Phoenix Dance Theatre brought their ”Mixed Programme 2017” to The Festival Theatre tonight showcasing work by Douglas Thorpe, Aletta Collins and a new commission by Sandrine Monin. The contrasting styles and emotions invoked by these three very different performance works raise some interesting questions for me, and not least, when does contemporary dance become contemporary movement, and when do both become contemporary theatre performances. In these three works, the lines between all of these seem to be blurring at the edges and often dissolving into one another.
First performance – “Calyx”
This is a new commission by company dancer Sandrine Monin and composer Roberto Rusconi. The promotional information describes this work as “inspired by and based on the book of poems ‘The Flowers of Evil’ by Charles Baudelaire. The work explores the themes of beauty, desire and decadence.” I have to admit to not knowing the source work at all (need to correct that later), so I am responding to this performance solely as a contemporary dance performance work.
“Calyx” is a little bit like two works in one as the dancers emerging from their boxes and more edgier movement style of the beginning is in sharp contrast to the far more fluid and graceful movements of the work as it evolves. My own preference for dance is always leaning towards the more fluid and graceful, but whatever your personal tastes in dance, the one thing that shines throughout the performance is the sheer power and athleticism of the dancers and when needed their grace and fluidity.
Second performance - “Beast”
First created in 2009 by Leeds based choreographer Douglas Thorpe, this work to quote from the Phoenix Dance website is ”exploring the concept of choice and consequences that follow wrong decisions”, and it is a dark and at times brutal environment that is explored on stage, and I have to admit one that is maybe a little too dark for me at times and crosses that line from contemporary dance to contemporary movement in experimental theatre as much of the work took on the atmosphere of a choreographed performance for a dark and at times uncomfortable film sequence.
We live unfortunately in an, at times, very dark world, and although those elements of our life need to be explored in all the artistic forms available to us on stage and questions asked to why some things happen, perhaps I was not quite ready on such a nice April evening for a trip into the darker psyche that was explored here, and I found the prolonged laughter of one dancer to be really uncomfortable (obviously meant to provoke such an emotion)…the darkness of the work left me no room for laughter. In truth the laughter was more of a desperate cry for help.
Very mixed thoughts and emotions on this work, and that alone maybe shows that at one level this performance piece is working well. Also, I have to remember that this company is called “Phoenix Dance Theatre”.
Third Performance “Maybe Yes Maybe, Maybe No Maybe”
Originally performed in 2009, this work by Aletta Collins this work provided a welcome ray of sunshine and playfulness after the darkness of “Beast”. With a performance centring around a live microphone, our dancers’ voices become part of the beat and accent of the musical soundtrack (by Street Furniture), and with a display of strength, flexibility and grace our dancers remind us of just how much joy there can be in the movement of our bodies.
Three very different works performed on stage, but I have to admit that the one work on their website that I really wanted to see was not on this programme – “Night Life at the Flamingo” would I think have provided an even larger contrast to just how flexible in performance styles Phoenix Dance Theatre and their dancers and choreographers can be.
If you do not know that much about Phoenix Dance Theatre, it is worth visiting their website at http://www.phoenixdancetheatre.co.uk/ because this is one company that are worth getting to know a lot more about. The reputation of Phoenix Dance from their base in Leeds has over the years since its humble formations in 1981 seen it grow into an internationally respected dance company, but maybe more interesting than that for me is their community and educational programmes. This is a company that is part of its local community and constantly interacting and evolving with that community to enrich the lives of many people while at the same time developing new dance talent for a new generation.
Review by Tom King