A duet between two adept performers, Timeless is a display of the many talents of Merritt Moore's and Adam Kirkham’s work. Their repertory rooted in classical ballet, the piece draws mostly upon this, expanding with a use of contemporary technique. When together, they create stunning lines between them; in one particular striking moment, he catches her foot when she hits an arabesque, a stunning length connecting the dancers. Much of the work is performed along one line as well, the dancers restricting themselves to a metaphorical central conveyer moving both ways between the left and right. This makes the short piece even more compact, yet impressive with expansive technique bursting through their restricted space. There is almost too much packed into this short piece and at times the piece reads as more of portfolio for the dancers rather than a complete choreography. It has almost a showdance feel to it, which although appearing a critique placing them more in a commercial circle, could work wonders for the pair if they choose to tap into a market that rarely sees contemporary choreographers break through. Choreographically stunted, but performance-wise, a beautiful technical display.

Lighting design can often be seen as another presence on stage when in correct partnership with the choreography and this concept is taken a step further in The Light by Gary Rowntree|Dance. Branded as a solo, it is more apt to see this piece as a duet with the female soloist battling with the light, carried by another performer in black. Hunched on the floor underneath it, she reacts to the light, squirming, repelled by it, her body writhing and twisting as it is illuminates different parts of her. In one stunning travelling sequence the light moves backwards along a diagonal, the dancer springing forward along the floor and lowering herself from a plank. At times, she appears to be truly pained by the light, like a moth in the flame, the smoke behind the light supporting this effect. Other moments see her bask in the light, lying flat as she lets the light traverse the length of her body. It was fascinating to watch a piece that for the most part was refreshing and new, but at others harked back to the dance canon; as if Pavlova’s Dying Swan became another beautiful creature. I couldn’t help but imagine the piece set to Saint-Saëns after this image popped into my head, which made it seem like Rowntree had unintentionally created an adaptation. A pleasure to watch.

With John Ross's Wolfpack, The Hangover gets a dance update in the preview of this comic quartet. Three men stand, nursing ailments, heads in hands and surrounding their face-down comrade who is sprawled out in front of them. This curious scene is quickly explained as we flashback to a previous night’s antics. Knees bent, stood in a close-knit group, the four shift coolly across the space, literally throwing some shapes in a club scene. Jeers and shouts reminiscent of a modern lad culture do make the piece appear slightly too close to DV8’s Enter Achilles, but Ross’s choreography differs in its comedy. Humour permeates the piece, showing a range polar opposite to his other piece of the festival (Man Down). The four men are seen in a sequence nodding their heads, pausing for cheesy poses and facing the audience for a display of disco steps. These club moves are a work in progress but the final piece will be more than worth a watch.

A work in three sections, Kajdi’s M/S.P/E serves as choreographer Alanna Kajdi’s response to images and topics that flood our lives courtesy of the media. Inverted black and white images are projected behind the dancers throughout and in the first section flash between a series of news stories, many of military efforts and scenes of war. A chair downstage right seats a soloist, facing away from the images, yet one arm darts in to the air. Autonomous of her body, the arm continues to shoot up, the performer’s gaze following it as it rises and falls. This gesture repeats throughout the piece and serves as a metaphor for the control over what we see and what we experience. This idea is supported as the dancer is drawn to the scenes behind her, walking over with another dancer joining on stage. As the scenes continue to flash, limbs continue to dart in and out from their bodies independently, their torsos soon becoming affected as they contract suddenly. As an audience, we watch the dancers, despite the scenes unfolding behind; a true demonstration of our desensitisation from what we see in the media.

The second section addresses some of those themes with Soldier’s Poem, a duet packed with military vocabulary, salutes, dives, push ups and more, showcasing the physical skill of Alex Buchanan and Jason Kajdi. As the piece moves into its final section, elements of the rest of the work are brought together, the scores of parts one and two mixing together and the whole ensemble gather on stage with duets still distracting from the ‘Big Brother’ presence of the projections behind. The question posed in the programme note of the effect media has on each of us prevalent here as I find myself ignoring the sombre scenes, instead fixated on the accomplished choreography.

Seven female dancers take to the stage in Sobras do Tempo by Hana Saotome, reflecting how our movements reflect our time. Translated, the title means ‘Shadows of our Time’, a concept played upon with the lighting design as the piece begins in shadow. You can just make out a faint shape of a female dancer bending and arching in the darkness, a silhouette created behind her. Joao Giacchin’s poem that inspires the piece is read aloud at intervals throughout, a male voice booming over the female ensemble.  Although the poem’s structure was clear, with the lighting design reflecting this switching between darkeness to reds to blues, the piece did not quite gain the momentum I was expecting. There was much repetition of the dancers stood facing the audience, dropping shoulders and raising arms in a birdlike flap, which could have been developed, perhaps working with less dancers on stage at a time. There was often too much going on, but there was a sense of dynamic shared between the performers reminiscent of a Cholmondeleys piece. The group work well together with a strong sense of musicality and connection between each member. The premise of the dance was appealing, but perhaps the shadows of the time were a little too hazy to interpret.

Raymond Chai is one of those choreographers who can pull off that most cringeworthy of buzzwords with his ‘signature’ choreography.  His work with Ballet Black is a firm favourite of mine so Unbroken Silence carried with it high expectations. The duo of Melanie Lopez and Oliver Freeston embrace Chai’s choreography skilfully, performing a tender piece with real power and force. The first part of the piece is rather drawn out, a rare highlight being a turn where Lopez grabs Freeston’s elbows, circling into a lift which leads him to lower her between his legs as she slides herself to the ground. This use of fluidity really takes hold as the pair shift into a circle of light centre stage about halfway through the piece. After a brief moment of tension in this tight space, Lopez throws her arms into the air and silence falls over the stage. Freeston gently places his hands either side of her torso and she sways slowly from one foot to another, the side to side like a metronome; hypnotic, measured, calm. From here on, the fusion sensitivity, sensuality and frustration is perfectly blended; the duo like two magnets whose poles constantly switch. They repel and attract, attract and repel, two forces drawn to and from each other in this intimate piece.

Inspired by the setting of a short story by American writer Breece Pancake, James Finnemore’s solo In The Dry reflects the heat, the starkness and the vastness of the text. The piece opens with an extended moment of darkness and when we catch a glimpse of the soloist, he is shaking, convulsing. There is a sense of pain in his movement and the curves and bends of his body suggest a strong Cunningham influence.

Although an interesting concept, the piece is hard to watch, with a limited vocabulary of choreography to cling onto. His dropped head and shoulders that feature at times are however reminiscent of a marionette doll, puppetlike as he moves through the space. This puppet image married with his silhouette in the background consolidate an eerie feel to the piece, but I wished for more development throughout. The piece stayed rather on one level, perhaps sticking to its stimulus too much. Stark landscapes are interesting to explore in literature, Pancake’s work reminding me of Cormac McCarthy’s spectacular novels The Road and No Country for Old Men, but this exploration needs to have to have an extra level of density to work successfully as choreography. With development, perhaps beyond a solo, I’d love to see more of Finnemore.

With war inevitably comes death and with our forever fast-paced modern lives, news stories of fallen soldiers aren’t always really heard. With Man Down, John Ross embodies the final moments of the life of an individual, drawing upon experiences from family and friends of a soldier lost in warfare. As a letter addressed to a family member of the fallen soldier is read aloud, a solitary male is seen kneeling in a circle of light. Written from the perspective of this soldier’s lieutenant, the work is framed as a reflective piece, the story about to unfold from the perspective of a comrade. As the words that are being read aloud stop, Ross begins to move, measured and considered at first as he gazes at his surroundings, vigilance taking hold. His hand shoots to his ear and his finger shoots in the air – listening for warnings, testing the wind. The finger in the air is repeated with more digits, which are slowly brought down in what appears to be an ominous countdown.

The piece picks up pace as our soldier begins to travel the space, athletic slides, leaps and rolls repeated and developed throughout. It is refreshing to see action in dance the way it is embraced in this work, our soldier really taking us on a journey. That is until, the shot. The sudden bang as the bullet hits his chest is shocking; we expect it and anticipate it, as foreshadowed by the letter, yet it still startles. Ross embodies this shock, hands to ears in a sombre reflection of this gesture earlier in the piece, blinking ferociously, looking around in disbelief. The cries of fellow soldiers, “Man down!” and “Where?!”, echo over and over in the closing moments of this piece, moments that see our soloist journey slowly through the stage, repeatedly falling and getting back up. His arm lingers behind him as he walks, yet when he comes to grab it to go back, he spins and continues on to his fateful end. This clutching on to life, the shock of what has happened is both poignant and tragic, but well enacted thanks to Ross’ touching choreography.