Lucía Piquero (Diciembre Dance Group)

The ballet-trained Diciembre Dance Group was one of the rare companies presenting a narrative work at the Cloud Dance Festival, and an ambitious one at that, based on Federico García Lorca’s challenging House of Bernarda Alba. Mats Ek himself made a dance version in 1978, but Lucía Piquero, the company’s young Spanish choreographer, explains how she went back to Lorca’s instructions for what was her company’s first piece, followed since by more creations. Interview conducted by Laura Cappelle of Bella Figura.

How did you start dancing?

I started dancing when I was 11, casually – I just met a friend who was doing ballet. I was more interested in gymnastics, but I joined in and it ended up being like a boom in my life, a real change. I trained in ballet in Spain, and I only started contemporary dance when I came to London – I spent one year at The Place, and now I’m finishing a MA in Choreography at Middlesex University.

I actually always wanted to choreograph, and I had my first opportunity the year before coming to the UK – my teacher liked one my ideas, and I ended up choreographing the whole school show, which was a huge change from doing nothing! I then did a student workshop at The Place, and I just fell in love with it.

When was the Diciembre Dance Group created?
The members of Diciembre come from the London Contemporary Dance School, and the group was formed in August 2008 – I started it to do more things, since none of us were dancing anywhere else at the time. We applied for Resolution! 2009, which was our second ever performance.

What was the thinking behind The House of Bernarda Alba?
It was the first piece we did – we performed it at university. Being Spanish, Federico García Lorca is quite close to me, and I did a lot of theatre when I was younger – I did some Lorca, and I didn’t understand anything. Everyone that stages Lorca changes a lot of things, so I wanted to do a dance piece that corresponded exactly to what Lorca was saying when he gave the instructions for the play. That’s why we don’t have any men – there aren’t any in the cast of Bernarda Alba, but people find it easier to just have the men of the story on stage. I know it is also quite usual to cast a male actor or dancer as the main character, Bernarda, but I don’t like it – why would a strong woman necessarily have to be played by a man? I mainly wanted to convey the emotion, and since it’s a 15-minute piece, we selected the most important scenes.

How would you describe your style?
Emotional, and invested with social concerns. Everyone in the company is ballet-trained, so ballet is a strong base movement-wise, although we have all switched to contemporary dance now. I still want the technique to be seen somehow, but we just use whatever explains what we are trying to say – our aim is to say something, and dance is the tool.

What are your inspirations?
Literature is a strong inspiration. I also try to do choreography that deals with social issues – I just did a piece on madness, for which I obviously read Cervantes’s Don Quixote. In terms of choreographers, I really like Mats Ek, Nacho Duato and Ji?í Kylián. I try to avoid being too strongly influenced by traditional Spanish styles, to let go, but obviously a fan and a mantilla will say Spanish to the audience in Bernarda Alba.

What’s next for you after the festival?
We’re performing a new piece in Spain on 30 December. It’s an experimentation around the idea of childhood, of play, but we didn’t want to idealise it – being a child is not that easy.

Any Christmas wishes for the company?

For the New Year, the opportunity to perform more and more, to develop ourselves as a group and myself as choreographer.

Many thanks to Chantal Guevara for making these interviews possible.

Chantal Guevara by Danceground


'Cloud Dance Festival' The Underground of Contemporary Dance - Featured interview with Director & Producer Chantal Guevara


Chantal Guevara formed Cloud Dance Festival to create more performance opportunities for contemporary dance companies. Put on three times a year Cloud Dance Festival is an event open to all dancers at all stages in their careers. Since its first event at Chisenhale Dance Space in June 2007 Cloud Dance Festival has invited over 80 choreographers and companies (22 of which have performed in more than one festival) to perform at a range of venues. This means audiences can check out the development of returning dance artists and latest trends in contemporary dance.

We've been lucky enough to steal some of Chantal's time and ask her to fill us in with more info about the festival and what's involved in putting on a reccuring event with over 100 choreographers and dancers to be taken care of each time! 

It's not an easy task putting on an event 3 times a year which showcases several dance companies at once. What motivated you to initiate Cloud Dance Festival?


It all started with Cloud Dance, our part-time dance company; we’d been lucky to have our first performance as part of Sadlers Wells’ Open Connect in March 2007. It then became clear that Cloud Dance would have four seasons per year, and we’d be hard-pressed to find platforms throughout the year to suit our timeframes.


When I was looking around at venues, I noticed that some were very affordable, which would mean that we could create a platform of our own and even hold performances over several days. After all, London’s meant to be one of the leading world centres of contemporary dance, with some of the top conservatoires, a lot of very talented choreographers and dancers – but very few opportunities for them to perform their work.


We realised that four times a year would be way too much, and three times a year seems to work well for everyone’s schedules – on the one hand, it motivates choreographers to keep working throughout the year on new works; on the other hand, if they’re not available for one of the festivals, at least it doesn’t mean that they’ll miss out for the rest of the year.


What makes Cloud Dance Festival unique from other contemporary dance platforms?


Ballet Black suggested I answer this with “it’s the only one with ballet!”


We’ve seen an increase in the number of platforms over the past few years, however we’ve noticed that they seem to fall into two categories: either those which broaden their scope to include physical theatre and other forms of movement; and showings, which are typically held in smaller venues – which reduces the costs and risks involved. 


We’re trying to develop a reputation for showcasing what’s best in emerging contemporary dance, with the aim that someone who doesn’t know the companies involved can still come and enjoy an evening of high quality contemporary dance. 


Also, we’re actively trying to make contemporary dance more accessible to the wider public – we’re aware that the contemporary dance audience is fairly limited, and we want to expose our performers to a wider audience. We do this through our publicity artwork, which is intended to be eyecatching rather than dancey, through the information we distribute, and overall, through the pieces we select for each festival.


Cloud Dance Festival has been successful for a few years now. How is the event funded?


It’s not! Our only source of income is ticket sales, which has to cover all the festival expenses (and sometimes doesn’t!) We don’t run the festival to make a profit; we’d rather put the money back into the festival to make it better for the performers, by hiring a better venue, additional lighting, studio space, good photographers, lighting designers and video editors etc. It does mean that we can’t afford to pay any of the performers, but we do try to make it the best performance experience that we can. 


Although it’s stressful paying for all the upfront costs myself, and being stuck with any losses incurred, we’ve been very proud of the fact that the festival’s unfunded, given the current arts funding crisis: when so many companies and projects are dependent on funding to proceed, I think the festival is a very good example of what can be achieved without funding!


Of course, we have to keep developing the festival to prevent it from stagnating, so that’s going to require funding… wish us luck!


How can dance companies get involved with performing at the festival and what's the criteria?


There’s three ways that companies get involved in each festival. 

The first is the companies which approach us separately, which are usually our headliners, for example FFIN Dance, Dena Lague, Sophia Hurdley.


We select a small number of companies from each festival and give them an open invite to return whenever they like. A good example of that is the upcoming festival, Parade, which has eight returning companies, and a further two companies returning as applicants. 


The final way is through the application process, which we try to keep as simple as possible. We know that everyone’s busy, so we don’t want to put them through an overcomplicated process; also, we want to make it as “equal opportunities” as possible so that we can judge a new graduate’s application on the same basis as that of a more established company. 


We also ask for supporting photos and video footage; the photos are largely because our press deadline is immediately after the application deadline, so we need them ready for use. The videos help us assess the quality of the work, and helps us a lot with making our final decisions. 


What are ticket sales like throughout the festival and do you receive much feedback?


The normal pattern is that the Friday is quietest, the Saturday will come close to selling out, and the Sunday will sell out completely. It doesn’t always work that way – in July, we had torrential rain starting at 6pm sharp on both the Friday and Sunday, so the Saturday was the only day to sell out. 


We did an audience survey in July, and the feedback was interesting; we’ll conduct another one in the next festival, and hope to get more answers this time! We’ve implemented some changes from the July festival, however some things – wider variety of dance styles, more lavish costumes – are things we just can’t do anything about!


Are there any dance companies who have taken part in the festival that have especially stood out?


Oh yes! We keep a list of the companies we invite to return, there’s 35 of them at present! Olivia Vella has been in four festivals, and she has a wonderful raw talent. Nexus Dance were completely amazing in the last festival, and we still have warm glowy memories of Drew McOnie Dance Theatre from back in April. Taciturn and Vex Dance Theatre are other firm favourites – it’s just a shame that they’re not based in London so we can’t see more of them!


Who in the current contemporary dance scene would you recommend for viewing? 


Obviously we have our favourites, and there are some amazing choreographers around, but a key problem with recommending people to watch out for is not knowing what the future’s going to hold for them, and the all-too-real possibility that they may have to shelve future work indefinitely. 


We’re all more than aware of the arts funding crisis, and it’s affecting companies at all levels, from emerging to more established; for some companies, it’s meaning that they simply don’t have the resources to create new work, while other choreographers are having to seek paid work or choreograph for others, not leaving them the time to develop their own work and ideas. It was very chilling when a potential choreographer sent me some sample reviews from Resolution 2004! and all of the names were unfamiliar – yet without support and funding, this will no doubt await today’s artists too. 


What does the future have in store for the festival?


First up, we really want a theatre of our own! It could well be an impossible pipe dream, but after all of this year’s searching for venues, there really is a shortage of good venues ideal for dance – and those are usually booked up way in advance. 


We’ve also spent a lot of time looking into ways of expanding the festival further for next year, and our key focus is providing more support and artistic development to our performers – eg, an awards scheme, career development workshops, commissioning works from promising choreographers, and looking for ways of formalising our support of specific artists. We’re also going to start approaching larger-name companies about performing in future festivals – not only will it be fantastic for the audience, but also it’s great bonus for the rest of the companies to be performing on the same lineup as… whoever we manage to get!


This weekend's Cloud Dance Festival: Parade will be welcoming back audience favourites Dam Van Huynh, Hagit Yakira, Lila Dance, Pair Dance, Sol Dans, Nexus Dance and Diciembre Dance Group, and saying farewell to Ji Park of Flexa Dance Theatre, who will be returning to Korea shortly after the festival.


Other performers include New Adventures star Sophia Hurdley's biopic of opera legend Maria Callas, and festival newcomers Slanjayvah Danza, J.H.L Dance Company and Leaf Dance, returning company Sezdrenah Dance Theatre (CDF: Dream On), Petra Söör (CDF: Tabula Rasa), and very special guests Ballet Black. 


See Cloud Dance Festival's website for more details. A good resource to check out all past and current performing dance companies at the festival, providing company information and a great collection of videos. 


Original interview published on

Chantal Guevara by

Cloud Dance Festival - behind the scenes

Back in 2007 Chantal Guevara posted a call on the noticeboard for choreographers and dancers to work with her newly formed collective of dancers - some working professionally, others aspiring to do so.   Out of the flood of responses , Cloud Dance Festival, a thrice yearly platform for up and coming new dance was born.  In three years there have been nine festivals, involving 80 companies and an average of 100 people involved in each festival across a range of London venues.  The next one takes place this weekend  (5 & 6 Dec) at the People Show Studios, Bethnal Green.

The success of this independent initiative is largely down to one woman - Chantal continues to organize, programme and manage it all- alongside the demands of a full time day job.  And she even found time to answer afew of our questions...

How did Cloud Dance Festival come about?

Back in April 2007, I was researching studio space for our company Cloud Dance, when I noticed the low cost of some venues, and realised that it might be completely insane, but otherwise feasible, to hold a platform on two or more days - and still manage to break even. There was absolutely no point in booking a venue for Cloud Dance alone, so we'd have to invite other companies to perform anyway  - and I had some in mind from the start. And so the festival was born.


What's your background - are you a dancer? 

I'm not a dancer, sadly - I started taking contemporary dance classes back in '95, and although I dreamed of applying to dance school about eight years ago, I've had to stop dancing altogether for the past few years due to knee problems. I'd love to return to class, but given the choice between fixing my knee and working on the festival, the festival always wins.


What's your main aim with Cloud Dance Festival?

I noticed that of all the art forms, contemporary dance seems to be the least organised, with the most gaps and fewest resources, and over the last three years, I've been interested in looking into them and seeing what I can do about them. With the festival, I've wanted to address the large number of highly talented choreographers and dancers based in London and beyond, with few opportunities to showcase their work, or little incentive to create new pieces.


How do you fit into the London dance scene?

We don't actually have much contact with other dance organisations (except through Twitter!), although that's mostly because there's very few of us, and we're normally completely swamped with working on each festival.


Through Cloud Dance, we had a lot of contact with most of London's dance studios, and one side-effect of the festivals is that with a large proportion of the pieces being created specifically for the festival, that generates a lot of business for the studios. We also provide the participants with a list of recommended studios, and we hope they're benefiting from that.


Are you hoping to provide a platform for the companies you feature to go on to other things?

Of course we hope that they'll stay with us, but we do get very proud when we see them move on, and we support them as much as we can.


You always use different venues - is that out of choice?

It's entirely not out of choice - I've often said that I long for the festival to have a home of its own, so that we can keep holding it at the same venue again and again. It's all about availability - we started seeking a venue for the next festival seven months in advance, and ended up approaching 49 venues.


An obvious disadvantage of moving around is not being familiar with the venue in question, especially when it comes to knowing what's achievable, and also when answering queries from the performers. It was wonderful holding two consecutive festivals at Jacksons Lane, and it made it so much easier for us to prepare for July's festival as a result.


A benefit of moving around, however, is the opportunities it creates in bringing contemporary dance to a new community, something we plan to explore further next year.


Ballet Black are a late addition to December's programme - how did that come about?

That was all down to Twitter! I've seen Ballet Black several times this year, and I've dreamed of having them in the festival, but never dared approach them about it. Then a week ago, they heard through Twitter that we were having a line-up crisis, and they offered to step in. At the same time, other Twitter users were encouraging me to go with Ballet Black - it was a very entertaining Sunday night online!  In hindsight..

Tell us about your line up for Parade this weekend.

The first thing to say about it is that it's mostly audience (and our) favourites from the past year, and the matinee is going to feature the highlights of the whole festival (excepting Ballet Black, who are only performing on Sunday evening). Only five of the companies were applicants, and two of them have performed in past festivals.


Sophia Hurdley has worked with New Adventures for several years, so we're really looking forward to seeing her work; Nexus Dance completely amazed us with their performance in July, so we're thrilled that they're returning. Slanjayvah Danza is one of the 'new' companies, but we absolutely loved the clip of their piece, and it will be wonderful to have them in the festival. Ji Park is someone I've supported a lot this year - her work is very experimental and creative, but sadly she's having to return to Korea shortly, so this will be her final performance with us.

Whats next for Cloud Dance Festival? 

 We're aware that the festival needs to develop to avoid stagnating, so we've been working hard on our plans for next year, which include attracting larger-name companies to our line ups, and focusing more on artistic development and support - trying to see how the festival can better benefit its participants. I'm also starting to think we need a theatre of our own...


This is all going to require funding, which will be a challenge for us, as we've been unfunded till now, but certain things are becoming urgent, such as needing salaries and office space!  For the most part, I've run the festival by myself, but I already have a full-time job and as the festival grows, it's becoming harder to juggle the two. I have an arts manager, and we have occasional volunteers, and we've been lucky that most people involved in the festivals (our stage manager, ASMs, photographers, video editor, reviewers)  have been willing to work for reduced rates or for free, however we're aware that we're going to need to start paying them, or face losing them.


Meanwhile Parade is going to be the celebration of three years of Cloud Dance Festival, and a tribute to all it's achieved in that time - from an ad posted on and a subsequent pub meeting, to being able to hold its own 'best of' event, with our most exciting lineup yet!

Original interview published on

Jenni Wren (Slanjayvah Danza)

Cloud Dance Festival was holding its first “best of” Parade last weekend at People Show Studios, and Bella Figura took the opportunity to interview some of the festival’s up-and-coming dancers and choreographers. We start with the delightful Jenni Wren, Artistic Director of Slanjayvah Danza, whose Blind Passion – Live Cut with Phil Sanger left the audience stunned. Interview conducted by Laura Cappelle of Bella Figura.

Can you tell me about your dance background?

My parents were always very artistic – my mom was a singer, and my dad was a musician. They always let me do what I said I wanted to do. I grew up in a very small village, but I did ballet, for a short while, and other things. The only one I kept going with was rollerskating – I became a member of the Scottish Squad, and I competed nationally. I stopped when I was 14, but I was a pre-silver medallist.

Then I became a teenager, and there were no facilities for dance in my school. At 19 though I started doing one class a week at Scottish Dance Theatre. After two years, Janet Smith [the artistic director of the company] asked me why I wasn’t training – I just didn’t think dance was a career you could have. So I started my training just when I turned 23. I did a year at Scottish Contemporary Dance School, and then a three-year degree at the Northern School of Contemporary Dance, before moving on to a graduate traineeship with Attic Dance.

The people that influenced me most were Yael Flexer (Bedlam Dance) and Janet Smith. I found it difficult to find dance that inspired me though – I just had a lot of things to say, and I decided to make my own work. As a kid I was always choreographing for rollerskating, and it made sense for me, against everybody’s advice not to start a company right after college. My first professional work was for the Certamen de Madrid. It reached the semi-finals, and from there we did a small tour in Spain, with four other pieces. I came back to the UK because of the funding situation, and since returning, I have had five funding awards here, including some from the Arts Council England. We are currently in residence in an art space in Leeds called Seven, and they support us a lot.

Where does the name of your company come from?

It’s Celtic/Scottish for “Cheers to your health, to your life”. I used Danza because there is a lot of Spanish influence in my work – I have a lot of friends there, and I started the company with Spanish girls. I’ve been there so often that I feel like I have origins there now.

What was the thinking behind Blind Passion – Live Cut?

It was premiered last July, and it has been a turning point for me. It is the first time I have made a choreography about how I feel. Many people think it is about a relationship, and in a sense it is – it’s about my relationship with what Phil [Sanger, dancer and choreographer] and I feel passionate about. That includes the body, the naked form of the body, the mechanical forms of the body – I do massages, and quite often I find myself looking at it inside out, looking at the muscles, the patterns. The body as a work of art in itself is incredible.

My other passion is communication, and Phil and I have been friends for a long time, we communicate very well, and I wanted that to come across. The third important thing was contact – we actually structured the work through contact improvisation. If you can do contact well, you should be able to do it with your eyes closed, and that’s where the blindfolds came in.

We did the film version first, and then we developed it into a longer piece that was suitable for small venues, with minimal costumes. We end up in skin-coloured underwear, and that way, with the lightning design, it is possible to see how the body is moving, muscularly and sculpturally. Phil is leaving for a company, but I will continue performing the piece with someone else.

What are your inspirations?

On a personal level, my mom. She has always allowed me to be completely individual, and she has supported me in everything I’ve wanted to do. She believes in personal growth, personal and professional development, she inspires me to be determined. The body-mind connection is another important thing.

What’s next for you after the festival?

We are doing a new piece called Crazy Joanna, based on a Spanish film, Juana la Loca. The film was about a Spanish Queen tormented by her husband, who went crazy in love with him, while he abused her emotionally. She died very lonely. It went on for us to the theme of domestic abuse, and it now follows the journey of three women, of a woman living three life cycles. It goes from the Medieval times in Spain through to Buenos Aires in the 1920s and the present time, and follows a recurring pattern, with three dance styles, including Spanish and Tango influences. This work will premiere in Leeds in May, and it is a collaboration with my film maker Aurora Fearnley and the artist David Cobley. We will use one of his paintings, Into the Light, for the production.

How do you incorporate the Argentine tango in your work?

My interpretation of tango has always been a part of my work. Phil and I went to Buenos Aires for five weeks of intensive training last year – it was hard, the dissociation particularly. We will use it more in Crazy Joanna, as I’m working with a contemporary dancer that has tango experience for this piece.

Any Christmas wishes for your company?

A break. We need to prepare for what is coming up, and we have worked so much lately.


» See video snippets of Blind Passion and other works on Slanjayvah Danza’s website. Slanjayvah Danza is currently in Residence at Seven Artspace, in Leeds. The company will also perform at Resolution! 2010.

Many thanks to Chantal Guevara for making these interviews possible.