The last night of Cloud Dance Festival’s tenth showcase, Trouble and Desire, opened with a meditation on the opposing yet interdependent forces of yin-yang in Chinese philosophy, and ideas of parity and disparity, of complement and contrast informed much of the evening’s work.


The contrasts in Yuyu Rau’s Beauty Unveiled are obvious –  two dancers dressed in black and two in white weave delicate circling hands into larger and stronger shapes, and fluid contortions give way to warriorlike floor-pounding. What’s not always clear is how the opposing forces might complement. Rau’s work is at its best when the otherwise isolated dancers come together into fleeting duets and trios, alternately supporting each other with soft tilts and rejecting each other with high kicks. The four dancers are strong, and Elena Zaino is excellent throughout; but the unison is often messy, and too often the work veers from one contrast to another with little insight into the relationships suggested by the theme. Beauty Unveiled feels under-rehearsed, overlong, and structurally confused.

Hana Saotome, of “Got to Dance” finalists Beyond Repair Dance, appears solo in a new work created with composer A Lorenzo. Low Blue Flame takes inspiration from a quotation about the heat inherent in an apparently calm object. Saotome contrasts the qualities of tranquillity and energy as she winds her supple self around six small blue lamps in turn, a shudder in the hips and a shrug of the shoulders exploding into a whirl of arms and legs. Lorenzo’s music complements the solo perfectly, simmering and stuttering to the dancer’s bursts of movement. Low Blue Flame goes off the boil a bit towards the end, sputtering out rather than building to a strong finish,  but it’s otherwise a very promising solo from a capable dancer in control of her material.

Last seen at CDF’s Parade in 2008, Slanjayvah Danza brings us Blind Passion, a duet daring in more ways than one. Beginning with smooth, tango-inspired moves, sometimes rotated around the body or onto the floor, the work takes on a new dimension of intimacy when the dancers remove their (already skimpy) vest tops and don blindfolds. The blindness stands both for sensuousness – deprived of sight, the dancers can only sense and respond to one another’s touch – and for profound trust between the pair. There’s a thrilling build in intensity, from simple lead-and-follow, fall-and-catch to some audaciously gravity-defying contact moves. Passion may be blind, but this is no mere fumble in the dark: the relationship between choreographer Jenni Wren and partner Riccardo Meneghini is something deeper and more sincere.

A pair of invisible headphones, a dancer wrapped up in knotted laundry, a soundtrack of Austrian dub: crowd favourite Hyanglae Jin isn’t even trying not to be weird. Ostensibly informed by a narrative about being stuck in hospital for a month, Now let me tell you about my... sees its two male performers skateboard across the stage, draw in chalk on every available surface, and engage in disjointed combat from opposite sides of the stage. There’s a great deal of energy and physical commitment from the performers, and the zany, upbeat mood is infectious. “How great was that?” asked one audience member seated behind me. “Joyous,” came the reply.

Less joyous, but no less committed, was Hurst and Griffiths’ nightmarish Weave. Danced by five women in institutional dresses that called to mind nightgowns – or maybe straitjackets? – Weave sets a physically demanding array of self-tugging, throat-slitting and eye-pulling gestures to a dramatic drum and bass score.  Krista Vuori’s mad-eyed stare and a lighting design of bright slits and looming shadows contribute effectively to the oppressive, J-horror feel of the piece. Dancers chase, flee and pull at themselves in an apparent attempt to break free that seems doomed never to succeed. Weave is inspired by the work of Japanese artist Chiharu Shiota, but even without this reference the piece is highly readable; vivid and intense, it was a highlight of the evening for me.

Scarlett Perdereau’s Spare Rib has been shown in a number of versions using different configurations of dancers and musicians since CDF’s Dream On in 2008. The idea is simply to illustrate the “physicality of sound” by having the three dancers perform semi-improvised combinations to the sounds of three live jazz musicians. There are fun moments – I particularly enjoyed a dancer nonchalantly wiggling her toes to the rhythm of a hi-hat, and the trio marching their bottoms across stage to the throb of a double-bass. At other times, however, the correlation between music and dance is weak – a skittish solo to the accompaniment of a light snare rhythm simply repeats without variation to a pounding timpani beat. Spare Rib dragged on for far longer than the material remained interesting.

Mavin Khoo returns to the narrative of Romeo and Juliet, explored by the choreographer last year in Srishti’s My Stamping Ground. Rather than the territorial gang warfare of MSG, though, Khoo here takes the blossoming love between the young couple as his theme. The pair’s connection is explored through neoclassical contemporary doublework and Tchaikovsky’s music, rather than the Bharatanatyam for which Khoo is chiefly known. Taking on such a famous score is a risky challenge for any modern choreographer, but Khoo’s communicative choreography brings a tender reading to the well-known story. There’s something of Mats Ek in the combination of naturalistic gestures and balletic high extensions, Juliet stretching her legs into an ecstatic wide split at Romeo’s touch. Ricardo Vitello and Lucía Piquero are both technically strong and expressive performers, and Romeo’s sweet curiosity at Juliet’s coy lifting of her chiffon skirts is a touching image to end the performance.

With themes ranging from erotic adventure to physical competition, and collaborations musical and corporeal, Trouble and Desire’s third and final night served up a splendidly-balanced feast. The menu for 2010’s summer festival Hush is already taking shape, and I can’t wait to see what director/producer Chantal Guevara will curate for us next.


Reviewed by Lise Smith for Cloud Dance Festival