Taking place this year at the Pleasance Theatre in Islington, Cloud Dance Festival offers a platform for contemporary and ballet choreographers to showcase their work.

Saturday’s performance opened with Valhöll, a piece considering the bestial nature of war and its destructive aftermath. Performed by Exquisite Corpse | Dance Theatre, its simply-dressed cast appeared restless and mentally disturbed. With cat-like pouncing, heads locked together like fighting stags and serpentine restraining and strangulation of prey, the piece made its impact through raw and animalistic movement. Equally striking was the repeated image of dancers collapsing on the floor and convulsing as if suffering from epileptic fits or shellshock. Brutal and dramatic, Valhöll was gruelling to watch but commanding in its significance.

James Finnemore’s Patriot began as a man in street clothes unceremoniously entered while a voiceover asserted ‘This is how he expects everything to be’. Then alternating between continuous flowing moving and moments of floor-bound stillness, he appeared disconnected from the world around him. Lacking clarity and cohesion in the choreography, this piece was danced with skill but frustratingly lacking in audience engagement.

Choreographed and performed by Jenni Wren, Slanjayvah Danza’s Lunar-tic used recurring circular motions of the head and upper body to represent the cycles of nature. Wren, dressed in shiny red, was strong and agile, swirling and unfolding her limbs as if grabbing for an intangible and unreachable object. Motions became increasingly jerky and frantic until the piece reached its sudden end, leaving a sense of puzzlement as to its exact intention.

Gerrard Martin Dance’s D-llusion explored a young woman’s feelings of self-repulsion. With a second female playing the multiple roles of the mirror image and inner psyche, a confident supermodel and demonic temptress, Gerrard Martin’s choreography was able to candidly explore the topic. At times groping and manipulating each other, the two scantily-clad dancers seemed in an erotic battle for dominance. Small movements of disgust (covering an arm, curling up or retching) expressed perfectly the central figure’s distorted body image. This disturbing portrayal of a female’s self-loathing in a perfection-obsessed world hit home with its naked truthfulness.

In James Cousins Dance’s Taste Water Again, a distressed Katie Lusby moved in a trance-like state to the sounds of running water. Five others danced nearby, generally continuing blankly with their routines and ignoring the traumatised figure, but occasionally grabbing or pushing her. Punctuated by a central moment of calm, as the woman tenderly hugged a man, the choreography then became increasingly aggressive. As Katie Lusby’s inner turmoil abounded, she repeatedly leaped towards partners only to find herself falling to the floor. Her unhappiness and isolation was unmistakable making this piece forceful.

Commencing with the reading of a related poem, Ross Cooper’s This Is Winter aimed to evoke feelings of that icy cold season. With Ross Cooper and his partner Aikaterina Chatzaki in minimal clothing, this vision lacked consistency but was nonetheless appealing to watch. Moving classically, the dancers executed the choreography with precision, performing beautiful balletic pas de deux which merged seamlessly with the delightfully melodic orchestral music.

Known for her small-scale ‘indie ballets’ with modern cultural references, Kristen McNally’s choreography fuses numerous dance styles to varied sound accompaniment – from music to the spoken word. Don’t hate the player, Hate the game was an utterly engaging piece and a comment on people’s need to conform rather than dare to be original. Hip-hop dancer Tommy Franzén was exquisite, especially in robotic body isolations where he moved minute body parts with the utmost precision. He seemed to be testing out different identities in order to find one that fitted, always moving with a tangible pleasure and allure. At times bouncy, at others poignant and everything in between, Don’t hate the player rounded off the evening with a punch.

Overall, the evening showed the great value of the Cloud Dance Festival’s choreographic platform.

Written for Cloud Dance Festival by Laura Dodge