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Phoenix Dance Theatre -
'Stories in Red'

'Snow White in Black', 'Laal', 'Pave Up Paradise', 'Napolitos'

by Ana Abad-Carles

March 2, 2006 -- Sadler's Wells, London

Phoenix Dance Theatre presented its new programme, ‘Stories in Red’, at Sadler’s Wells on Thursday 2nd March. The programme had new commissions for the company from choreographers Arthur Pita, Darsahn Singh Bhuller and Javier de Frutos. The company also presented a work by Lost-Dog (Ben Duke and Raquel Meseguer).

The bill opened with Pita’s “Snow White in Black”. The piece was a personal retelling of the tale in which the witch/step-mother or mother is killed by Snow White’s children and the happy ending sees Snow White walking away with her progeny. Twenty years ago the work could have looked better, but in this day and age, it just seemed a bit pointless. It was theatrical, but the whole point of the story and even the comic twists were not enough to sustain the piece from beginning to end. The choreographic language was almost non-existent and fairly repetitive in its movement sequences. Personally, I did not find any of its elements capable of sustaining interest. It was simplistic in its tone and development and the theatricality of the piece, which is where Pita seemed to concentrate, did not match some of the work that Carolyn Carlson, Maguy Marin or even Lindsay Kemp did twenty years ago.

Darshan Singh Buller’s solo “Laal” started with a film of the company’s history. Then it moved into an incredible solo for a male dancer, Kimball Wong. The solo defied expectations in its intricacy and virtuosity and credit must be given to the dancer who managed to carry it through. It incorporated movement vocabulary that flowed effortlessly and inventively and it created a breathtaking display of technical ability from the part of the dancer.

“Pave up Paradise” by Lost-Dog was a duet with live guitar music. It was a lyrical piece, though it contained some jokes that provided variety of mood. The movement was flowing and it was a total contrast to the physicality and virtuosity of the previous work. The dancers Tanya Richam-Odoi and Kevin Turner performed their choreographic material with conviction.

The last piece of the programme was the premiere of “Nopalitos” by Javier de Frutos. Inspired by Mexican culture and iconography, the work was, in my opinion, the best of the evening. It showed choreography that was inventive without trying to be pretentious; it was lyrical and yet could be harsh depending on the moods of the songs. Most importantly, it was very musical and the selection of songs was simply wonderful.  The choices of choreographic material show de Frutos is a mature choreographer. He dares to put together something old and something new and he presents these things with total conviction through his dancers. Though I did not like the masks that the dancers wore, as I found them too distracting, they certainly provided an intended ugliness that is part of the Mexican tradition that de Frutos wanted to portray. Some of the songs were beautifully choreographed, and the way de Frutos connected all of them through very simple theatrical means was a lesson in how to make the most of simple, but effective, elements.

Overall, it was an uneven programme. Though it is wonderful to see a British company actually producing new work with such consistency, it also highlighted the fact that like in all fairy tales, in the search for choreographic talent, one has to kiss many frogs in order to find a Prince.

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