Cloud Dance Festival was developed in response to a lack of platforms for contemporary choreographers to share their work. Parade was a weekend of new pieces and some of the highlights from previous festivals. Housed in the cosy People Show Studios in Bethnal Green, Parade was so popular that it was over-subscribed on opening night!

As we are invited to take our seats and enter the theatre two dancers are casually moving in the space.  Festival and nagune (wayfarer), choreographed by Ji Park, is an engaging work from the very beginning. As we enter the theatre two dancers are casually moving in the space. This unconventional framing breaks down the barrier between the audience and performers, connecting us with the dancers from the offset. In the centre of the stage stands a stack of books, this symbolic representation of all the order in our lives becomes a crucial element in the piece. As the dancers work to reorganise the stack, and we experience them struggling with the heavy load we are able to share the burden and effort. The sense relief when the books start to fall from their arms is felt by the audience and dancers alike.

At the start, moments of connection between the two performers were noticeable for their rarity. As the relationship developed, with some interesting contact work and more intimate focus, we were left to invent a narrative between the characters. As the connection moved toward the romantic finale the atmosphere was abruptly halted, and the performers set about playfully trashing their books. This was a humorous twist from Park, playing on our need to construct significance in relationships between men and women and refusing to conform to a romantic outcome. This is a rhythmically striking piece, light-hearted, entertaining and beautifully performed, it was a great start to the night.

Life in the womb, choreographed and danced by Hyanglae Jin is an investigation into the effects of stress on our emotional state. With live music from Revital Snir, the movement and sound work beautifully together. The conversational style of the connection creates an improvisational and spontaneous effect. Movement is captivating in its lyricism, Jin’s bound, inward energy and distorted form creates a strong sense of inner turmoil. Circular movements and internal focus give us the feeling of intruding on a private world. In the rare moments that Jin escapes the forces suppressing her and expands her radar to incorporate the audience the effect is striking and powerful. The way that Jin plays with energy, pulling inward and throwing outward creates a trance-like experience. We share discomfort and turmoil with Jin, and her ability to communicate kinaesthetic experience effectively is captivating, powerful and rare.

Extensions and rooms, created and danced by Petra Söör, is an investigation into presence and space. Emerging from the audience and turning on the house lights Petra draws our attention from the room that we’re in. We follow Soor as she investigates and maps the space through movement. The way that she puts herself in one place then removes herself from it creates a sense of resonance and highlights the ephemeral nature of movement. Soor plays with dynamics, the shift from lyrical to frenetic refocuses the audience and creates energetic excitement.

At times Söör leaves the stage area and joins the audience, together we look at the empty stage, giving us time to remember the action that has just occurred and appreciate the resonance it carries. By seeing the space empty we are focussed on the memories of the movement, giving us an understanding as to how movement transforms our perception of space. There is a sense of playfulness from Söör, a look of personal entertainment, as though remembering a private joke. This keeps the energy light and reminds us that despite the detailed concept we are fundamentally watching someone enjoying the act of moving in space.

Papillon from Leyla Rees and and performed by Leaf Dance is compelling in its structural simplicity. By playing with canon, unison and counterpoint, the dancers create a sculptural and striking work. The use of repetition provides a thread for the viewer to follow, stopping us from getting lost in the movement. Billed as ‘an exploration of innate hope’ the inspiration of the choreographer is in some ways removed from our experience of the work. The movement created from the exploration is abstraction in its purest form, allowing the viewer space to appreciate and experience the movement in a personal way.  

The movement is a well-executed example of the classic contemporary juxtaposition of straight limbs and fluid torsos, manipulated and played with in a unique way. There was specific power in the use of unison, one such moment saw all four dancers performing in unison in a line at the front of the stage. This simple moment was by far the most striking, this energetic shift could possibly have been made more of. Overall, an interesting and clear work highlighting the joy of abstract movement.

Blind Passion – Live Cut, performed by Slanjayvah Danza, is an explosive and memorable work. The piece develops quickly, however the relationship between Phil Sanger and Jenni Wren is intense from the start. As the clothes come off the blindfolds come on. The movement is well-crafted, fluid and impressively executed. The lack of sight leaves the dancers feeling their way round each other’s bodies and draws us in to the intimacy of their contact. In some ways, the startling nudity detracted from the subtlety of the movement and left little room for interpretation of the complexities of male/female relationships. That said, however, the strong sense of touch that it created and striking passionate energy of the work was compelling and intriguing.

Rush, choreographed by Harriet Macauley and danced by Pair Dance is a powerful work, a striking example of how movement can carry strong emotional resonance. Commuter chaos and the feelings this provokes is the topic for the work, a cleverly embodied and clearly communicated concept. The movement creates a visceral sense of frustration and entrapment, the work appears restricted by the space, reminiscent of physical experiences we can all relate to. The dancers are professional, focussed and talented, performances are slick and unfussy. The noticeable skill shared by all three performers is being able to stop. This is a massively important element in such high-powered work. By controlling the energy enough to make sharp and sudden stops we are treated to some exciting dynamic tension. An exhilarating and professional work, I greatly look forward to the next piece from Pair Dance!

Distortion. Bleakness. Urgency. Dam Van Huynh’s unique use of the body is striking and alarming. Van Huynh controls the dancers, yelling occasional instructions, there is a frenetic and alarming energy. The repetition of a frantic gestural motif, involving the dancers moving their hands in specific patterns on the floor gives the impression of urgent problem solving.

There is a sense of bleakness in Van Huynh Company’s  Sudden Change of Event - Excerpt despite the constant flurry of the movement; this is perhaps due to the lack of music. With no deliberate audio accompaniment the breath becomes very important, increasing a sense of urgent desperation. The way that Van Huynh plays with the human form is fascinating, moving beyond the frequently used hyper-extension and distorted limbs his dancers embody a palpable internal discomfort that manifests itself in strange angles, disrupted movements and desperate energy. It is great to see work that challenges the human form, creating a fresh style and displaying expressive virtuosity.

All in all, this was a varied and interesting programme. Director Chantal Guevara provided us with a great range of different styles, approaches and experiences. Cloud Dance Festival gives audiences with a great opportunity to see a range of work from exciting new choreographic talent.

Reviewed by Hetty Blades for Cloud Dance Festival