Friday, 13 November 2015

The Phoenix Soars Over London

Phoenix Dance Theatre, Mixed Programme, Linbury Studio Theatre, London 12 Nov 2015

It should never be forgotten that there are two great dance companies at Quarry Hill in Leeds. My beloved Northern Ballet, of course, but also Phoenix Dance Theatre which started in Leeds and remains rooted in that city.  It is entirely fitting that Phoenix's artistic director, Sharon Watson, should chair the committee that will coordinate the city's bid to become the European Capital of Culture for 2023. If anyone can bag that prize it is she.

Yesterday she showed her genius in TearFall as part of Phoenix's Mixed Programme at the Linbury Studio Theatre at the Royal Opera House in London. TearFall is a work of art but it also incorporates science. One of the disadvantages of our English, Welsh and Northern Irish Systems (but not so much the Scottish one) is that our schoolchildren are required to focus their studies on three arts or science "A" levels from age 16. The result is that we have educated several generations of science graduates with an incomplete knowledge of history, social sciences, the arts and literature but also several generations of arts graduates with only the scantiest understanding of basic science. C. P. Snow discussed that phenomenon in the Two Cultures as long ago as 1956. As Sharon Watson explains in Rehearsals: Revealed - TearFall - Sharon Watson she collaborated with Professor Sir John Holman of the University of York in creating Tear Fall. There are shots in the video of Sir John in a seminar with the choreographer and dancers and also sitting with them on the floor in a rehearsal studio. The work is supported by the Wellcome Trust which usually funds pharmacology and healthcare. It is great to see that it is also funding the performing arts.

The performance began with a short monologue by Prentice Whitlow on the function and composition of tears. Having began his topic quite clinically he discussed tears as a vehicle for conveying emotion and that, of course, was the topic explored by the dancers. Even without props the choreography would have been sufficiently expressive but Yaron Abulafia's lighting with little bulbs symbolizing individual tears complementing the pearl coloured helium balloons focussed the audience's thoughts (or at least mine) on the things that had caused them pain.  I shed many tears this week having been forced to end a friendship that has lasted for 6 years and it has almost been a bereavement.  Kristian Steffes's music also spoke to me, especially the sound of sobbing.  For so many reasons, I felt TearFall had my name on it and I am very glad that Sharon Watson and her dancers have produced this work and that I saw it when I did.

TearFall was one of three brilliant works and my focus on that work has meant that I have not done sufficient justice to Itzik Galili's Until.WithOut.Enough and Caroline Finn's Bloom. These are two very different works as you can see from Rehearsals: Revealed - Until.With/Out.Enough and Rehearsals: Revealed - Bloom - Caroline Finn and suit different moods.  The first is sombre while the last is comic though not without a bitter sweet twist.  I think Sharon Watson had a reason for inserting her work which deals with pleasant as well as painful emotions between them. I loved the music for both - Gorecki for Galili's work and some very clever lyrics in Bloom.  I shall see this programme in Huddersfield on 26 Nov 2015 and I will focus on them properly then.

Phoenix has never forgotten where and how it started and it works closely with local schools and community groups in Leeds.  If you look at its twitter stream you will see that it has not taken a rest in London. It has led workshops in the capital too. It is the nearest thing we have in Yorkshire to a national treasure.  On the steps leading down to the Linbury we were handed leaflets inviting us to support the company. I urge all my readers to do so.

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