Still self-funding and nomadic, Firefly emerges as a statement of intent, a reflection of the festival’s ambition to continue showcasing ace new contemporary dance and modern ballet and to find a theatre of its own in order to adopt its flickering new name.
As usual, a multi-mixed bill was on the menu with wildly different pieces abutting each other. We went on Saturday night, mildly annoyed that there were several acts we wouldn’t see, but such is the variety on offer over three days. However, we did see seven works, with the usual ups and downs:
Kicking off, Exquisite Corpse banish all thoughts of the pleasant summer’s evening outside with gruesome intensity delivering a highly serious work to an oppressive soundtrack, characterised by juddering and convulsing from slain warriors alongside displays of Olympian striving and robotic conquest. Horribly impressive it suffers from a lack of emotional context and feels unnecessarily brutal and relentless.
When James Finnemore dances he is spellbinding; fluid and loping, riffing on repetition and small un-dancey movements. Unfortunately, a false start due to an unnanounced technical hitch leaves us a tad uneasy wondering what’s going on. When he does get going the choreography and movement are so gripping, it is a shame it feels overshadowed by its own concept and gloomy lighting.
Slanjayvah Dance are festival favourites and previous performances of Blind Passion and Crazy Joanna stay with us still. Lunar-tic is a solo piece by and for Jenni Wren. The title hints at it but we tell you now, this is the best dance we’ve seen about having your period. The dancer in a long red dress, dancing in and around a captive moon is a sort of lamentation for and celebration of the female body and its changing states.
By contrast, Gerrard Martin Dance’s D-llusion enters dodgy territory attempting to portray a woman fighting with her own mirror image for a sense of self worth. Whilst of course dancers have body image issues, the duo involved – aren’t strong enough actors to give us the sort of mental breakdown performance that would make using dancers with dancers bodies for this OK. Instead they rather depressingly wrestle with each other in increasing torment in quite revealing underwear.
Taste Water Again by James Cousins Dance is a welcome wave of abstract contemporary dance awash with rain falling, pervasive doom and a distressed looking protagonist struggling with a group of excellent dancers, striving to belong or escape. It’s perfectly pitched and not too long, dramatic and beautiful to watch.
If you’re not aware of Ross Cooper’s Scottish roots you get the hint as Matthew Hawkins walks across the stage in a kilt, reading from Vivaldi’s winter sonnet. Despite a lighting blip, ‘Winter’ unfolds as a duet between Cooper and Aikaterini Chatzaki, a quite beautiful interpretation of the popular Four Seasons’ movement with unusual and refreshing choreography; Cooper looking like a topless and uber-toned Heston Blumenthal, all muscle and sinew, alongside the impossibly lean Chatzkai with her incredibly well behaved long plait. It’s over too soon, can we see it again please?
Star billing goes to all round ace and SYTYCD star, Tommy Franzen dancing a solo by Royal Ballet soloist and groovy mix it up with hip hop choreography cat, Kristen McNally. Whilst Tommy is – as always – awesome, it all feels a bit – well, SYTYCD; like he’s dancing for survival, busting all his best moves. We’ve heard great things about McNally and we’re all for mixing up ballet and contemporary dance with popular culture but this piece doesn’t bring it home like we’d expect it to. However, the Ballet Bag have got some brilliant photos of Tommy and Kirsten in rehearsal. And we’re sure we’ll see more of both of these guys.
Let’s face it. Words are often inadequate to describe dance so have a look at the photos in the gallery to get an idea of the diversity of work on show at Cloud Dance Festival.
This article was corrected in response to a comment.