[All photographs courtesy of Phoenix Dance Theatre]
Phoenix Presents, a night hosted by Phoenix Dance Theatre, showcases the fantastic work of the New Adventures Choreographer Award winners. The annual showcase, Phoenix @ Home, includes three of the most popular pieces from the company’s recent repertoire.
Sally Marie’s Sweetshop Revolution present an excerpt from I Loved You and I Loved You. While we are used to filmic biopics and even biographical musical theatre, contemporary dance rarely takes a biographical approach. This is what makes this piece based on the life of Welsh composer Morphydd Owen so radical and exceptional.
Beginning in utter silence with two dancers entwined in a passionate caress, when the music comes in there is a beautifully evocative pas de deux with a romantic chase taking place. A narrator goes on to explain the characters while the live pianist’s notes are matched as if in semaphore or semiotic symbolism. The subject of the difficulties of love and marriage causing complications is explored, there being two significant men in the show’s subject’s tragically short life.
[I Loved You And I Loved You – Image credited to Danilo Moroni]
It depicts the rivalry that takes place quite deliciously using the metaphor of the funfair at one point, replete with playful but garish muzak. The male dancers demonstrate their prowess and manhood with the female artist torn between the two. This is a descriptive and visually powerful piece that unfolds its narrative gently with great poise, precision and perfect pace.
Then comes Eclipse, choreographed by John Ross for Shoreditch Youth Dance Company. The ethereal scene is set with dancers kneeling in a semi-circle as incense drifts in wreaths across the stage. As if in an act of worship, the dancers raise their arms in a triangular symbol, at first cross-legged then standing in symbolically significant groups.
The dance is reminiscent of Tai chi, an eerily slow movement accompanied by a sustained musical chord. As if in a Noh play, an emblem of the sun is eclipsed by one symbolising the moon and the piece builds up into the power and cosmic significance of the event.
Caroline Finn’s Bloom begins with a group of revellers around a table adorned with a plant that is being watered from a watering can. A clown figure takes the spotlight with a microphone stand but rather than act or commentate he just behaves surreally.
The mood changes into a hot and fluid Baltic rhythm which is quite madly matched by the troupe (yes, this is close to cirque du soleil). One of the revellers then takes the spotlight and dances to the dizzying ditty Miss Lucy Had Some Leeches. a magical solo. We have already felt for the embarrassment of the clown but once more he is teased with the song Creep (originally by Radiohead) sung by Frank Bennett.
The clown character puts all the dancers in a pile at the end, their layers of delusion and illusion stripped down to nothing but ‘true essence’ as Finn explains it. A complex piece which again gives a powerful and at times overwhelming sense of joie de vivre and jubilance with a myriad of ideas, achieved with skill and precision.
The Phoenix @ Home event kicked off with their Artistic Director Sharon Watson’s Melt, in which the dancers are in brilliant white attire. They begin by leaning and lilting and then, using aerial ropes, dangle and hang, spinning and turning to the Wild Beasts’ rhythmic soundtrack. The choreography is typically fluid by Watson, pushing the performers to barriers unknown through athletic stretches and tests of balance.
[Melt – Image credited to Brian Slater]
After a dark intro the space is flooded with a bright white background to set off the shapes and forms of the dancers, with skilful design by Michael Mannion, which benefits also from coincidental images on the reflective floor. Using the ropes overhead, the dancers swing and then are carefully caught and others spin in a chiaroscuro of light and dark. Melt is all we expect from the excellence of Watson’s direction: strong, clear, incisive and absolutely amazing.
For Ivgi & Greben’s Document, composer Tom Parkinson’s bleak industrial rumble of deep bass sounds triggers the gradual movement of the dancers. The music becomes more of a harsh rhythm and a central oblong of light seems to encase or even encage the action. There is tumbling, falling and desperate twisting and cavorting as if men at war in manoeuvres being put through a drill. Or else inmates at bedlam forced into some kind of bizarre therapy.
[Document – Image credited to Richard Moran]
The clunking metallic sounds form beats for the dancers to react to with an incessant, insistent raucous noise met with jerks and spasms. When they carry each other this could be the well helping the wounded, but this narrative is entirely my own. It is more simply about the depths of human emotions in extremity, with a sense of fear and danger, panic and perplexity. This ‘document’ of the title could be a state secret that is now classified information, filed to be unfortunately forgotten.
Mapping is Darshan Singh Bhuller’s first return to Phoenix since his Artistic Directorship for 2002-2007. We see a solo dancer responding to the movements on the floor of a little blue neon mouse-like toy, then a ballet movement based on the nature of balance. A rope is placed on the ground below a video camera from which is projected to the rear of the stage to create illusionistic tricks.
The dancers on film appear to be able to defy gravity in a way reminiscent of the trick photography of silent movies or today’s pop videos using bluescreen. This gives it a playful and postmodern feel (are we watching the performers or the performed?). It provides comic relief after the heavy-going Document and is Bhuller’s piece de resistance, instilled with a great forcefulness and energy with a whole that is more than the sum of its parts – simply superb!
[Mapping – Image credited to Tony Nandi]
This has been two evenings of revelatory and redolent contemporary dance works that leave you with the dance equivalent of earworms chipping away at your mind, reflecting the gamut of emotions evoked.