Review: Cloud Dance Festival: Dream On at Chisenhale Dance Space

Performance: 26 – 28 Sep 08
Reviewed by Mary Kate Connolly - Thursday 2 October 2008

There is something about the jaunty cosiness of the Chisenhale Dance Space which seemed to suit the Cloud Dance Festival just perfectly. Something perhaps in the warmth of the careworn, mismatched furniture which bedecks the lobby…and equally in the sleek simplicity of the studio theatre, complete with exposed factory-brick wall. For its latest quarterly offering, Cloud Dance Festival took up residence to present *Dream On*, a three night showcase of contemporary dance. An offshoot of the dance company Cloud Dance, the festival emerged in 2007 in response to what it saw as a shortage of regular contemporary dance platforms. Artists for the festival are selected purely on the merit of their work and whilst there is no monetary remuneration for performance, they are afforded the tools vital to all performers, emergent or otherwise; a platform for their work and the opportunity to network with their peers, alongside photographs and the odd review.

There were 23 performances in Dream On, spread out over the course of the weekend. I attended Sunday night’s programme which in its diversity and innovation, seemed most in keeping with the ethos of the festival. The ardent drive characteristic of new work was certainly in evidence, as too at times was the inherent rawness and recourse to cliché, although happily the former in far greater volumes that the latter.

The billing opened with *Petite Grandeur*, choreographed and performed by Mikkel Svak. Whilst Svak’s initial sequences were grounded in a balletic tradition, seen in the precision and turnout of his feet, gradually a more abstract and off-kilter aesthetic began pleasingly, to inhabit his movement. A tempered imbalance in much of the choreography tinged Svak’s performance with urgency or desperation – an evocation of a caged animal or soul. Whilst little else was needed in the way of drama in this work, the pathos of the movement would have been aided greatly by a deeper choreographic interaction with the score. The music (unlisted in the programme) seemed banal in comparison with the emotional delivery and it would have been interesting to watch Svak command it, rather than follow it.

Piece by Piece company’s *How far are you willing to go?* began with a very different soundscape – that of a news bulletin describing the potential fatal side effects of Botox injections. Thus began a terrifying foray into the obsessive nature of female beauty regimes which saw six performers deconstruct from self-possessed attractive individuals, to hollow shells of neuroses, eventually carrying out one of the group with the grim ceremony of pallbearers in funeral procession. The opening sequence of wordplay, shouting ‘Cumberland’ and ‘Frankfurter’ whilst fighting over a tube of face cream felt a little clichéd but was followed by some witty choreography which bopped along to a disco beat. The girls pouted and paraded, whirling into tummy crunches and pawing rhythmically at any ounce of errant fat to be found. One could argue that this work didn’t break new ground thematically, yet despite female beauty being a much explored topic, there was still something freshly disturbing in this work, especially given the youth and physicality of its performers.

Continuing in the vein of the sinister was _*Finale* _by Ticket Theatre Dance, a witty exploration of the pitfalls of performance and the agony behind the greasepaint, of so many dancers. Dressed in outrageous eighties-style gold spandex leggings, tracksuit tops and headbands, the dancers formed a motley collective of jaded and desperate glamour. The piece opened with performers taking melodramatic and unashamedly self-indulgent bows, before embarking on a relentless parody which aped ballet, burlesque, jazz and anything else you fancy in the line of showbiz. This trajectory was punctuated only occasionally, by revelations of the gritty reality behind the spangled façade – dancers communicated this in the slippage of a fixed smile, or in extreme cases, by dropping exhausted to the floor. It is enlivening to see performers poke good natured fun and indeed make biting comment about the world which has created them. It would have been nice however to see this piece delve a little further into its subject matter and perhaps find a more honed subtlety amid the caper.

Rokit Dance explored the brimming of contained tension and expulsive release in *Breathe*. Opening the work in a taut, intertwined coil, the dancers soon erupted across the space, filling it with dynamic driven choreography before reforming into a seething, woven cluster. This work was simple in concept and all the more successful for this reason. Relying on the strength of the choreography, and aided only by simple snakeskin wrap-around dresses in a nod to the animalistic, and a hugely appropriate musical choice, the clubbing hit ‘Release the Pressure’, Breathe did exactly what it set out to do in creating a vibrant representation of the vital energy in inhalation, exhalation and the motor of the human body.

Inspired by the poetry of Ivor Cutler, ranciddance presented a work in progress, *Ode to the kitchen sink*, choreographed by Anthony Mills. Lights rose on a couple, intertwined and rolling slowly downstage. Gradually through dreamy counterbalanced movements, the dancers got to their feet, leaning against one another, interchanging weight and space. Without warning, this romance and languor was then replaced by a jerky playfulness and cheeky isolations of each other’s body parts. A sensual pairing had transformed into a comedic and affectionate duo who tweaked each other’s noses and tried to trip one another up. For a work which gave little away in its programme notes and is also evidently still in the process of creation, Ode to the kitchen sink, in fact proved one of the most insightful of the evening’s offerings. Veering away from the melodramatic, Ode succeeded in warmly communicating the multifaceted nature of relationships and love.

In contrast, melodrama was very much at the heart of the Romantic Revolutionaries’ Songs of Sorrow. An actor, a ballerina and a Pierrot-style mime character came together in this work to search, according to the artists, for ‘the space between movement and dance’. Visually, this piece was immediately intriguing, even if predictable in the ballerina’s tutu and the Pierrot’s forlorn, white painted face. From this alluring beginning however, Songs of Sorrow failed to develop. In an attempt to facilitate new discoveries amid such institutional performance modes, the work became shackled to and eventually overpowered by, the iconic catalogue of ballet and opera scores, and the rich history of ballet and mime which rendered the performers poor imitators in comparison.

Spiltmilk Dance looked to the revolutionary Andy Warhol for inspiration in Snake, a dance which forms part of their series 5 Dances, each linked in some way, to the life and works, of Warhol. Snake drew upon Warhol’s notion of the use of repetition on an absurd scale. For Spiltmilk, this translated into a vision of six girls dressed identically in monochrome black and white, executing a movement sequence in endless loop. In conception, this work ran the risk of appearing trite and boring – in realisation however, it avoided such pitfalls nicely. The precision of the dancers, along with the dynamism of the choreography ensured that audience attention was held. In addition, a marked lack of dramatisation ruled, which felt very much in keeping with the nonchalance of Warhol.

*Tag Along* by Tempered Body Dance Company presented in essence, a ‘love affair guided by sensuality… and a passionate need for destruction’. This work saw a man clad solely in sleek evening suit trousers, and a woman in slinky black slip, enact a furious and taut duet. Despite their impassioned clawings, the jazzy accompanying music which taunted with the lyrics ‘he needs me’ and the physical power struggles built into the choreography conveyed the selfishness of this hollow coupling. Sadly the work felt a little short, and could doubtlessly plumb more depths given the skill of the dancers, and craft of some of the swifter sequences.

Finally came *Rush* by Pair Dance, a turbulent, eruptive piece for three female dancers. At its opening, a lone dancer twitched and jerked, jutted out ribs and hips, surged and recoiled. With sublime technique she expended her seemingly wound up energy in sudden bursts and attacks, followed by rebound and poise. Presently, the other two dancers followed with frustrated grunts, looks of displeasure and fevered movements such as running on the spot. As the piece developed, a voiceover of garbled speech ‘can I get out people?…..germs…stuffy’ cloaked the movements with contextual explanation. Suddenly the dancers’ disgust and confined labours took on the realism of a packed tube at rush hour, which added a clever layer to the piece. It also, in its evocation of commuter chaos, proved a fitting end to the festival that Autumnal Sunday evening, reminding all in the cosy Chisenhale studio that the weekend had drawn to a close, and Monday beckoned…

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