Review: Cloud Dance Sundays - The Lion and Unicorn Theatre

Performance: 19 May 2013
Reviewed by Donald Hutera - Friday 24 May 2013

Rachel Burn 'Pull Through, Kick' Photo: Chantal Guevara.

Chantal Guevara, the driving force of Cloud Dance Festival, seems to be forging a partnership with George Sallis of Giant Olive, the entity that programmes performances for The Lion and Unicorn Theatre. The latter is an extremely tiny (approximately fifty seats) but intimate and immaculate space above the handsome, friendly Kentish Town pub of the same name. In the past the venue hosted work by Antonia Franceschi, Ballet Black, Jonathan Goddard and Richard Alston’s company. Given that it’s been a few years since those starry gigs, it’s good to know that The Lion and Unicorn is again on the prowl for dance (especially, as I understand it, of an experimental and/or ‘emerging’ nature) and that Cloud Dance Sundays, as this proposed series is billed, is set to have a second go on 14 July.

The inaugural event was, all-told, a fairly decent albeit hardly essential triple bill kick-started by Rachel Burn’s abstract female trio Pull Through, Kick. It began in an intriguingly low-key manner with dancers materialising gradually from the shadows thanks to a single, deflected upstage light and the sacred music of Hildegard von Bingen as soundtrack. Aurally things shifted to ambient modernity and, later, electronic clatter balanced by held chords. The cast, meanwhile, came across like priestesses passing through some trauma or turmoil, e.g., a soloist whose increasingly frantic gestures included repeated hand-throat gestures, as if she were struggling to find her voice. There was also a spate of running, singly or a deux, in circles – a bugbear of mine, and one particularly ill-suited to such a small stage. The women eventually re-settled into the more ordered movement of prayerful supplicants before exiting whence they came.

The dancers, who were also Burn’s co-devisers, were not uninterestingly contrasted in terms of their height, hair colour and skin tone. It’s been awhile, however, since I’ve seen such truly unflattering costumes. Not just tights and leotards but, at least for one of the women, what looked like an old floral-print bathing suit. No! There was also some unclear fussing about with the sheer sheathes worn by two cast members – taking them on and off, mainly. Why? This metaphorical shedding of skin made no appreciable sense and just looked awkward. There may’ve been something going on here over-all about calmness versus chaos, change and survival, but the piece wasn’t clear enough in its own intentions to guide us into uncovering such ambiguous and potentially deeper meanings.

No such problems with John Ross’ Man Down, which I reviewed not long ago for as part of an evening called The Experiment. I was glad to revisit this solo up close. Ross’ dynamically varied command of a kinetic vocabulary of spiralling turns, low slides and gestures, coupled with his dramatic focus, helped to illuminate this treatment of a combat incident. Ross conveys eloquently the shock of mortality in warfare from two sides – that of a soldier killed in battle and the officer who witnessed it.

The finale was Vanity Fowl, another but quite different male solo. It was with this performance that Tom Jackson Greaves reached runner-up status in the first-ever New Adventures Choreography Award (nabbed by James Cousins). He’s an engaging performer, lanky yet graceful with a toothsome smile and a smooth facility for movement – especially that requiring show dance flair. Using film as a sometimes redundant if context-giving supplement to the live action, he charts the aspirations – and rather pitiable pretensions – of a young man out on the town seeking acceptance but finding only hollow glamour. Greaves handles his initial, mainly comic persona as an unconfident, style-free klutz well given that you can’t quite believe that, physically at least, this guy wouldn’t have a clue how to conduct himself. Needless to say his transformation into a super-cool dude (complete with a symbolic costume, by Theo Clinkard, consisting of a jacket liberally decorated with shards of reflective faux glass) successfully straining to make all the right – that is, the flashiest – moves is completely convincing. But there’s a price to be paid for such displays of superficial sexiness. A closing bid for sympathy, with Greaves curled up into a ball on the floor, just about works in that it underlines the piece’s dual-pronged point about cultural shallowness and the insecurities and loneliness people might hide from public view.

The next Cloud Dance Sunday is at The Lion and Unicorn on 14 July
More info:

Cloud Dance Festival: Lacuna,  5 – 7 July, Bernie Grant Arts Centre
application details and further information:  ”“:

Donald Hutera writes regularly about dance, theatre and the arts for The Times, Dance Europe, Animated and many other publications and websites.

Photos: Chantal Guevara (Vanity Fowl to come)

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