Wednesday, 18 March 2015

12 March, 2015: Phoenix Dance Theatre Mixed Programme 2015 ****

One of my greatest delights over the years has been witnessing the inception, growth and blossoming of two of the nation’s brightest companies. I have followed them for over thirty years and barely missed a season. One is English Touring Opera which started life in 1979 as Opera 80 and of which more in May when I catch up with their Spring Tour.

The other is Phoenix Dance which grew out of the inspirational work of Nadine Senior at Harehills Middle School in Leeds. Founded in 1981 by ex-students David Hamilton, Donald Edwards and Vilmore James, the company for many years remained all black and all male. The work was visceral and challenging and pushed boundaries and, as its stock steadily grew, Phoenix blossomed into a fully-fledged contemporary dance company with dancers of both genders and many different nationalities These days, the company inhabits splendid purpose-built premises alongside the Northern Ballet in Quarry Hill and has changed its name to Phoenix Dance Theatre. but a commitment to touring remains at the heart of its modus operandum.


There are four works in the 2015 programme. The first two are choreographed by Christopher Bruce. Shift  (above) and Shadows, though not planned as such have become companion pieces as both reflect the mores and attitudes of Britain in the Forties. Apart from the costumes there are no other direct references to the period. Bruce is quite traditional in his preference for a minimalistic bare black-box stage. Let the movement speak for itself, and as ever in Bruce’s work it is fluid and organic, terpsichorean contrapuntalism if you will. Canonic imitation is a trade-mark of Bruce’s work. Watching his choreography unfold is the dance equivalent of listening to a Bach invention. The company of eight dancers have a palpable connection to, and affinity for, the work and perform it with wonderful grace and poise.


Less successful is TearFall choreographed by Phoenix’s current Artistic Director Sharon Watson. This is a companion piece to earlier works reflecting scientific ideas Melt and Repetition of Change and examines the phenomenon of tears being directly connected to emotions, the extremes of joy and sadness, a uniquely human trait.  For me the work became cluttered by the props – helium balloons (see above), and tricksy lighting effects. It seemed somewhat improvised and half-realised, and it was difficult to fathom what I was supposed to take away from this performance.


The final work, Bloom, sums up everything that makes Phoenix such a vibrant and edgy outfit. It’s by  New Adventures Choreographer Award winner Caroline Finn. Full marks to Phoenix for having such faith in a new young dance-maker, and how well she has rewarded that confidence. Bloom examines the facades that we all erect for ourselves to hide behind, and speculates on the true essence of who we are which we choose to hide. A somewhat tortured and uncomfortable character, in a rather unsettling mask initiates proceedings, but is never quite able to connect to the other surreal characters who present their own facades in episodic form. The piece is by turns witty, funny, unsettling and pathetic and the choreographic language is fresh and original. The title refers to the blossom of a tree which may seem superficially attractive but only fleetingly obscures the structure beneath it. Well-danced, well-lit and with an eclectic but very effective soundtrack, this piece has great originality and style A promising start by a talented new-comer

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