The closing day of Cloud Dance Festival: Parade met a sold-out auditorium packed with eager dance viewers hungry for what was billed as a ‘Best Of’ special. Welcoming back some of the audience favourites from past festivals, the line-up boasted an exciting evening of contemporary dance.

Opening the show was Diciembre Dance Group with The House of Bernarda Alba, an adaptation of Garcia Lorca’s epic tragedy. With Alberto Garcia’s outstanding musical offering, the dancers portray the complex characters with finesse and strong technique. Apart from minor spacing issues, Lucía Piquero’s choreography is detailed and passionate, allowing the dancers room for expression but ensuring the narrative is always in the forefront. Removing the males from the story, this adaptation is strong and lays focus on the plight of the female characters. With clear drawings from ballet and contemporary technique, the movement is rich and technical with the added use of fans for aural accompaniment. It feels at times that the work would benefit from a longer running time as some of the scenes feel rushed, but the structure and choreographic signature provide the audience with an insight of what could come.

Callas by Sophia Hurdley presents… delves into the obsessive love triangle of Maria Callas, Aristotle Onassis and Jackie Kennedy. Performed by West End dancers and actors, this slick production exposes the emotional torment of Callas, whilst placing it in context with the use of black and white film as a backdrop. Reminiscent of the works of Matthew Bourne, Hurdley has created a balance between dramatic intention and movement in order to express a complex narrative predominantly non-verbally. Easiest compared to a piece of musical theatre minus the songs, Hurdley fuses the performers’ talents with her detailed eye to create a very promising work-in-progress. I look forward to the full-length Callas.

Lila Dance
presented the stand-out work for this day of the festival; Here, Still Here, Still is a stunning solo with movements that boggle the mind. From the start, the dynamic tone is set as the dancer falls to the floor and writhes around disjointedly. The exhilarating movement combinations throughout expose the dancer’s athleticism, along with the McGregor-esque crop top and shorts attire. Often solos require great concentration on behalf of the audience, but this one shifts in dynamic effortlessly, constantly engaging the viewer. The articulation of the performer adds merit to the inventive, quirky choreography, forming a mesmerising treat for the audience. Choreographers Abi Mortimer and Carrie Whitaker are in the midst of developing a new movement language that challenges the current trend and I am excited to see more.

In Free me out of existence, Sezdrenah Dance Theatre explore the human psyche and how one soul can be overcome by different mind states or voices. Using the clichéd costumes of white versus black, good versus evil, the choreography allows for the eloquent movement dynamic of the soloist to overpower the often stilted and unsure actions of the trench coat clad duo and the other sprightly voice. At points in the work, the back wall becomes host to a sharply edited video of the soloist employing dynamic camera angles and cuts. There seemed to be a tension between the clean edit of the projected image and the tentative attack of the performers on the stage, however the attempt at marrying the mediatized and live is to be commended.

Sol Dans presented their new work Groundlings, exploring what the programme notes describe as ‘pure and literal escapism’. With this vague subject matter, choreographer Melody Squire pushes the audience to find their own connections in the work. With backcombed hair, body paint and cling film, this work feels somewhat contrived and clichéd. Although the dancers are obviously technically trained and add an injection of energy to the evening, the work is underdeveloped and is need of a greater level of depth. Although abstract, there appears to be little reference to the escapism it claims, other than the unravelling of the wrapped stage and the opening pop video inspired huddle. With as talented a bunch as this, the work does not give an accurate representation of what Sol Dans could offer.

Choreographer Sian Hopkins of Nexus Dance shared two short solos, Of Nothing and They Who Have Wings. The first, performed by Josh Ben-Tovim, provides an expansive, yet capsule-sized solo. With engaging stage presence, he darts from one side of the stage to the other, shifting his centre of gravity in a second from grounded to airborne. The second solo saw Hopkins dance herself, with live accompaniment by Tom Kirkpatrick. As an excerpt of their upcoming Reckonings project the tone and lyricism of the choreography leaves us wanting more. As two snippets of what Nexus Dance could bring to the table, the ability to create an organic, relaxed atmosphere will take them far.

The much-anticipated Ballet Black closed the show with their duet Pendulum. Choreographed by Martin Lawrance and performed by the greatly talented Cira Robinson and Jazmon Voss, the audience were graced with outstanding ballet technique coupled with innovative choreography. The partnership of the pair forms the basis of the work, displaying moments of conflict and intimate lift work. The pulsing music allows the balletic movement to be seen as departing from the traditional; this coupled with the intense eye contact of the duo make the work an overload on the senses at times. Lawrance employs relatively simple choreographic techniques to showcase this contemporary pas de deux; by performing the choreography in chunks which are later joined together to form a stunning crescendo alongside the music. Ballet Black is a company to watch out for in the New Year.

Reviewed by Laura Bridges for Cloud Dance Festival