The final night of Cloud Dance Festival: Firefly promised to be the best yet with a dazzling programme of old favourites, newcomers and leading choreographers as well as a second outing for Kristen McNally’s “Don’t hate the player, Hate the game” featuring Tommy Franzén.

The show opened with newcomers, a trio of graduates from the University of Chichester’s postgraduate company mapdance, with their piece One. Their use of props to give a narrative feel to their work was simple but effective, providing an easy way for a non-dance audience to connect with it and reflecting the lyrics of the score running through the piece. The dancers flowed easily between trio, duets and solos giving a sense of continuity to a series of choreographic experiments that held the piece together. Unfortunately, whilst this was a very sweet and accomplished piece when placed alongside the rest of the programme, it came across as amateurish and lacking in depth of both feel and vision.

Following this came Ella Robson Guilfoyle’s piece, SHE, which used a naturalistic set to draw the audience in to the narrative of two women battling their insecurities and basking in their moments of confidence. Robson Guilfoyle’s use of people as props for the dancers to navigate during the course of the piece was both original and intriguing and added an extra layer to what is a very well-thought-out work of dance. The dancers' repetitive and often hesitant movements created an atmosphere of lives lived in parallel, accented by a shifting tide of insecurity, and invited the audience to share in this. This was a slickly-produced piece, created to envelope the audience both with the visual spectacle of the work and the atmosphere it created. A full 360 degree dance experience.

Richard Bermange’s Virus gave us our first taste of ballet for the night and beautifully expressed Bermange’s talent as a choreographer and his unique style. This piece was packed with references to classical ballet choreography mixed with the neoclassical, elegantly and precisely danced by a group of talented young dancers. However, despite the beauty of the piece, it seemed lacking in narrative as the words and humour of the voiceover failed to translate into the movement on stage. This 'lost in translation' feeling, combined with the dancers' permanent smiles, created the impression of a piece that is underdeveloped and still relying too heavily on the need to tell the audience the narrative rather than show it on stage.

Sunday night also saw the return of Cloud Dance Festival favourites Taciturn with their new work A turn or two, which brought simplicity and intelligence to the stage. The understated use of repeated movements set to a country soundtrack took the audience on a journey of love and loss that echoed both the modern day and harked back to a nostalgic past. Jennifer Hale’s excellent stage presence added weight and depth to what could have been too simplistic a piece for such a festival and transformed it into a work infused with intelligence and subtle dark humour. Never have I seen a piece say so much with so much subtlety.

One of the most talked-about companies of the evening was Deaf Men Dancing, directed by Mark Smith of ‘Shoes’ and ‘Iolanthe’ fame and they did not disappoint. Sense of Freedom is an ambitious but slickly-produced piece which combines spoken word, signing and dance into an exquisite performance. Danced by a committed and energetic quartet of male dancers, this piece aims to draw even the most vehement anti-dance protestors into a theatre to watch it. Filled with pop culture references and humour, the dancers were unafraid to appear as fools as they brought to life an abstract concept and made it human. The human element of this piece was emphasised further by the dancers' willingness to incorporate and celebrate their deafness within the piece as part of who they are as individuals and dancers. This made for a truly refreshing take on how dance can transcend all boundaries when it takes over and give ultimate freedom to people. A fantastic piece that Cloud Dance Festival can be proud to have had as part of their programme and well worth a second viewing.

We were treated to our second work of Vivaldi of the weekend courtesy of EDDance and their piece Stabat Mater: Dances About Loss. This piece showed real intelligence and appreciation of aesthetics on the part of choreographer Edd Mitton with his use of religious iconography such as the ‘Madonna & Child’ to reflect the time of the composer and emphasise the public nature of Mary’s grief, depicted throughout the ages by artists worldwide. Technically precise and ethereally beautiful phrases of flowing lines and turns seemed to invoke the sacred element of the piece as well as constantly repeating and reflecting the grief of a mother who has lost her child.

Devaraj Thimmaiah’s athletic duet Arranged Marriage was filled with raw passion as two dancers entered into a pre-arranged contract fraught with love, anger and sex. Each dancer began alone, separated from the more tangible parts of life through their loneliness as they moved silently and slowly across the stage searching for something. The title, Arranged Marriage, can fill the audience with certain expectations about the piece and it was pleasing to see that Thimmaiah refused to succumb to these, choosing instead to make his duet a dance of equals. Two dancers come together, unwillingly at first and then passionately through a series of athletic lifts & turns, never losing contact with one another for more than a moment. Together they battle the ups and downs of their connection, sometimes fighting and sometimes standing united against the world. This is a piece that feeds on the athleticism and adrenaline of its dancers to create a feeling of raw passion and intensity that culminates in an endless unspoken bond between two people.

The climax of the night was Kristen McNally’s “Don’t hate the player, Hate the game”, an edgy indie ballet performed by hip-hop dancer, Tommy Franzén. Normally, I struggle to watch dance pieces more than once and still feel the same sense of excitement as I do the first time, but this was definitely not the case for this one. The pop culture references and blend of humanity & urban edginess that Franzén brings to this piece resonated as loudly the second time as it had the first, enthralling the audience. It was truly a joy to be able to watch this piece a second time and pick up on the subtler nuances of McNally’s choreography that underpin the tangible energy of this piece and its dynamic blend of old and new, urban and classical.  It is this mixture that sets the piece apart from its rivals as something truly original. A wonderfully high-octane end to a fantastic weekend of dance.

As always, Cloud Dance Festival delivered a superb end to an exciting weekend of dance and continues to bring together new & established choreographers in performances that delight & intrigue the audience. Long may they continue to do so.

Reviewed by Kim Lofthouse of Cultiv8 Arts