Sunday, 4 October 2015

Phoenix at Home

Phoenix Dance Theatre, Phoenix@Home, Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre, 1 Oct 2015

Although I missed most of World Ballet Day on Thursday because I had to work Phoenix Dance Theatre's showcase Phoenix@Home more than made up for it. The audience at the Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre was treated to a glorious programme of dance:  Melt Document and Mapping - very different but somehow complementary works by Sharon WatsonUri Ivgi and Johan Greben and Darshan Singh Bhuller. All three works were impressive and I appreciated them all.

The most joyful of the works was Melt. It was dance in three dimensions. Dancers formed patterns on the stage. Then they were hoisted up on ropes from which they swooped and twirled and turned. The programme notes mentions elements colliding and  the choreographer talks about ice and fire from which I surmises the title Melt is derived. I saw only harmony and fluidity. If there were collisions they were controlled. The work is hauntingly beautiful not least because of the music chosen for the work: "We Still Got The Taste Dancin’ On Our Tongues" by Wild Beasts from their 2009 album ‘Two Dancers‘. Watson, the company's artistic director, created Melt for the company's Reflected programme in 2011.

Whereas Melt suggested fluidity and joy Document conveyed restriction and violence. I was reminded of Plato's cave.  Other members of the audience thought of gassed or shell shocked soldiers or refugees landing at Lampedusa.  You can see what I mean from the trailer here and the video in which the choreographers discuss their work here. There is very little movement as the piece begins. Staccato movements to the throbbing percussion which persists with occasional overtones for the length of the show. Their hands appeared to be shackled. But they broke free flaying their limbs in all directions. There were duets but these were more like duels. In the second of the two videos Ivgi and Greben say that they are a team who draw strength from their differences. Ivgi is Israeli and Greben is Dutch.  They also speak of their collaboration with Tom Parkinson who wrote the score. An impressive but very disturbing piece of theatre.

Mapping was created by a former artistic director of the company and it is a lot of fun. Ballet Central had included it in their touring programme two years ago (see Central Forward  25 March 2013). Bhuller projects the movements of the dancers onto a screen and deploys a tiny vehicle with a blue light to follow the dancers like a dog.  By his projection technique he creates the illusion of improbable shapes and movements. I tried to relate all that to mapping and thought of the Google earth vehicle and Mercator projection which distort the shapes and sizes of continents and oceans. "Was there an analogy there?" I wondered. According to the programme notes Mapping was inspired by the choreographer's father's journey to the west.

Each work in the programme was received with thundering applause and the end was greeted with ululation and foot stamping. A Phoenix audience seem to show their appreciation in a completely different way from a Northern Ballet one which may be because it tends to be younger and more diverse. Perhaps that is because they get a lot more than dance with Phoenix.  Yesterday the company held a conference called MindBody which included contributions from the well known cricketer Mike Brearley. Last year there was a similar conference on Dance and Civil Rights.

Phoenix is not a big company but it is an important one. I suspect that is largely due to the drive and vision of the company's artistic director. I have seen her at many dance events but also on the panel of the Creative Industries Federation's roadshow in June (see The Creative Industries Road Show comes to Leeds 1 June 2015). It came as no surprise to me that she is chairing Leeds's European capital of culture bid for 2023. However, a dance company also has to have dancers and Phoenix has some fine ones. One familiar face that I am pleased to welcome to Leeds is Marie-Astrid Mence whom I know from ballet black. I look forward to seeing more of her.

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