Abi Mortimer (Lila Dance)

We wrap up our Cloud Interview series with Lîla Dance, a young company with roots in West Sussex. Abi Mortimer and Carrie Whitaker share the credits for the solo they presented at the Cloud Dance Festival, Here, Still Here, Still, and while Carrie was preparing for the performance, Abi kindly discussed the absent presence at the heart of the work, the company’s community projects, and their recent collaboration with outside choreographers. Interview conducted by Laura Cappelle of Bella Figura.

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Melody Squire (Sol Dans)

London-based dancer and choreographer Melody Squire does it all – from musicals to films and commercials, her career has spanned a range of genres, and she brings that experience to her young company, Sol Dans. Returning to the Cloud Dance Festival with an energetic premiere, Groundlings, she spoke engagingly of her American roots and her current experimentations. Interview conducted by Laura Cappelle of Bella Figura.

How did you start dancing?

I’ve been dancing since I was two and a half – my parents put me in dance classes before I even knew I loved it, so it’s something that I’ve always known, it’s just been my life. I started in jazz and ballet when I was a little girl, and then I went to Point Park Conservatory to train in the US. I later went to Paris with Wells College for the Arts abroad, and then I got a degree at London Studio Centre. I also trained with Intoto Contemporary Dance in my final year.

I started this company because I love contemporary jazz, and I felt like there was work to be made with people that I knew. I thought I could facilitate all of their talents in a group, and it organically came together. The first thing we did was Resolution!, in 2008, and since then we’ve worked on several projects. Groundlings is our third piece.

What was the thinking behind this piece?
For Groundlings I tried something different – sometimes I’m quite regimented in choreographing everything, but this time we were exploring with our movement material. I’ve enjoyed it – the dancers collaborated as well, and they’re all very strong performers on their own. I just wanted to experiment, as that is what is great with Cloud Dance Festival: it’s a really good platform for emerging choreographers. It’s hard when you’re in that in-between place where you’ve got good work, great dancers, but you’re waiting for funding.

How would you define your style?
It’s physical, emotive, and raw.

What are your inspirations?

I love film – I love to tell a story, I’m also inspired by music and art. I’ve seen concerts, circuses that were simply amazing. I come from Chicago, and I grew up with Hubbard Street Dance and Alvin Ailey coming through – they inspired me, and I come from that background of emotional movement, where music is quite strong.

What’s next for you after the festival?
We’ll break up for the Christmas holidays, but we’ll start looking for festivals to take part in again in 2010. We will also try to get funding, as we don’t have any yet. Hopefully that way we’ll be able to get another piece or two together, and have an evening of works to present.

Any Christmas wishes for your company?
I just hope the dancers enjoy themselves, because they worked very hard, and that the audience will enjoy Groundlings as well. I like the audience to be entertained and engaged in what they’re watching.

Many thanks to Chantal Guevara for making these interviews possible.

Lucía Piquero (Diciembre Dance Group)

The ballet-trained Diciembre Dance Group was one of the rare companies presenting a narrative work at the Cloud Dance Festival, and an ambitious one at that, based on Federico García Lorca’s challenging House of Bernarda Alba. Mats Ek himself made a dance version in 1978, but Lucía Piquero, the company’s young Spanish choreographer, explains how she went back to Lorca’s instructions for what was her company’s first piece, followed since by more creations. Interview conducted by Laura Cappelle of Bella Figura.

How did you start dancing?

I started dancing when I was 11, casually – I just met a friend who was doing ballet. I was more interested in gymnastics, but I joined in and it ended up being like a boom in my life, a real change. I trained in ballet in Spain, and I only started contemporary dance when I came to London – I spent one year at The Place, and now I’m finishing a MA in Choreography at Middlesex University.

I actually always wanted to choreograph, and I had my first opportunity the year before coming to the UK – my teacher liked one my ideas, and I ended up choreographing the whole school show, which was a huge change from doing nothing! I then did a student workshop at The Place, and I just fell in love with it.

When was the Diciembre Dance Group created?
The members of Diciembre come from the London Contemporary Dance School, and the group was formed in August 2008 – I started it to do more things, since none of us were dancing anywhere else at the time. We applied for Resolution! 2009, which was our second ever performance.

What was the thinking behind The House of Bernarda Alba?
It was the first piece we did – we performed it at university. Being Spanish, Federico García Lorca is quite close to me, and I did a lot of theatre when I was younger – I did some Lorca, and I didn’t understand anything. Everyone that stages Lorca changes a lot of things, so I wanted to do a dance piece that corresponded exactly to what Lorca was saying when he gave the instructions for the play. That’s why we don’t have any men – there aren’t any in the cast of Bernarda Alba, but people find it easier to just have the men of the story on stage. I know it is also quite usual to cast a male actor or dancer as the main character, Bernarda, but I don’t like it – why would a strong woman necessarily have to be played by a man? I mainly wanted to convey the emotion, and since it’s a 15-minute piece, we selected the most important scenes.

How would you describe your style?
Emotional, and invested with social concerns. Everyone in the company is ballet-trained, so ballet is a strong base movement-wise, although we have all switched to contemporary dance now. I still want the technique to be seen somehow, but we just use whatever explains what we are trying to say – our aim is to say something, and dance is the tool.

What are your inspirations?
Literature is a strong inspiration. I also try to do choreography that deals with social issues – I just did a piece on madness, for which I obviously read Cervantes’s Don Quixote. In terms of choreographers, I really like Mats Ek, Nacho Duato and Ji?í Kylián. I try to avoid being too strongly influenced by traditional Spanish styles, to let go, but obviously a fan and a mantilla will say Spanish to the audience in Bernarda Alba.

What’s next for you after the festival?
We’re performing a new piece in Spain on 30 December. It’s an experimentation around the idea of childhood, of play, but we didn’t want to idealise it – being a child is not that easy.

Any Christmas wishes for the company?

For the New Year, the opportunity to perform more and more, to develop ourselves as a group and myself as choreographer.

Many thanks to Chantal Guevara for making these interviews possible.

Chantal Guevara by Danceground


'Cloud Dance Festival' The Underground of Contemporary Dance - Featured interview with Director & Producer Chantal Guevara


Chantal Guevara formed Cloud Dance Festival to create more performance opportunities for contemporary dance companies. Put on three times a year Cloud Dance Festival is an event open to all dancers at all stages in their careers. Since its first event at Chisenhale Dance Space in June 2007 Cloud Dance Festival has invited over 80 choreographers and companies (22 of which have performed in more than one festival) to perform at a range of venues. This means audiences can check out the development of returning dance artists and latest trends in contemporary dance.

We've been lucky enough to steal some of Chantal's time and ask her to fill us in with more info about the festival and what's involved in putting on a reccuring event with over 100 choreographers and dancers to be taken care of each time! 

It's not an easy task putting on an event 3 times a year which showcases several dance companies at once. What motivated you to initiate Cloud Dance Festival?


It all started with Cloud Dance, our part-time dance company; we’d been lucky to have our first performance as part of Sadlers Wells’ Open Connect in March 2007. It then became clear that Cloud Dance would have four seasons per year, and we’d be hard-pressed to find platforms throughout the year to suit our timeframes.


When I was looking around at venues, I noticed that some were very affordable, which would mean that we could create a platform of our own and even hold performances over several days. After all, London’s meant to be one of the leading world centres of contemporary dance, with some of the top conservatoires, a lot of very talented choreographers and dancers – but very few opportunities for them to perform their work.


We realised that four times a year would be way too much, and three times a year seems to work well for everyone’s schedules – on the one hand, it motivates choreographers to keep working throughout the year on new works; on the other hand, if they’re not available for one of the festivals, at least it doesn’t mean that they’ll miss out for the rest of the year.


What makes Cloud Dance Festival unique from other contemporary dance platforms?


Ballet Black suggested I answer this with “it’s the only one with ballet!”


We’ve seen an increase in the number of platforms over the past few years, however we’ve noticed that they seem to fall into two categories: either those which broaden their scope to include physical theatre and other forms of movement; and showings, which are typically held in smaller venues – which reduces the costs and risks involved. 


We’re trying to develop a reputation for showcasing what’s best in emerging contemporary dance, with the aim that someone who doesn’t know the companies involved can still come and enjoy an evening of high quality contemporary dance. 


Also, we’re actively trying to make contemporary dance more accessible to the wider public – we’re aware that the contemporary dance audience is fairly limited, and we want to expose our performers to a wider audience. We do this through our publicity artwork, which is intended to be eyecatching rather than dancey, through the information we distribute, and overall, through the pieces we select for each festival.


Cloud Dance Festival has been successful for a few years now. How is the event funded?


It’s not! Our only source of income is ticket sales, which has to cover all the festival expenses (and sometimes doesn’t!) We don’t run the festival to make a profit; we’d rather put the money back into the festival to make it better for the performers, by hiring a better venue, additional lighting, studio space, good photographers, lighting designers and video editors etc. It does mean that we can’t afford to pay any of the performers, but we do try to make it the best performance experience that we can. 


Although it’s stressful paying for all the upfront costs myself, and being stuck with any losses incurred, we’ve been very proud of the fact that the festival’s unfunded, given the current arts funding crisis: when so many companies and projects are dependent on funding to proceed, I think the festival is a very good example of what can be achieved without funding!


Of course, we have to keep developing the festival to prevent it from stagnating, so that’s going to require funding… wish us luck!


How can dance companies get involved with performing at the festival and what's the criteria?


There’s three ways that companies get involved in each festival. 

The first is the companies which approach us separately, which are usually our headliners, for example FFIN Dance, Dena Lague, Sophia Hurdley.


We select a small number of companies from each festival and give them an open invite to return whenever they like. A good example of that is the upcoming festival, Parade, which has eight returning companies, and a further two companies returning as applicants. 


The final way is through the application process, which we try to keep as simple as possible. We know that everyone’s busy, so we don’t want to put them through an overcomplicated process; also, we want to make it as “equal opportunities” as possible so that we can judge a new graduate’s application on the same basis as that of a more established company. 


We also ask for supporting photos and video footage; the photos are largely because our press deadline is immediately after the application deadline, so we need them ready for use. The videos help us assess the quality of the work, and helps us a lot with making our final decisions. 


What are ticket sales like throughout the festival and do you receive much feedback?


The normal pattern is that the Friday is quietest, the Saturday will come close to selling out, and the Sunday will sell out completely. It doesn’t always work that way – in July, we had torrential rain starting at 6pm sharp on both the Friday and Sunday, so the Saturday was the only day to sell out. 


We did an audience survey in July, and the feedback was interesting; we’ll conduct another one in the next festival, and hope to get more answers this time! We’ve implemented some changes from the July festival, however some things – wider variety of dance styles, more lavish costumes – are things we just can’t do anything about!


Are there any dance companies who have taken part in the festival that have especially stood out?


Oh yes! We keep a list of the companies we invite to return, there’s 35 of them at present! Olivia Vella has been in four festivals, and she has a wonderful raw talent. Nexus Dance were completely amazing in the last festival, and we still have warm glowy memories of Drew McOnie Dance Theatre from back in April. Taciturn and Vex Dance Theatre are other firm favourites – it’s just a shame that they’re not based in London so we can’t see more of them!


Who in the current contemporary dance scene would you recommend for viewing? 


Obviously we have our favourites, and there are some amazing choreographers around, but a key problem with recommending people to watch out for is not knowing what the future’s going to hold for them, and the all-too-real possibility that they may have to shelve future work indefinitely. 


We’re all more than aware of the arts funding crisis, and it’s affecting companies at all levels, from emerging to more established; for some companies, it’s meaning that they simply don’t have the resources to create new work, while other choreographers are having to seek paid work or choreograph for others, not leaving them the time to develop their own work and ideas. It was very chilling when a potential choreographer sent me some sample reviews from Resolution 2004! and all of the names were unfamiliar – yet without support and funding, this will no doubt await today’s artists too. 


What does the future have in store for the festival?


First up, we really want a theatre of our own! It could well be an impossible pipe dream, but after all of this year’s searching for venues, there really is a shortage of good venues ideal for dance – and those are usually booked up way in advance. 


We’ve also spent a lot of time looking into ways of expanding the festival further for next year, and our key focus is providing more support and artistic development to our performers – eg, an awards scheme, career development workshops, commissioning works from promising choreographers, and looking for ways of formalising our support of specific artists. We’re also going to start approaching larger-name companies about performing in future festivals – not only will it be fantastic for the audience, but also it’s great bonus for the rest of the companies to be performing on the same lineup as… whoever we manage to get!


This weekend's Cloud Dance Festival: Parade will be welcoming back audience favourites Dam Van Huynh, Hagit Yakira, Lila Dance, Pair Dance, Sol Dans, Nexus Dance and Diciembre Dance Group, and saying farewell to Ji Park of Flexa Dance Theatre, who will be returning to Korea shortly after the festival.


Other performers include New Adventures star Sophia Hurdley's biopic of opera legend Maria Callas, and festival newcomers Slanjayvah Danza, J.H.L Dance Company and Leaf Dance, returning company Sezdrenah Dance Theatre (CDF: Dream On), Petra Söör (CDF: Tabula Rasa), and very special guests Ballet Black. 


See Cloud Dance Festival's website for more details. A good resource to check out all past and current performing dance companies at the festival, providing company information and a great collection of videos. 


Original interview published on http://danceground.blogspot.com/2009/12/cloud-dance-festival-underground-of.html