The opening piece of the first night of Cloud Dance Festival's first festival for two years is THEM, a new work by Ella Robson Guilfoyle. A guitarist takes seat downstage right, loop pedal at her feet, as a quartet of females appear diagonally opposite. For the most part, they travel the stage as a unit of four, a diamond formation seeing them across the stage, but at times dropping into solos or duets. The correlation between live music and the dancers brings together the ideas set out in the programme note of echoes and repetitions. Singer Bethany Aggett’s words repeat on the loop pedal, “little wheel spin - big wheel spin”, a dancer’s floorwork echoing this as she spins on the ground.


There is something of a Greek chorus about the performers, enacting out these reverberations – letting them take them over. It is striking at times when they grab their torsos, brace their chins, clasp hands over their mouths, as if what they mean to say is taken over by what needs to be said. Near the end of the piece, one dancer is completely taken over, her body frenzied as her shoulders, stomach, chest and legs thrash and beat uncontrollably. The choreography meets its brief almost perfectly with their bodies acting as the ‘voices filled with distant sonorities’. A splendid start to the festival.

Relationships, connections and manipulation dominate Transcend by Anna-Lise Marie Hearn, performed by her new company AniCo. A trio of dancers take their spaces in a small area together on the stage and move between and around each other, melting into spaces like hot wax sliding in to place. When they find a space between each other, they hold it for a breath, then move on to the next, fleeting sculptures dotted about this choreography. The relationship and intimacy between the dancers is reminiscent of Riccardo Buscarini’s Athletes. Perhaps the connection between this piece and The Place Prize winner’s hinting at a move toward work that favours the creation of shape between dancers. As the piece progresses, we see duets featuring a similar use of negative space as the performers bend and curve around each other. Manipulation comes into play as all three dancers are on stage, stood in a line stretching downstage left to upstage right. The two dancers behind look dependent on the dancer in front, whose movements influence theirs. The gazes of the dancers behind are ones of reliance, of dependence and when this line is broken there is a shift.

One dancer starts to move unnaturally, a cog loose in a machine as her limbs shake. Soon, the disorder is resolved as a sumptuous lift brings the three together into their original cluster and their limbs meld back together. The choreography meets the right balance of strength and fluidity, particularly when the dancers hit their structural pauses. Lines between slow motion and real time are blurred and positions held for but a few moments appear to linger. I have a lot of time for AniCo. and will  keep my eyes peeled for their work in the future.

Daring to be narrative, Sol Dans’ three-part Memory Play draws on fragmentations of memory, making apt use of film to supplement the piece. It begins with the image of a traumatised patient covering her face, scenes of a hospital corridor playing out behind her. We soon discover the reason for the setting, a violent relationship unfolding before us, both on screen and off. A male dancer joins the stage for what is a highly physical duet, lifting her high off of the ground and grabbing her around the neck. She is thrown about the stage until she has had enough of the abuse and fighting back, he falls back and cowers away.

The second section couldn’t be further from this, the video behind, rolling clouds and the music, the opening number to Up. Of course, anyone who has seen the movie will know the joviality does not last long. A dreamy recollection of a romantic moment between two lovers plays out; a long haired redhead gliding about the stage, joined by her love interest who lays out a picnic blanket. A content scene, until he suddenly stops moving and begins to fall. As she catches him, he continues to lower to the ground. Unashamedly tugging at the audience's heart strings, particularly with the Pixar track, one can’t help but be captivated.

This is just as well as the audience is awed by the sheer physical prowess of the dancer who opens the final section of the piece. An extended piece of floorwork that rests somewere between acrobatics, breakdance and yoga, a solo female holds a series of poses as the rest of the ensemble casually pass by. This works perfectly against the fast paced London images that roll on behind; an individual amongst the crowd. As the rest of Sol Dans join in for this finale, it is clear that this is a company not afraid to show off their mixed talents and certainly not afraid to mix commercial with contemporary. Entertaining and full of talent, this mix is achieved with great success.

The big philosophical questions about art and artists manifest themselves in Artism, a big piece by Exzeb, with collaboration and the principles of collaboration serving as the spine of the work. A digital art sequence breaks the piece in, a man’s head spun around with the needle of a record player as he journeys up steps shadowed by trees. The digital artwork is replaced by a film which governs the piece, soloist David Gellura sitting and watching along with the audience, preparing with his warmup for the performance. Discussed are concepts of being on and offstage; a ‘godlike’ presence associated with the former, anonymity partnering the latter. There is a challenging idea discussed of choreographers and their use of dancers. This is related to other arts – actors being the stars rather than directors, singers being the stars rather than songwriters, two statements that could be highly contested indeed.

However the point made about dance needing dancers to exist is an apt one, perhaps without a real space in contemporary dance today, but that opinion could be very naïve. Gellura does a fantastic job proving a dancer’s worth in his marathon of a solo, choreographed by himself and Eric Kigeli Nyriabahunde. His sheer physicality pierces through, jumps to the floor into rolls to standing, shifting in space and repeating. It is painful to watch yet exhilarating and the concept of suffering and art come together triumphantly. It is a piece that seems to seek an impossible solution than can’t be offered. Perhaps in the vein of Douglas Adams I can offer Exzeb the answer 42?

Futurism and technical prowess dominate Nuclear Romances from Paolo Mangiola, driven by the raw talent of soloist Chihiro Kawasaki, perhaps my favourite performer of the entire festival. 

Clad in a bright blonde wig and white jumpsuit, Kawasaki wriggles and moves at the start of the piece, appearing almost as an animation in a Tron-like setting. Robotic arms shoot out, shifting from a body which continues to writhe and rock in time to the quick chords of the futuristic score. Halfway through, silence befalls the stage and several flashes of the light allow our soloist to transform from her bold costuming to a nude leotard. She walks along the back of the stage and poses a few times, before the music kicks in again, a light piano melody replacing the jarring sounds of the first part.

A breathtaking display follows, Kawasaki leaping into spaces, gathering the space as she goes and commanding the space she inhabits. At times, interest was lost in the choreography and its relationship to the Nuclear Romances of the title (beyond the costuming and lighting). Yet it is impossible to fault the beautiful soloist at the core of this weirdly wonderful work.

A subject matter that is difficult to tackle, particularly in dance, Ella Mesma’s solo EvoL centres around unreported sexual assault and the clear but often tragically-unheeded difference between “Yes” and “No”. Stood in a square of light downstage left, Mesma first appears to us in low light. Her presence is barely visible, a reflection of the frequent inability to be seen or heard as a victim of violent crime. This effectiveness quickly dies off however as the piece gradually weakens in impact. She shouts the word “Yes”, which rings through the air, repeated throughout as Mesma’s hands move up and down her own body. This “Yes” dominates most of the piece, a clear choice being made to focus on this even when juxtaposed with “No” movements, yet it still would have been fitting to see the balance of “No”. A simple solitary gesture repeated perhaps, a clear statement of the matter, but given more space in the choreography would have consolidated the idea that a “No” can be said and heard. The message of “No” does manifest in the pushing away of her own hands as they traverse her body and an uncomfortable writhing despite the agreement playing out over the speakers. The piece is bold but with a topic such as this it is understandably difficult to say it right. It is a topic that should be spoken about and piece that should be made, but in this case perhaps needs to be remade.