The inagural GOlive Festival, curated by dance journalist Donald Hutera, boasts a diverse range of dance in an intimate setting – a small theatre above the Lion and Unicorn Pub in Kentish Town. Slated to continue through most of September, the evenings are packed with works by artists both established and lesser-known. On my visit to the Lion and Unicorn on Sunday evening I left refreshed and invigorated by the honesty and relaxed confidence of the festival its artists.

The evening show featured four works by all female choreographers: Cecile Feza Bushidi, Adriana Pegorer and Caroline Waters, Ana Barbour, and Avatâra Ayuso, with a pre-performance work by Elise Nuding. In each of these works the intimacy of the venue worked to their great advantage, stripping away the layers of spectacle and exposing the strengths and courage of each performer.

Arriving early, I experienced Elise Nuding’s Walking Paths outside the pub. Two women trace lines in chalk and walk back and forth, their heels clicking on the pavement. The work is a linear murmur punctuated by the people who pass through it, their reaction balanced between delightfully unaware and somewhat unsettled by the spotlight they’ve stumbled into. Thoughtful and relaxed, Nuding’s work softly teased us into accepting our own role in her performance.

Later, in the theatre, the evening formally began with Cecile Feza Bushidi’s work in progress, titled The imagination of the past. Based on her ethnographic research of the people in the Central Province of Kenya in the 1940s, Bushidi layers their memories of dancing and music to tease out intriguing meeting points and contradictions between existing cultural practices and European influence. Humour and information followed smoothly as Bushidi led us through the patchwork of memories, broken by somewhat jarring blackouts. The texts that were particularly powerful were ones that highlighted the struggle between the youth and sexuality of social dance and the imposed rigidity of the European dance forms, and the personal tone of the work was very gratifying. It is clear that Bushidi is still playing with the timing and arrangement of this work, and I look forward to the distillation of these ideas into something that will be undoubtedly very powerful.

The evening continued with the tango-informed improvisational duet Dis/tr-action performed by Adriana Pegorer and Caroline Waters. The women, in simple dresses, curved across the space together, with a calm focus that was immediately engaging. Flirting with the soft vibrancy of the tango form, the dancers experimented with letting go of the necessity for a strong leader and follower. As with any improvisation, the unpredictability keeps the tension of the piece, though it did ride a very consistent wave of energy which could have been tiresome if left going for too much longer.

Next was Ana Barbour’s Tuning, a solo that became more of a duet with a very unusually gratifying prop. Set to the soundscape of a chirruping, rustling forest, Barbour dances with a green rug. But not just any green rug, mind you: the most textured, intricate and visually interesting rug I have ever seen. Perhaps the reason it was so engaging, though, was that it was so well manipulated. Every movement choreographed and acute, I became aware of each shiver, roll and drag. Add to this the incredible performative strength of Barbour herself, and you have an amazingly engaging visual experience.

The final piece of the evening was Avatâra Ayuso’s Salome, which draws inspiration from the salacious character of the same name. Ayuso’s movements were sharply edged and her focus intense and animalistic as she stalked across the stage. Her red dress was draped with long strips of fabric that both dictated and magnified her movement, though I found the costume slightly distracting at times. Adding to the intensity was a powerful track of music that was unpredictable, full-bodied and combative. It all added together to create a lot, and perhaps it was a little too much for such a small space. I felt overpowered and tense, but I think that was exactly how Ayuso wanted me to feel.

Overall the evening at GOlive was excellently relaxed and informal, while still creating an inviting atmosphere for the audience and artists to meet at the same level. Amidst the intimacy of the small theatre, I experienced dance that was strong, crafted and truly exciting.