Cloud Dance Festival serving as a platform for new and emergent dance works by choreographers in different stages of their careers, is an excellent opportunity for production and feedback. In viewing the programme, and in writing this review, I chose to look at the works as works in progress, and as such to acknowledge the programme notes as indications of the artistic project of the choreographer. Therefore reviews are based not only on the work as I saw it but also the intents of the project as articulated in the programme notes, and the successes of the work in relationship to its articulation.

Jackie O’Toole’s Eve was articulated in the programme as an exploration of mental illness, but that exploration was perhaps only inspiration. The piece was an abstract dance piece with movement phrases and an orientation towards shapes and lines that built on a classical vocabulary. Some elements of movement and gesture were shared or passed between dancers, probably intended to suggest that the dancers represented facets of a single person with multiple personality disorder. This presentation of the work was slightly problematic and did a disservice to the work, which was satisfying as abstraction, pleasant and easy to watch. However as an expression of multiple personality disorder, there was not enough in the choreography to create the sense of a single character with different personalities. Although there were very different dancer personalities onstage, they were understated and seemed to be the dancers own personalities rather than clear choreographic choices. This gave lip service to the theme, but was not a deep exploration or expression of conflicts that might arise in a mentally ill person.

The second work Gaia by Ji Park seemed to have been created through different improvisational exercises, performed within a scenic environment of a square plot of light centre stage. The dancers moved and morphed between different creature states through a landscape of sound created by Susanna Ferrar. The physical transformations in and of themselves might have made interesting etudes. However, it seemed that in stringing the scenes together they forgot to define the world of the piece. There seemed no conscious choice about the relationship of the dancers to each other or to how dancers would inhabit and interact with the stage space and scenographic choice. The scenes neither shifted enough to give a sense of a break, nor gave a motivation for the changes. Within the games they forgot to make rules so we never knew where we might be going. Similarly the transitions seemed unprovoked, creating confusion as to what might have been the motivations for the very drastic physical and choreographic shifts.

Gwenny Rose’s What holds was a solo danced by the choreographer. Light in content and style, it was enjoyable to watch someone take simple pleasure in dancing. As she matures as an artist and defines her creativity, a word choice that she used in her programme notes, she will be helped by a director or outside eye who can help her to make choices that flatter her movements and her body.

With 16 dancers on the stage, Pangaea Dance’s Juliet and Romea was a marked shift from the rest of the evening’s work. The work was a loose narrative of attraction and aggression costumed as if situated in a Camden nightclub. It was clearly the only work using dancers at various ages and stages of their careers. Perhaps the project was overly ambitious for a small venue, because at times the most interesting movements were lost on the busy stage. Still, the work was brave in its frank depictions of the range of human sexualities, loves and passions. However, in order for the homosexual love scenes between both women, men and transgender characters to resonate, the dancers need to do more than dance erotically-charged choreography. They need to embody the sexuality and passion more completely for any erotic frisson to seem genuine.

This House Smells of Ghosts was in intimate and heartbreaking duet between collaborators Daniela B Larsen and Robert Guy. It began with tenderness and intimacy and revealed a joyful mutual appreciation shared by these two people. It was beautiful just to watch her watching him, adjusting her movements to find synchronicity and to join him in the dance. With an overlaid soundscore of different voices reading lines of personal histories, the piece opened as a simple exposition of the pleasure and tenderness between two people. However that tenderness seemed to rot into aggression and conflict. The heartbreak developed from the angry intensity with which the male character looked at his partner as he caught her behind the head and pushed her down repeatedly. Yes, she matched his movement but she could not muster the aggression to match. One of the final lines of recorded text, spoken by a female voice was ‘I am not waiting for a prince on a white horse. I am waiting for you.’ One could imagine the perennial suffering of always hoping for the initial harmony to return. The piece ended still in the mood of aggression so the hope for reconciliation remained unfulfilled.

In Hang up your coat and stay a while, the four dancers in Taciturn opened with a simple spoken introduction of themselves to the audience. The piece used the company as its main subject matter; they exposed quirks of their personas and relationships in spoken text, spatial and gestural patterns. Neither heady nor emotive, it was the kind of work that played with lightness, simply enjoyed itself, and allowed you to feel as if you could hum along, and then catch yourself carried along like the cardigans that were interchanged among the dancers.

Just Take 5 by Dena Lague opened with the soloist performing a series of gestures depicting the daily grind of the young new resident in the big city: aprons, uniforms and a burgeoning fantasy life. This sentimental recollection of an adult looking back at her younger self as she grew more confident through her enjoyment of jazz music was a loose setup, but beautifully executed. The success of the piece was the comedic and committed performance by the captivating Kerry Biggin, which carried us through the story line with humour and grace.

The headliner of the evening, and perhaps of the festival itself was Dam Van Huynh’s Sudden Change of Event. The piece opened organically. The dancers and stagehands publically and performatively placing the set: a chrome cage with no bars, four screens with lights behind them and a large rectangle of duct tape on the floor. What resulted was a beautiful stage world. However the dance lacked any consistent engagement with that world. The dancers walked on, danced, put their hand into the space created by the cage, then turned and walked away. Sudden changes indeed, but the piece lacked a set of rules, and lacked a clear expression of motivations for the changes in the physicality. Why does this dancer need to be released from a cage by tipping it sideways, but then later is able to step in and step out? The images were too full of metaphor to be inconsequential, but lacked sufficient development behind them. With beautiful, sinuous dancing and an impressive scenic construction, the lack of intention was even more frustrating. Assuming that this is a work in progress, we can only wait with anticipation to view future versions of this piece and follow its development into a truly amazing work.

Reviewed by Mollie S McClelland for Cloud Dance Festival