Thursday, 18 February 2016

Phoenix's 35th Anniversary Tour

Phoenix Dance Theatre, Triple Bill, West Yorkshire Playhouse, 17 Feb 2016

In 1981 David Hamilton, Donald Edwards and Vilmore James founded Phoenix Dance Theatre in Leeds (see the History page on the company's website). Yesterday David Hamilton attended the first night of Phoenix's 35th anniversary tour at the West Yorkshire Playhouse at the start of a year of celebrations of the 35th anniversary of the formation of the company.

There is a lot to celebrate. As the tour page puts it:
"From small beginnings in inner-city Leeds, Phoenix Dance Theatre has grown to be one of the UKs leading contemporary dance companies."
Phoenix contributes much to the cultural life of the North of England and the nation not only through its performances but also by its educational and outreach work which includes workshops on tour, academies for young people in Leeds and the North East and schools partnerships. The statistics are impressive. According to the programme for yesterday's performance there were 641 workshops engaging 2,379 young people in Leeds between 2014 and 2015 and a further 228 engaging 1,360 young persons outside the city with a total audience of 91,128.

Phoenix started its tour with a triple bill that consisted of Sharon Watson's Melt, Kate Flatt's Undivided Loves and Itzik Galili's Until.With/Out.Enough. I loved all three of those works but particularly Undivided Loves which focused on Sonnet 18:
"Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course, untrimmed;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,
Nor shall death brag thou wand’rest in his shade,
When in eternal lines to Time thou grow’st.
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee."
Brilliantly accompanied by the music of Adriano Adewale who played his score on stage, the dancers Prentice WhitlowSam Vaherlehto and Marie-Astrid Mence explored the themes of love, jealousy and rivalry. I saw a preview of this work just before Christmas as I mentioned in Never attend a Ballet Class the Morning after the Night Before 21 Dec 2015. In the discussion after the performance I asked the composer who is Brazilian whether he had read the sonnets in Portuguese as Shakespeare belongs to every culture and not just the anglophone. Adewale proved that point at the end of the score with snippets of Portuguese and Finnish.

Melt is another favourite. It never fails to lift me.  When I reviewed it for Phoenix at Home 4 Oct 2015 I described it as a "joyful work" and a "dance in three dimensions". I explained that:
"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."
The dancers (Carmen Vazquez Marfil, Sandrine Monin, Vanessa Vince-Pang, Jack Thomson, Prentice Whitlow, Sam Vaherlehto and Marie-Astrid Mence) seemed to love this piece. I have never seen them dance better.

Until.With/Out.Enough is a co-commission with the Royal Opera House and I saw it at the Linbury on 13 Nov 2013 (see The Phoenix Soars Over London 13 Nov 2015. It was created by Irzik Galili to the music of Gorecki which cannot have been a an easy score to interpret.  The choreographer responded to that challenge ingeniously by working on the collective shape of the dancers so that the piece seemed to be almost as much a work of sculpture or architecture as a work of dance. Consequently lighting was particularly important in a piece such as this and it was designed impressively by Yaron Abulafia. In this piece were Natalie Alleston performed with Carmen Vazquez Marfil, Sandrine Monin, Vanessa Vince-Pang, Jack Thomson, Prentice Whitlow and Sam Vaherlehto.

As Phoenix has given so much to the nation the company has invited the public to donate 35 for 35. That can be
- £35 - "£1 for every year that Phoenix has been entertaining and inspiring dance audiences" for which contributors will receive a poster of the Company’s latest repertoire and an acknowledgement of support on its website;
- £3.50 per month which, if renewed for a second year, will earn automatic membership of the dancer's circle.
- a one-off donation of £350 which will be rewarded with membership of the choreographers' circle; or
- £3,500 bringing membership of the artistic director's circle.
Information  on making donations is available on the "Give 35 for 35 Years" page of the company's website.

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