From March 26th – 28th , Cloud Dance Festival hosted Trouble & Desire, its 10th festival, celebrated at the Pleasance Theatre in North London. Sunday’s choreographic platform was on the whole particularly blessed by companies boasting strong, well accomplished dancers and inventive movement choices. Therefore, throughout the night, it was frustrating that a lack of diversity in pace and climatic build of kinetic energy, seemed to dampen the overall impact of several works.


In Yuyu Rau’s Beauty Unveiled, the characteristics of the ancient concept of Ying and Yang, harmony, balance and opposition were clearly evident. The reserved yet beautifully calm and flowing energies of two dancers dressed in black versus the strong, feverous and often confrontational temperament of their white attired rivals. The all encompassing nature of the circle, present in both the peripheral and intimate pathways of the performers,  their weaving hips, spiralling torsos and sweeping rounded kicks, comparing in contrast to an alternate vocabulary of arms and legs that sliced through the space with a martial arts styled agility. But while no doubt this was a well-crafted work fusing western contemporary dance and Chinese classical styles, Rau’s vocabulary was so seamlessly entwined and loaded towards the harmonious that little change or variation in the speed or timing of the dance occurred from start to finish. Consequently, the work became something that pleasantly washed over you, rather than a genuinely moving piece exploring polar opposites.

The duet Amour, by Mavin Khoo, teased us with a luscious opening solo by Ricardo Vitello. Demonstrating Khoo’s signature lunges in a ballet fourth position, with the front foot delicately arched on demi pointe and sustained yet bound gestures interrupted by sudden bursts of intense vigour, Vitello then joined partner Lucía Piquero for what promised to be a ‘union of two colours within a single canvas’. Disappointingly what unfolded instead was a thin Romeo and Juliet styled pas de deux and a descent into monotony. Both performers move together painfully slow, executing balletic motifs and phrases that aspire to the Covent Garden stage but instead just feel stilted and awkward to watch. Twice Vitello eagerly takes a peek beneath the skirt of his lover’s dress, twice he lifts Piquero high into the air, her legs splayed open wide with sexual desire. With Tchaikovsky’s famous Romeo and Juliet score, overpowering and ill-matched, rising steadily in the background, one is almost left wondering if this melodramatic work is being played for laughs.

Armed with a skated board and chalk, Hyanglae Jin tried to liven up the proceedings with Now Let me tell you about my..., a light jaunt telling the tale of two seemingly different men, personalities and approaches to life. The first performer enters riding the skateboard, sets it downstage and then sways free and relaxed with hands in pockets. Next, oddly attached to a clothes line, a second male performer follows. Body bent low, his footing is less secure, whilst his hands cover his ears as if he is trying to block out the world around him. In amongst using the chalk like a magic marker, sketching shapes on stage as well as imaginary ones in the air, the two men proceed to periodically engage, respond to, talk to and manipulate the other. Again, the action builds to little over the duration of the dance, the movement vocabulary also being basic and pedestrian, albeit a brief moment where the two men loop hands together and  develop an amusing phrase, exploring ways to move jointly as a unit across the stage.

Spare Rib, by Scarlett Perdereau, a dance experiment exploring the parallels between bodies and musical instruments, opened with an engaging tableau of three dancers and three musicians evenly interspersed about the stage. Playfully the musicians set about picking up inanimate dancers like instruments and setting them down again, whilst the dancers cheekily have fun plucking, tapping and rubbing the various musical devices around them.  Creating a physicality of sound in the work was perhaps the clearest ambition achieved within the dance. Several moments involving the double bass were particularly strong, its layers of sound emphasised and magnified in the space by the mimicking female performers, who even during the soundless spaces of the dance, allowed one to feel the silent chatter of music through their visible inner body rhythms. In comparison, despite a lively and engaging duet towards the second half of the work, finding a strong musicality within the body proved more challenging for the dancers - especially when interpreting an instrument such as the guitar with its layers of melodic notes and arpeggiated chords. In addition to making clear decisions about which rhythms to interpret and how, what is required is the dancer’s strong sensitivity for their own body - the tiny joints and muscles as well as the larger limbs - and a wonderful ear for timing and musicality. Such skills, often mastered by Hip-Hop dancers when performing popping and waving techniques, can take years of discipline and practice to develop. That said, to the company’s credit, one expects that achieving such a level of sophistication is even more difficult given the added task of improvisation.

With the use of four small lamps, throwing a cool blue light across a dark stage and the low hum of indistinguishable background noise, the mood set for Hana Saotome’s solo, Low Blue Flame, was again subdued and unaffected. However, as she proceeded to become the embodiment of her subject matter, this mesmerising performer couldn’t fail to hold our attention. Like the flame, Saotome is a dancer of two opposites, self-assured, precise and controlled in her delivery of the choreography one moment, then a small bundle of dynamic fire cracking liveliness the next. Through her we see the flame from many perspectives. She crouches low, sweeping her hand above the lamps’ imagined heat; she struts about the space, sways, jumps, waits, and then stands tall elegantly raising and lowering her arms to match the curve of the flickering flame. Based on artist Jeanie Breaker’s words ‘To burn with a low blue flame, hot despite its smallness and calmness’, in this short but sweet work Saotome has chosen the perfect vehicle to showcase her individual personality and talents.

A stage set with warm lighting, seductive Latin rhythms, blind folds, nudity and the colour of red for danger or passion, Slanjayvah Danza had little trouble grabbing everyone’s attention with their work  Blind Passion – Live Cut. From the opening moments with performer Riccardo Meneghini predatorily circling choreographer Jenni Wren, as she wantonly raises her hands up her body like heat rising, a frisson of excitement and anticipation was immediately felt. Close and intimate Argentinian Tango steps, tender touches and flirtatious games of dominance and submission followed in this extremely physical, sexually tense contact duet. An addition of blindfolds and Ms Wren’s removal of her vest top further challenged the performers as artists to lose any reservations or inhibitions and to truly place their trust in each other, their senses and the knowledge of their physical bodies. Thus, as promised by Wren, ‘an explosion of seductive delights’... well, up to a point. With any nudity on stage there’s always a fine line to be drawn between what feels necessarily provocative and that which just feels blatant. And so with the initial thoughts of Sumo wrestlers put aside, it’s curious how a subtle change in aesthetics – from dancers wearing dark underwear to stripping down to tiny flesh pants, further stressing their nudity – can shift one from being drawn into the intrigue and eroticism of the dance, to feeling indifferent and switched off by what suddenly seems self indulgent and one dimensional.

Last but not least, Weave, by Hurst & Griffiths, was probably the most arresting work of the night. Inspired by artist Chiharu Shiota’s installation, ‘After the Dream’, choreographers Jessica Hurst and Caroline Griffiths imaginatively brought to life several themes from the striking and haunting work by the Japanese artist. Onstage five female dancers stood frozen, assuming a variety of levels and angles. In their severe long sleeved white robes they seem innocent yet ghostlike. Then like a chain reaction they set each other in motion, interacting in the space to create a myriad of skilfully controlled, yet frantic movement exchanges. Hands that are at first tender become sinister and witchlike, reaching out to touch a shoulder or wrap precariously around a neck. Desperate and bound the girls struggle, snatch at and pull down their dresses, fearful of who to trust in this environment that is equally nurturing, ensnaring and isolating. The choreographers’ choice of lighting also complements the dance wonderfully; stark and harsh it leaves the otherwise black space feeling overwhelming and suffocating, echoing from the original work Shiota’s menacing labyrinth of black wool weave. And with a drum and base score that also seems to strangely distort the choreography at first before attaining balance with it, visually Weave is like watching a glorious living and breathing piece of art, where the dreams, nightmares and memories of its subjects are plentiful and potent. A creepy, tense and refreshingly vibrant work.

Reviewed by Michelle Harris for Cloud Dance Festival