Phoenix Dance Theatre is on top form. The Leeds-based company is in London this week,, with a quadruple bill at the Royal Opera House's Linbury Studio.
Opening the evening, Christopher Bruce's Shift provides an upbeat eight minutes' entertainment. To Kenji Bunch's Swing Shift, three female dancers - dressed in 1940s style pinafores and headscarves - walk onto the stage, reach out and clasp their hands. They're shortly joined by three men, whose dynamic movements and costumes (jeans and checked shirts) are reminiscent of the Jets in West Side Story.
A second Bruce piece (and world première), Shadows, opens with four dancers sitting motionlessly at a table, their arms laid out flat on its surface. One of them (Vanessa Vince-Pang) suddenly stands up and moves to the front of the stage, desperately rolling on the floor and shaking her head before extending her arms to the audience as if pleading for help. As she returns to the table, two other dancers move into the main space, intertwining their arms in a mutually supportive and romantic duet. Finally, the fourth dancer, who hasn’t until then moved from his seat, rises and angrily throws the chairs and table across the stage. As another dancer consoles and comforts him, the two women put the furniture back into its rightful place, and everyone returns to their starting positions.
Bruce states in the programme that he is “happy to leave the audience to interpret the work individually”. For me, the dancers represented a claustrophobic family, in which pent-up emotions (despair, love and frustration) were left unexpressed under the need to conform to social convention. What I found less clear – but equally beautiful – was the work’s ending, in which the dancers put on their coats and shoes and collected their suitcases.
In the bill’s third work, Document, performers move violently as if in a deranged trance. To an electronic soundscape by Tom Parkinson, Ivgi and Greben’s choreography includes dancers grabbing their stomachs, falling to the floor and grasping their mouths as if about to vomit. Building to an increasingly frantic pace and the onstage ‘deaths’ of three cast members, the piece concludes with a more intimate male-male duet.
Closing the evening, Darshan Singh Bhuller’s Mapping commences with a single dancer rolling a glowing blue ball across the stage. Interestingly, however, as he continues to move, the ball chases him around the space, circling his feet and even rolling between his legs. More dancers then come on stage, with one holding a small camera and recording close-ups which are projected onto the stage backdrop.
Developing into a display of pure dance, company members leap and spin out of and back into the wings, continuously circling their arms. One then puts a line of tape on the ground and dancers lay down and roll around, their movements filmed by an overhead camera and once again projected onto the backdrop. With the line of tape appearing to be the ‘floor’ on the screen, dancers create an entertaining array of moves – from handstands and gymnastic ‘lifts’ to jumps high into the ‘air’ – that would not be possible were they not horizontal on the floor. It’s a vibrant finish to the evening!
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