Cloud Dance Festival for following its stated goal, offered a wide variety of works, from very abstract dance based work, to comedic storytelling from a diverse set of emerging and established choreographers.

The evening opened with Tracker by Lila Dance, a work whose movements seemed to emerge from the light haze present in the theatre at the opening of the evening. Purely abstract, textures of imagery were created by unison gestures and their visual amplification. The piece was clear and consistent in its construction of a world to inhabit, with a palpable ambiance created through intricate use of space, sound and energetic shifts. The phrasing of movement, clever distortions of release technique vocabulary and the superstructure of the piece remained committed to physicality, not content as guide, and therefore built to peaks, and breaths of release. As such it arced to close in organic and gratifying time.

As the lights came down on one quartet of dancers in and out of unison movement to an electronic sound score in Tracker, they then rose on another. Moxie Brawl’s Clock Stopped seemed to pick up where its predecessor left off. This time brighter, slightly more urban in feel and sound, it too was an abstract work of pure dance, unburdened by layers of meaning or extraneous elements. The focus on dance and its physicality and unabashed abstraction was easy and satisfying. The piece freed the rational mind from concern about explicit meaning or message. Instead we could be satisfied by the moments when unison was broken, the energy of the dancers, the ways the movements flowed from arm into body, and the daydream quality through which the dance passed.

As an exploration of absence, the initial choices in Anthem: Absence by Diciembre Dance Group made more sense. The piece opened with an image of the five dancers together in a sculptural configuration and the sound of Mario Benedetti’s poetry read in Spanish as the score. Translations were projected on the back wall, but pulled focus from the dancers, and became more of a distraction than a useful component of the work. It followed that with a series of three classically based solos, all of which featured a dancer predominantly facing away from the audience. In rare moments when we weren’t watching the dancer from behind, they kept their gaze and focus internal preventing connections with the audience, putting the audience in position of voyeur, rather than participant. The sound of the voice became ambience, aural texture with fragments of literal meaning for a non-Spanish speaker. Like the sounds, the visual imagery washed over the eyes, not leaving fully formed images or metaphors available for deciphering. In the end the dancers did open up to face the audience, but it seemed that the piece hadn’t fully decided what it wanted to say. The dancers were content with sharing fragments of meaning and moments of grace.

The Details in our Fabrics, by mdance, a company of two sisters was a study in the subtleties of similarity and difference. It is rare to see dancers similar in the way these two were: in physicality like the slope of the neck to shoulder and movement characteristics like their uncanny synchronicity in phrasing. Although articulated in the programme as an exploration of how an individual defines herself within a close relationship, it was more an exploration of sharing space; the dancers moved organically between roles of soloist, support and equal partner. It didn’t seem that they needed to define individuality, given the level of understanding that underpinned the fluid giving and taking of the lead. The space to be oneself was granted with sensitivity, a quality underscored by the nature of the score: the song The Details in our Fabrics, which also provided the piece’s title. The effect was not so much a symbiosis or a blurring of two dancer/characters or sisters, but an expression of subtle adjustments that if we are lucky, we find and use to create balance in close and long-standing relationships.

Having watched a number of non-representational movement pieces Accented by Organized Chaos was in a difficult position. It too opened with the five dancers in patterns of unison gestures, where the configurations of dancers sharing gestures kept shifting. As clear and engaging as the piece was visually, it was all but ruined by the choice of sound. With layers of computerized distortion, the repetitive clips of people talking about regional dialects of spoken English did not serve, support, or connect to the movement. It was far too distracting to try to figure out the connection between the spoken text and the dance: the clips were too literal, uninteresting, and repeated too often to keep interest. In moments when the sound was minimized, one could focus on the energetic and vibrant movement. But even the dancers seemed trapped by the literal sounds, unable to enjoy the movement and the energy it engendered.

It should have been a relief to see a work that wanted to explore emotion after so many abstract pieces. I Carry Your Heart, choreographed by Raymond Tait Dance was a beautifully sentimental illustration of an ee cummings poem. The work was nostalgic for a fictitious past with a Hallmark aesthetic and emotive dancing. One dancer sprinkled rose petals from her handbag, another gazed longingly at a pile of sticks, two others turned wineglasses upside down, then right side up and again and again. Its syrupy wistfulness and beautiful choreography made this a spellbinding performance, making you wonder what Raymond Tait will create next.

The marked change from danciness and abstraction came from Kasper Hansen and Sam Coren in Intrepid Exploring. With a solo performer, Moreno Solinas, recounting variations of a story of ‘intrepid exploring,’ in different personas, the piece was boyish and funny. Interjected between the episodes of storytelling was a video projection of the two artists talking. Overall, the piece was a clever and light idea, as yet not fully explored of certain archetypes of masculinity. It allowed laughter and poked fun at itself and ended by leaving a door open, with an impression there will be more to come.

The apple of my eye by Dorit Schwartz Dance Company opened quite literally, with an apple narrowly haloed centre stage. The two dancers writhed towards it, one activated by yearning, the other more perfunctorily. The image was sculptural if melodramatic; the acting out of desire seemed more important than the object or motivation. The careless gesture of one dancer brushed the apple out of reach initiating the aggression between the two. What followed was a pained solo by the once-indifferent dancer with an apple stuffed in her mouth while her partner watched unaffected from the side of the stage. The passive gaze turned into aggressive choreography as they slammed body against body until one fell and the other left victorious. But what was won? The illustrated emotion didn’t feel sincere, since the characters lacked conflicting agendas. The piece walked a fine line between abstraction and nonsense, where one is unsatisfied by being unable to grasp the rationale but also unable to let go of questioning.

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.

Reviewed by Mollie S McClelland for Cloud Dance Festival