Created in 1981, Phoenix Dance Theatre is an intriguing mix of international and, at the same time, Leeds-based contemporary dance company. As artistic director and former dancer Sharon Watson declared in the post-show talk that followed the performance in the Linbury Studio Theatre, they have the determination and the force of those “who come from the north”. This characteristic is reflected in the interpretation of the dancers and in the choice of the programme, resulting in a journey into hidden emotions, identities and the masks with which we present ourselves to society.

<i>Until.With/Out.Enough</i> © Brian Slater
Until.With/Out.Enough
© Brian Slater

The evening starts with a revisited version of Until.With/Out.Enough, a piece conceived in 1997 by Dutch/Israeli choreographer Itzik Galili that taps into the “enclosed spaces that exist within our minds”. While Galili’s signature is present in the off-balance arabesques and circular torso movements, the physicality of the dancers adds a new flavour to the piece. Their strength and personality can be seen when they travel across the stage with outstretched arms around in circular motion, and in the jumps in wide second position that reminds us of tribal war rituals. The opening duet by Sandrine Morin – a dancer with a solid technique and a very expressive look – and the versatile and captivating Sam Vaherlehto translates Galili’s take on the forces of attraction and repulsion that permeate human relationships. Throughout the piece Yaron Abulafia’s lighting design creates dark places where the dancers disappear and from where they emerge in the next moment to the scores of Polish composer Henryk Górecki.

<i>Tearfall</i> © Brian Slater
Tearfall
© Brian Slater

The remainder of the programme brings the performers closer to the audience. Sharon Watson presents Tearfall, a piece with theatrical elements inspired by a random encounter with Sir John Holman, emeritus professor at the University of York Chemistry Department. The work explores the reasons why we cry, and how the externalisation of different feelings – distress, sadness, pain and joy – affects the structure and composition of tears, as didactically explained by US-born Prentice Whitlow. Helium balloons placed in various parts of the stage at different times and numerous lamps hanging from the ceiling remind us of stalactites and stalagmites, as if we entered a cave from which tears originate.

English language has at least 20 verbs to describe ways of crying. This diversity is reflected in the changing quality of movement throughout the choreography. Lyrical passages interpreted by Carmen Vazquez Marfil alternate with sequences of stronger physicality performed by Vanessa Vince-Pang. While most of the costumes are not particularly flattering on the dancers, the lighting (Abulafia once more) makes the most of Watson’s scientific-emotional journey.

<i>Bloom</i> © Brian Slater
Bloom
© Brian Slater

Caroline Finn’s Bloom, the most theatrical piece of the evening, draws on the concept of façades to highlight the mismatch between the way we [are expected to] behave in society and our individual instincts, perceptions and intentions. Fantastic circus-like characters translate their emotional states both into movement and exaggerated, nearly grotesque expressions to the sound of fanfare and Balkan rhythms, which also relates to the idea of transition and nomadism. A masked character wearing nothing more than a ski hat and underpants connects the various stories that form the choreography. As in Tearfall, objects – this time an ensemble of table and wooden bench, a watering can and a vase of flowers – are displaced by the dancers throughout the choreography. Vaherlehto’s touching interpretation of the singer adds a melancholic and tender note to the piece, which contrasts with the strong, cartoon-like phrases of the other dancers.

The Phoenix mixed programme is definitely worth seeing.