtly into a scary and particularly vivid truth, ending with something other than an insight in to the four sore heads that I was expecting. Cleverly thought-out, creatively composed and powerfully and energetically performed - a brilliant ending to a programme that with a few exceptions wasn’t to my personal taste.