Cloud Dance Festival logo Dance UK member Chantal Guevara on Festivals and Photography

Date Tue 25 June 2013

*The next Cloud Dance Festival is 5-7 July at the Bernie Grant Arts Centre, see www.cloud-dance-festival.org.uk for tickets and details*

Dance UK member Chantal Guevara is a freelance dance producer, manager and photographer as well as running Cloud Dance Festival (CDF) and Cloud Dance Sundays. She also took the official photographs for Dance UK’s National Choreographers’ Conference in May. In an interview with Dance UK’s Laura Dodge, she talks about her work and passion for dance.

Tell me about Cloud Dance Festival. How did it get started?

Back in 2007, I advertised on londondance.com about setting up an amateur dance group. I just wanted to dance, but received a lot of responses from people who had just graduated, were new to London or were working in non-dance careers and wanted to keep dancing, and so Cloud Dance, a part-time dance company, was formed.

Our initial performance, within five weeks of meeting for the first time, was at Sadler's Wells's Lilian Baylis, at the Connect Festival. As we couldn't rely on similar platforms every time we were ready to present a new work, I decided to create the festival, to support the talented choreographers in and around London, which would also provide us with the performance opportunities we needed. In the first year, we had three performances (at Chisenhale Dance Space, Siobhan Davies Studios and the Synergy Centre); they all made some profit which was put back into the company.

In 2008, I decided to develop the festival further to offer opportunities for more artists, expanding it to larger theatres and to its current three-day format, enabling me to present more artists each time. And it’s grown from there.

I work with a panel of around eight judges for each festival, and due to the number of applications we receive, we have to be very selective about the artists we choose but once selected, I work very hard to publicise and promote them. It’s a great boost to the artists’ careers; people from Arts Council England as well as dance agencies and producers come to the festival, and often the artists' works are taken further by other agencies.

There hasn’t been a festival for two years now, initially because of my work commitments and also because I spent over a year waiting to hear back from ‘the perfect venue’. But Cloud Dance Festival is back this year, with dates confirmed in July and November, and plans for next year.

Tell me about your photography. What do you like about being behind the lens?

CDF is not funded, so in lieu of payment, we provide our artists with reviews, edited footage and professional photography of their work. Photography has always been a significant part of each festival; I've hired professional photographers for each festival, worked with volunteer professional photographers and other emerging photographers who want to develop their careers and portfolios, and even organised exhibits of their work where possible. Through working with them over 12 festivals, I developed a very good awareness of what worked well in images, which has helped me with my own photography, which I've been working on since starting the dance company in 2007.

After going freelance last autumn, photography was an obvious career choice, and I've been busy with photography work almost from the start. I certainly didn't expect to love it as much as I do, and it's wonderful to receive such positive feedback. I've enjoyed photographing companies around the country and even in Malta, and it's been great to be doing press photos for londondance.com as well as Dance UK’s Choreographers’ Conference. The conference was useful for publicising my work and for people seeing me with a camera around my neck – with yet a different hat on, so to speak.

How did you find the National Choreographers’ Conference?

The highlights were catching people off-guard in the breaks and taking pictures when they were just chatting. I enjoyed the day a lot but I was focusing on getting good images rather than the content. There was a nice range of people and it was great to see so many choreographers together, and to catch up with a lot of old friends and new.

Funding is such an important issue in this tough financial climate. How do you fund Cloud Dance Festival?

The festival has never been funded. Originally this was a choice, as I wanted to demonstrate what could be achieved without funding. I covered the upfront costs if need be, and then the ticket sales would cover all costs.

As the festival developed further, I chose to use larger venues, which is why the recent partnership with Bernie Grant Arts Centre has been so important. They want to focus on programming more dance so they have been very supportive of the festival and its aims, even though they have their costs to cover, as do I.

I have set up a crowdfunding campaign so that people can help cover the costs of the festival, which will allow us invest the festival's proceeds into the artists we work with and their cost of creating and presenting work. The crowdfunding campaign is at www.indiegogo.com/projects/cloud-dance-festival-the-return/x/1895304

As almost all of the artists who perform at CDF are unfunded, and funding is becoming ever harder to come by, I firmly believe that we should fund and support our artists. We need to value them – 70-80% of the works shown at each festival are new, and that is something which the dance industry cannot afford to lose.

For now, I’d like to be able to offer subsidies for travel, help choreographers to pay for their dancers and rehearsal space and ultimately offer commissions, but I also have to ensure that the festival is financially viable. Crowdfunding is the best way in the short-term; of course, there are lots of people with their own campaigns, but the value of crowdfunding isn’t all financial but also in spreading the word about Cloud Dance Festival, its work and its aims.

Why do you feel so passionately about Cloud Dance Festival?

It’s so important to have a platform for talented artists, not just general showcases where their work can get overlooked. Although our focus is understandably on choreographers, dancers benefit in that they are supported when they want to try out their own choreography. There have been quite a few people who originally performed in someone else's work at the festival and then asked if they could present their own choreography. For example, Hana Saotome originally performed several times with Beyond Repair Dance, and she is currently creating her third work for CDF to be performed in July. I like building relationships with the dancers as well as the choreographers in that way.

But the focus is on encouraging the creation of new works, and on presenting artists, whether they choreographers, companies or dancers – I prefer the term ‘artists’. The festival also works to support and mentor emerging writers and photographers, so the festival helps to develop other areas of the dance industry as well.

After all the months of preparation and hard work, I just love that wonderful moment when the lights go down on the first night of the festival, and it's all come together; the audience might be about to watch something incredible. Watching that happen and the opportunities it gives talented artists makes it all worth it.

To find out more about Cloud Dance Festival and Cloud Dance Sundays, visit www.cloud-dance-festival.org.uk and www.cloud-dance-sundays.com

For information on Chantal Guevara as a photographer, see www.chantalguevara.com, and you can read more about her freelance practice at www.chipilapa.com