Pros: Stunning dancing and choreography. Interesting themes and topics. Visually striking.
Cons: The contemporary style might not suit everyone’s dance taste.
Phoenix Dance Theatre’s Mixed Programme 2015 consists of four separate contemporary dance works by three individual choreographers. Whilst each had a strong and distinctive style, I felt the programme was extremely well balanced. The strategic inclusion of two twenty-minute intervals also gave the audience a good opportunity to ‘cleanse their palate’ to get ready for each new choreographic approach.
Christopher Bruce, CBE is a well-established and internationally celebrated choreographer. This was reflected strongly in the style and choreographic precision of Shift and Shadows. This segment had wonderfully fluid, organic movements. During the unyielding metronomic rhythm of Swingshift (Ahn Trio) in Shift for example, every movement matched the music precisely. At times the dancers created a motion-blur effect against the deep black backdrop of the stage: it was as if we were watching through a long camera exposure. In these moments the extraordinary synchronicity and accuracy of the dancers was utterly staggering.
In contrast, Shadows had a much more tragic feel. In the programme Bruce described how the music, Frates for Violin and Piano (Tasmin Little and Martin Roscoe), evoked for him “images of a European history steeped in over a thousand years of human experience”. Four dancers explored this narrative through a mix of solo and duet phrases. Their movements were extremely emotive and the emotions I felt most strongly were uncertainty and fear. These were echoed in the lighting design, which cast powerful shadows across the stage in and out of which the dancers performed. It was a stirring piece, with a poignant ending that induced a moment of intense silence before rapturous applause.
Sharon Watson’s Tearfall marked a decisive step away from the style of Bruce. Supported by the Wellcome Trust, this piece explored the concept of tears, from the science behind them to the emotional catalysts that create them. The piece was visually striking throughout. The combination of lighting, costume, stage design and use of props played a large role in creating a world of tears that felt very dreamlike and almost liquid to watch. I particularly enjoyed the section which began with the placing of weighted balloons around the stage. Dancers moved in-between them, sometimes just millimetres away, other times taking them in their hands and moving with them before passing them on to others or simply letting them go. This seemed to be a powerful representation of the human relationship to tears, the ease with which we succumb to them, let them go and even pass them on to others.
The fourth piece, Bloom, by Caroline Finn, was definitely the climax of the evening and the most individual in terms of style and narrative. Based on the theme of façades, we glimpsed into what Finn described as a “surreal little universe”, witnessing characters struggling behind their own socially constructed masks. The black and grey costumes and painted faces of the dancers gave what I would describe as a ‘Tim Burton’ feel. Quirky, at times humorous and slightly off-the-wall, I personally found it extremely compelling. I sat on the edge of my seat wanting to be as close to the stage as possible to take everything in. The final ensemble section in particular felt tremendously satisfying and took me almost completely by surprise. The choice of music (a swing version of Radiohead’s Creep by Frank Bennett) is still in my head now!
Whilst I can fault nothing in terms of the performance or production, I would say that if you are not used to a contemporary style of dance and prefer your dance with a linear narrative, supporting characters and well-established plots, this might not be the show for you. If however you simply enjoy the beauty of dance in performance, do not hesitate to buy a ticket.
Dancers: Vanessa Vince-Pang, Carmen Vazquez Marfil, Sandrine Monin, Sam Vaherlehto, Andreas Grimaldier, Prentice Whitlow, Ben Mitchell, Leanne Horsey
Choreographers: Christopher Bruce, CBE, Caroline Finn, Sharon Watson
Design and Creative Team: John B Read, Yaron Abulafia, Kristian Steffes, Lou Cope
Booking Until: Mixed Programme 2015 is no longer at Watford Palace Theatre but is now touring the UK (http://www.phoenixdancetheatre.co.uk)
Box Office: For other events at Watford Palace theatre call 01923 225671
Booking Link: http://www.watfordpalacetheatre.co.uk