Phoenix Dance Theatre, Mixed Bill, Lawrence Batley Teatre, Huddersfield, 27 Nov 2015
When I reviewed Phoenix's triple bill at The Linbury in The Phoenix Soars Over London on 13 Nov 2015 I promised to focus on Itzik Galili's Until.With/ Out.Enough and Caroline Finn's Bloom as soon as I had seen them in Huddersfield. I made that romise because I was so impressed with Sharon Watson's TearFall that I ran out of space and time to write about anything else. I am unable to keep that promise in its entirety because the first two works in last night's show were not Galili's piece bbut Christopher Bruce's Shift and Shadows.
Not that I'm complaining for I am a great admirer of Bruce's work as you can see from my reviews of Rambert's Rooster (see Cock a Doodle Doo - Rambert's Rooster 27 Oct 2015 and Rooster ................ :-) 4 Oct 2014) and Scottish Ballet's Ten Poems (see Bruce Again 6 Oct 2015). Nevertheless it did occur to me to ask the reason for the substitution in a question and answer session with the cast in the Syngenta cellar at the end of the show. I didn't get a chance to ask that question because there were so many others who wanted to quiz the company but it was answered by Tracy Tinker, the tour director, who explained that the company had to dance Galili's piece in London because it had been a joint commission with the Royal Opera House.
The substitution prompted me to buy a new programme at the first interval and I remarked to a lady selling Phoenix merchandise in the foyer that this was a completely new programme. It wasn't entirely new. The other two works, TearFall and Bloom were the same as in the Linbury.
As on the 12 Nov 2015 I enjoyed TearFall tremendously and appreciated it a little bit more for seeing it twice. It was clear from the Q & A that that piece went down well with the audience. Prentice Whitlow explained his interpretation of the work in response to a question from the floor. One point that I had missed before was that men and women think of tears in an entirely different way and the piece explored that. Whitlow had introduced the piece with a short monologue and recordings of his voice and someone's (possibly his) weeping recurred at several points of the show.
Finn's Bloom was another work that I got to understand better the second time round though I am still not sure that I have got to the bottom of it. Perhaps if I describe it you will see why. It began with a group of dancers on the left hand side of the stage cooing and clucking around a table. Suddenly one of them screams and Sam Vaherlehto wearing a clown's tragedy mask appears round a microphone. He shifts and shuffles apparently with embarrassment as his audience applauds and looks on. There is a duet - or more properly a dance dialogue - with Whitlow. One of the women in a tutu like skirt dances a solo to a rhyme that seemed to mock medicine. In another scene Vaherlehto gathers the dancers who were stretched on the ground like corpses and assembles them into a pile. The dancer in the tutu makes her way to the centre and lies down about them. Towards the end Vaherlehto, stripped to his underpants, danced to a song with the chorus "I'm a creep. I'm a wierdo. What the hell am I doing here." Starting with the title Bloom I wondered whether the dancers might be plants or flowers and that the man in the mask was the gardener. I was dying to ask whether or not I was on the right track but sadly didn't get a chance to find out.
Even if it was about flowers Bloom did have disturbing undertones such as the thin line between reality and hallucination, Bruce's Shadows also seemed to be about aberrations of the mind as it started with furniture throwing. I was not the only one to see a connection with depression. The lady sitting next to me in the Q & A was a therapist and she alluded to it in formulating her question.
Shift, however was quite different. I had seen the same dancers dance that work at The Sapphire gala in March and I think they were better second time round. More polished somehow. Dressed in forties costumes with the women in head scarves Gracie Fields style they seemed to represent a production line. I was reminded very much of the munitions workers in Liam Scrlett's No Man's Land which I had seen in Manchester two days earlier (see Lest We Forget 25 Nov 2015). However, Bruce's workers seemed to have a lot more fun that Scareltt's canaries.
The Q & A session was my first chance to see all the dancers together and hear them speak. I had already met Whitlow a few days earlier, I have been following several of the others on twitter and I knew Marie-Astrid Mence from Ballet Black. They are an impressive bunch of artists. Watson explained her selection process which is uber competitive. They were asked how they took up dance. Two of the men explained that they took up dance because their sisters were taking lessons. The others gave various reasons. They were asked by the therapist how they relaxed and we learned from Vaherlehto that they look (or at least he looks) to another art. Photography in his case someone added. I hope to run a feature on Mence and Whitlow in Terpsichore soon.
This has been a pretty good month for dance and the two shows by Phoenix were among the highlights. Although rooted in Leeds it really is a world class company with dancers from around the world. I am very proud of them.