A midsummer deluge puts no dampener on the opening of Cloud Dance Festival. Jacksons Lane hosts the emerging festival, celebrating contemporary dance in all its variety. From street styles to physical theatre, new, emerging and established companies are given the opportunity to showcase their current work. Jacksons Lane Theatre, a Gothic church conversion, seems a perfect venue for a dance festival, with its intimate theatre space and good value Pimm’s (which came as a surprise to a South Londoner!).

It is always interesting to go to such events alone, as it is an excellent excuse to people watch. Cloud Dance Festival is in its third year and yet, already, it is drawing a wide audience of all ages and backgrounds. I had good expectations, then, of what would come next…

Jackie O’Toole and Dancers

An abrupt start to the piece made a clear statement – sudden bright light, one dismayed dancer and cries of “I didn’t do it”, immediately bringing to mind scenes of interrogation and paranoia. Despite the occasional clasping of the head and wringing of the hands, however, the movement content, although well executed, was entirely abstract and lacking in a certain grittiness that the subject of mental illness requires.

Structurally, the intentions of O’Toole’s work were entirely clear, but unfortunately sometimes a little obvious. Each dancer, each side of Eve, had her chance to reign and eventually only one pulled through. The choice of winning personality was no doubt dictated by the plot of the novel The Three Faces of Eve, however, as this character was the most neutral, it did leave me feeling that poor Eve has been totally suppressed.

Ji Park

The box-like special in the centre of the stage and the promise in the programme note of an exploration of space did initially fill me with the dread that this was going to be textbook choreological studies. I was very pleasantly surprised then, when Ji Park’s piece gradually moved away from a spatial experiment to play with instinct and proximity on a much more personal level.

The often animal-like movements could have been contrived but the total commitment shown by all three performers made them humorous and sometimes touching. I only wish that there had been more interaction between all three, however I realised after the show that the company was one dancer down. A re-working job well done.

Gwenny Rose
What Holds

The first thing that I couldn’t help thinking whilst watching Gwenny Rose’s work was: are the knee pads a statement? The title certainly was, as I didn’t see too much of the question “What Holds?” as promised in the programme note, due to the abstract nature of the movement.

The dance itself was well executed, despite being difficult to attach any meaning to. The soundtrack, however, served to weigh it down rather than add to the piece. A couple of changes in intensity in the sound drowned out any climax in the movement itself, which was a shame.

Pangaea Dance
Juliet and Romea The opening of Juliet and Romea was vibrant and dramatic due to the well rehearsed unison and interesting costume. After such a strong start, however, it was disappointing that the coordination between the dancers became less tight as the piece continued, but the overall effect was impressive.

The ballet structure of the company both spatially and hierarchically worked beautifully with the less conventional movement content. The sexuality issues explored could have been overtly suggestive and embarrassing to watch, but the balletic influences kept it just under the brink of “too much”.

It is fantastic to see so many dancers of varied backgrounds and ages all on one stage. Milo Miles’ vision is to bring artists together to overcome boundaries; it would seem that he is already halfway there.

Daniela B Larsen and Robert Guy
This House Smells of Ghosts

There seems to be an emerging trend at the moment that makes it acceptable to be overtly honest and tell everyone who will listen your darkest secrets. Concepts like Postsecret allow people to open up and feel good about it.

Due to the popularity of this kind of thing, Daniela B Larsen and Robert Guy’s piece could have been clichéd and banal. Not so; their understated facial expressions were so effective in their lovers tiffs that I was amazed when they were civil to one another whilst taking a bow (to tumultuous applause). At some points, the piece was so intimate that I felt the instinct to look away from their private world. Each performer had such an individual personality, and yet they worked together incredibly well; the sort of partnership that is something to hold onto once found.

Hang your coat up, and stay a while

From the very beginning, with the dancers introducing themselves in their amiable northern English accents, I really did want to stay a while to watch Taciturn’s friendly frolic. Their delivery of speech was impeccable and really invited the audience into their world.

The “human” level on which this piece operated gave me the classic warm-and-fuzzies, and I really enjoyed its honesty and lack of pretence. There was a definite sense that these women work as a sisterhood and to be involved in that as an onlooker was a real pleasure. Not only this, but all four of them are clearly very accomplished technicians. I look forward to more Bobs, more Jens and hope that Michelle can continue to embrace her individuality…

Dena Lague
Just Take Five

As soon as I saw the title to this piece I found myself hoping that Brubeck wouldn’t be the chosen soundtrack, and felt my heart sink as the opening chords began. Lague’s choice of performer, however, kept me interested as her gestural actions were genuinely amusing and just that little bit different. The opening section was by far the strongest as it showed off both the choreographer’s skill for sequential patterns and Kerry Biggin’s well-rounded performance abilities.

The plain wall backdrop and simple chair worked nicely as a set, giving the sense of being somewhere alien and away from home comfort. The references to the framed photograph, however, were obvious and overacted. It did make me think of my first experiences of moving away from home so there was a level of empathy, however as an audience we had no idea why she had moved away and so it seemed a little unnecessary. I wanted to get to know the character’s positive attributes and aspirations, not just the elements of her that negated and rejected something else.

Dam Van Huynh
A Sudden Change of Event

The impression that I gained from the programme note was that Van Huynh’s piece would be improvisatory; however it appeared that the structure was entirely premeditated. I would question the suitability of having no improvisation in a piece that deals with “the fragility of momentary events” and the idea that there are outcomes to our actions. These concepts suggest a human element, of which there seemed to be none, as the dancers were expressionless to the point of appearing machine-like. Their unity in this performance quality, however, was commendable and their technique exquisite.

Aesthetically the piece worked well; the frame served as an interesting element, providing us with a sense of dimension and proximity that bounced off the movement content rather strikingly. I found my concept of time completely disappeared and even now I have no idea of how long the piece was, a demonstration perhaps of the fact that Van Huynh is in his own very stylised world, and has perfected the art of drawing an audience into it.

I think I can safely say: Never have I seen such a diverse programme than at Open Your Eyes. The variation in genres, styles and subject matters made for interesting viewing, and it is encouraging that there is so much talent up and coming in the field of contemporary dance. It is platforms such as these that will lead new artists to greatness. Here’s to Cloud Dance Festival.

Reviewed by Anna Crofts for Cloud Dance Festival