Review: Cloud Dance Festival: Restless at Jackson's Lane Theatre

Performance: 24 April 2009
Reviewed by Michelle Harris - Wednesday 13 May 2009

The weekend of 24 – 26 May marked the return of another splendid Cloud Dance Festival. With twenty-one works showcasing over three nights, Restless, Cloud Dance’s latest contemporary dance platform promised to be stimulating and informative.

Motivated by Elizabeth Jennings’ poem ‘For a Child Born Dead’, the solo Still provided a subtle opening to Friday’s festival. Danced to Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons back and forth a diagonal corridor of hazy light, choreographer Denise Horsley’s work presented a sad lament of a woman enduring loss, grief and loneliness. Demonstrating fine musicality, yearning Emma Parker reaches out into space; she writhes and twists her body on the floor, her inner turmoil and anguish refusing to grant her peace. Then in a heartbeat she is still and statuesque, her open exposed wrists revealing her vulnerability. Although Horsley’s goal to probe the relationship between emotional intention and emotional constraint is visually clear, the drama itself, albeit pensive, is not quite piercing enough for us to be moved by it.

Transcience by Transient Dance Theatre, as its name suggests, took the audience on a journey through an assortment of bizarre momentary scenes. The striking opening portrait reveals a bare red brick wall, with two ethereal-looking female dancers languidly draped against it. Clad in a red t-shirt, hunched over and adopting an affected walk, another marches angrily into the dance space, forcefully spouting words in a foreign tongue. More operatic voices ring out and as the dancers shift to the front of the stage to perform a sequence in unison, the red t-shirted temptress crawls ominously along the back, like a lioness stalking her prey. A sound accompaniment that sounds like thunder and a Spanish guitar also frames the action that ends with the sound of the dancer’s disturbed laughing, which unfortunately feels slightly contrived. Created from improvisations incorporating two texts from Calvinos Cosmicomics, this collection of constant happenings is certainly colourful, expressive and often intriguing, even if we don’t always understand what is happening. Resembling at times a darker, sultrier version of Fosse’s Fandango ballroom scene, Push by Sol Dans delves into the notion of erased memories and the possible footprints that are left behind in the mind. A dancer stands; arm stretched forward grasping an invisible support, whilst her head and shoulders bob from side to side above an unstable torso. Suddenly, with a buckling of legs she drops to the ground, only to recover in an instant, upright like a peculiar puppet on strings. It’s a signature move that choreographer Melody Squire repeats throughout the work, as she seemingly depicts the collective of six female dancers as one cerebral brain, which in the aftermath of its wiped memories is left unsteady and uncertain. Who am I really? Dancer Kate Durrant seems to ask herself, as briefly she interrupts her solo sensing the presence of the group looming upstage in the shadows, like the traces of her past thoughts. Performer Sherrine Anderson explodes a jump into the air, whilst Helen Roche launches herself forward at another’s legs, desperately clinging on. Are these vibrant bursts of energy supposed eradicated memories, desperate to be remembered? The dub reggae sound of Flash Back by Fat Freddy’s drop, also acts as a chilled compliment to this inventive and engaging idea, full of loose, gawky, inverted vocabulary that is well presented by the individually cool and technically proficient dancers. “A basket ball, a horn, a red tutu, two girls and a boy” could be an alternative title for ktdt’s I found a bag of nuts. This was the second dance work of the night that drew on structured improv together with task-based instructions, in order to randomly link solo and duet studies together during the performance. With the play of chance thrown into the process and the use of such disparate props, one can expect that some odd images or wacky exchanges will be glimpsed, provoking from the audience a humorous reaction. An eccentric slow motion fight between two dancers, and a nicely-judged male female duet, indicating the underlying incompatibility between two lovers as they share a moment of brief passion, are such moments. The performers are charismatic and technically pleasant to watch. Yet, the problem with a study based on the element of chance, is that one can be left feeling the need to search for some linear thread that solidifies and connects the work, other than just its random nature. Is there really any point to it all? As a female dancer blows the horn abruptly ending the proceedings of the experiment, the answer appears to be perhaps not. Cloud Dance, the hosts of the Restless festival, presented new work Come out to show them, choreographed by Olivia Vella. The dance opened with a filmic image of a raised pattern from a metal drain cover, projected onto a large over head screen. A curious dark liquid runs between the shapes. Is this blood? Five females costumed in gorgeous white layered dresses emerge; their curious white bandaged faces subverting their beauty. As they slide to the floor, limbs flailing about as if treading water, their feminine yet capable demeanour suddenly transgress to vulnerability. It appears they are fighting to persevere, to survive. The music score is repetitious and at times testing on the ear but as it builds in tension and volume, so the movement of the dancers themselves grows more frantic and fragmented. But it is the gradual, then rapid bursts of disturbing and erotic images that ultimately grab your attention: a bleeding woman ‘showing’ the taboo of womanhood, a rubber-clad dominatrix and a man enjoying dark sexual practices. The purity of the dancers are a stark contrast to the hard-core sequences on screen, but with images so powerful and distracting the splendour of the choreography, performed by the fluid and cohesive female ensemble, is often masked. However, this American Psycho-inspired piece boldly deliberates what happens when fantasy trips over into reality. Not exactly a comfortable or pleasant watch but certainly an arresting one. In Running Through You, performer Byrony Perkins puzzles us, draws our laughter, sets us on the back foot, and then ultimately wins our hearts in this bittersweet tale of love and loss. In a warm muted light she begins, seeming almost intoxicated as she wafts awkwardly about the stage, executing a few random gestures that appear to convey very little. She stops. With a manner that is mild and self-conscious, she oddly explains to us what each gesture means and then embarks on an amusing story of spaghetti bolognese and losing her Nan at the supermarket. It’s a curious study exposing the rambling, yet intimate thoughts of a young girl trying to make sense of boys, love, abandonment, grief but ultimately hope. In fact the drama is so endearing you can’t help being sucked in. As Bryony unashamedly shimmies and lip syncs to Prince; tenderly strums her stomach as if some imaginary guitar and then dances with glorious abandon to Joni Mitchell’s, All I Want, we laugh and allow our emotions to soar with her. When she suddenly shares with us a poignant secret, for an instant we are stopped cold. Masking as a light, arbitrary jaunt, by Eade and Perkins Presents…, this is a shrewdly conceived and beautifully composed dance /drama, with Byrony Perkins giving an exquisite, assured performance. An unexpected gem of the Restless festival. In Off The Map’s I’ve been waiting, performer Sam Coren takes centre stage exuding a nervous agitated energy. Sinuously he carves through his immediate space; rolls are swift but easy into the floor; off-balance he releases his weight decisively into a move, and then promptly pulls it back again as if in retreat. This is a man teetering on the edge of something, yet frustrated and stuck. Female performers Katie Green and Victoria Hammond are downstage, their positioning forming a nice counterpoint to the trio. Though they progress with repetitious and monotonous gestures, also stuck in a routine, their relaxed and agile dancing solidly contrasts his frenetic vigour. Choreographer Steve Johnstone’s theme of always-changing goal posts is aptly felt as the trio constantly shift locations across the space. Seamlessly they interlock and weave through each other, gradually building to greater intensity. Then seeming to arrive as a group to a new understanding or locality, Sam breaks from his companions and returns to where he started, lost and isolated. I’ve been waiting is a sturdy trio from Johnstone, who seems to question the elusive and thus maddening nature of our goals in life. But is this elusiveness due to some external and manipulative force beyond our control, or to our own fears and misgivings? Perhaps like the trio we must just try, try and try again. From the opening scenes of Be Mine, it is clear that choreographer Drew McOnie, has a knack for recreating well-crafted, striking dance images enthused by the famous MGM and Hollywood musicals. A couples’ “wakey, wakey” morning routine scene; an inspired slow motion backdrop of commuters on a rainy day; sweethearts playing cat and mouse games of love; a Pyjama Game-inspired ending where the cast strip off to finish the dance where it began. From the smooth nimble-toed Fred and Ginger-styled quick steps; the hunched-shouldered, knocked-kneed, broken-wrist stance of Fosse, to the explosive leaps and cracking body layouts of Jerome Robbins, this dance work also looks wonderfully authentic. Danced to the velvety yet haunting tones of Judy Garland, the company of nine dancers that make up Drew McOnie Dance Theatre give highly energised, expressive and polished performances. While the boys exude the cool, cocky slick of Gene Kelly, the girls emulate the sophisticated, dynamic sass of the two Ann’s, Miller and Reinking. Admittedly the format of the dance work looks familiar in shape of Mathew Bourne, and McOnie is a past member of his New Adventures company. That said, elegant and glamorous, this is good old fashioned, feelgood razzle dazzle, carried off by McOnie in masterly fashion.

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