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Phoenix Dance Theatre 2004

'Henri Oguike 'Signal', Rui Horta 'Can You See Me', Darshan Singh Bhuller 'Source 2', Maresa von Stockert 'polystrene dreams'

Reviving everyday life

by Thea Nerissa Barnes

May 2004 -- Sadler's Wells, London

The fascination of contemporary dance is its seemingly endless array of possible aesthetic expressions. Choreographers and collaborators supply their specialities in making a work a breathing entity with its own peculiar movement language expressing its own particular significances. Audience members witness the event but can only offer disembodied testimony peripheral to the reality of the dance; a visceral world created to reveal an inspired insight into lived experience or art itself. The task is to lead the audiences’ experience into the finite world of the work no matter how removed aesthetically or culturally any given audience member happens to be.

Henri Oguike’s "Signal" uses the music of Masaya Takashino’s Taiko drums and Chidori: The Ploughman’s Song as the metronome for the dancers to follow or fragment. This explication is an interpretation of the music given these dancers and this choreographer. Moves with shoulders, legs, and spine are as percussive as the drum beat and arranged in rhythmical order accompanied with periodic stillness, furious struts or runs. Oguike’s propensity is to craft dance based on inspirations he finds within the logic of selected music. Oguike has specific methods when orchestrating the form of his works. With this dedication to the architecture of the dancing body and its negotiation of energy, Oguike’s particular aesthetic has an allegiance to the science of movement. His compositional tools seek harmony by addressing the variances of dynamic, rhythm, and motivation. All five dancers brought their ingeniousness to the stage. Tiia Ourila’s spirit and Tanya Richam-Odoi’s naughty sassiness were reassurances that given an aesthetic expression whose allegiance is to form, no gesture was performed without significance. Content in this world is what the audience brings to the event and what is recognised and attributed via the dancers’ evocation of the aesthetic expression on offer.

Rui Horta’s "Can You See Me" is also the delivery of form but in this work was directed to manifest a world where each gesture exemplified a dimension of fretted experience. This work seemed to be built from the autobiographies of each dancer who drew on his or her personal sensitivities of life and dance to be the protagonist in this riveting exploration of character. A dramatic work that used original music by Tiago Cerqueira, Medeski Martin & Wood and Jimi Hendrix as reference, the sound acted more to surround the dancers than be a metronome. This sound scape with its screeching and erraticness enabled them to display varied eccentricities in behaviour. Jimi Hendrix is well known as an archetype of rock excess. But much like Charlie Parker’s saxophone sound derived its genius from a man who, though bruised by life, ushered in a new era of jazz music, Hendrix’s guitar sang of the aspirations and frustrations of a man who revolutionised guitar technique with musical skill and flamboyant exhibitionisms.

From Kialea-Nadine Williams brief exposures of flesh and efforts to balance and fall off one foot no matter how misaligned the rest of her limbs were, to Errol White’s mad grumblings, provocative gesticulations to the audience and contorted grimace to the feigned caresses for partners Yann Seabra and Lisa Welham this work took an insight on neurosis and took the dancers and the audience through a labyrinth of madness; "Can You See Me" is the title and insight that leads to further questions like, what do I have to do to get appreciated, what do I have to do to get recognition, to be respected as a man, as a woman, as an artist, for what I do, for who I am. Intertextuality allows this work to slam the viewer with its first layer of bluntness and physical abuse. The audience can meander on this first layer. Or with insight assume that this orchestration of energy is a metaphor to illustrate a perspective on fatigue, resistance, trust and given the protagonist portrayed, resilience.

Darshan Singh Bhuller’s "Source 2" is a delicate, touching enactment of Anthony Crickmay’s photographs that were inspired by Bhuller’s larger work called "Source". Source takes a perspective on the reliance of water and the potential depletion of this natural resource. These sensitive photographs were used as publicity shots for Phoenix’s previous tour. Although black and white and not at that point representative of anything in Phoenix’s program, Crickmay’s pictures were illustrative of vibrancy of life, camaraderie, and tempered ecstasy. Standing alone they enacted most of what one could associate with dance, and more importantly with Phoenix. The photos then inspired the duet performed in this current tour. This duet though focuses on two people who rely on each other, who depend on each other’s resources. The insight of this work seems a metaphor for dependency. Bhuller’s film and soundscape are eloquent accompanists allowing Crickmay’s imagery and the compelling sound of a rain stick to support the moves of surround, support, embrace and comfort.

Yann Seabra suspensions, jumps and gentle touches expressed numerous postures that accompanied, supported, caressed and carried Lisa Welham. Their nudity, sensual not sexual, just deepened the metaphor to a metonym emphasising the closeness and need of water, the closeness and need that can exist between two people. Water is within our bodies and the source of our lives. This duet and the imagery through film and movement were representative of more than what could be visually seen. Its strength was in what it conjured in the mind’s eye. Here too the audience could wander on the surface and feel slightly self conscious when the dancers took their costumes off or bathed in the serenity the images, both pictured and moving on stage, offered.

Maresa von Stockert’s "polystrene dreams" brought alive [times] when workers do all those absurd antics that are fed by frustration and monotony. Dressed in uniforms that distinguished man (pants) from woman (skirt) and positioned in office chairs, seven dancers mimicked inspecting and packaging baby dolls. This soon gets out of hand and tables are spun and dancers speed across the stage in all kinds of positions on under and around the chairs. A recorded voice speaks of the penalty for damage to company property and civil disobedience but this seems to fuel the anarchy.

Soon the stage is littered with packaging with several of the dancers getting their jollies by bursting bubble wrap with feet, arms, and rump. The uproarious romp leads to Douglas Thorpe being wrapped in bubble wrap, squished into a box then crawling off stage. Repetition can be a deafening thing but in a dream world fantasy it turns into madcap cut up tantrums that resound into an unreal manifestation of freedom. Not free to be self as much as free to let loose and get caught up in a world of energy gone mad. The end sees the dancers being rained on by styrofoam and in jubilance jumping on tables throwing the styrofoam everywhere. Just a bit of fun and lunacy.

Phoenix Dance Theatre 2004 is an evening that crosses most understandings, providing excellent metaphors and becoming a digestible apparition when the performance is finished. These aesthetic choices are not cutting edge, new nor experimental. These works affirm Phoenix Dance Theatre’s association with the canon of contemporary dance. Phoenix’s current performative act seems another level of sophistication that enlivens mundane existences by offering inspired insight from familiar perspectives. The audience becomes witness to the event, a willing participant laughing, sensing through what is seen and perhaps thinking either “yes, I see” or “no I don’t get it”. This dialogue then relies on the performer to endow significance.

There are but few dancers that can draw the witness to contemplate past the obvious. Those that do have a spirit that comes not from taking class but from speaking from the core of her or his being. This is when art practice becomes life. Not an objectified entity placed outside the body, a saleable commodity or a disembodied idea. Seabra’s out stretched left arm that lean his body to suspend then fall stage left in Singh’s "Source 2" or White’s performance skill or Williams’ grabbing her leg to put it behind her head and falling, a contortion to affirm the desperation portrayed in Horta’s "Can You See Me" to Ourila’s compelling technical clarity in Oguike’s "Signal" have no colour or cultural affinity.

There was a time when those with similar capabilities faced incorrigible challenges to their efforts to disrupt conventional art practice by choosing alternative inspirations for shaping movement. The ferocity that was unleashed on stage when that kind of energy was harnessed and sharpened is now reincarnated in another guise. But only a few have it. This witness will continue to watch and hope that the penchant to deliver inspired insight never ceases.

Edited by Jeff.

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