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Phoenix Dance Theatre

'Signal', 'Harmonica Breakdown', 'Paseillo', 'Los Picadores'

by Ana Abad-Carles

June 1, 2007 -- Sadler's Wells Theatre, London, UK

The Leeds-based contemporary dance company returned to Sadler’s Wells in June for just a couple of days with a new and exciting programme. It was the company’s first London appearance since Javier de Frutos took over as Artistic Director and there was obvious excitement and interest in the theatre in anticipation of seeing his work.

De Frutos is a well known choreographer toBritish audiences thanks to his work for Rambert, Phoenix and more recently, his West End success, “Cabaret”.

His Phoenix arrival has had a galvanising effect on the company that was more evident this year in both their stylistic approach to the pieces they presented and, most importantly, in the choice of repertoire itself.

The evening opened with Henri Oguike’s “Signal”. The piece was impressive, not only in its use of a rich movement vocabulary, but in its spatial patterns and rhythmic structures. The dancers really shown to their best advantage and it was good to have such a strong opening piece.

Next was de Frutos’s enthusiastic attempt at restoring the notion of repertoire in the context of contemporary dance. Jane Dudley’s “Harmonica Breakdown” was danced by Kialea-Nadine Williams and what a wonderful solo performance it was! The solo still looks fresh and compelling, with the dancer’s focus on her movements really breathtaking. It was a really wonderful revival.

The second half of the programme consisted of de Frutos’s “Paseillo”, a lyrical piece set to music by Mozart. The piece was sensual and sexual and yet, despite the fact that de Frutos makes no attempt to disguise any of these aspects, the lyricism of the piece stands out in a way that manages to take the piece to a completely different artistic level. The choreographic framework into which the various duets, trios and group numbers were woven was so strong and so carefully constructed that it made the content of the piece—supressed desires and sexual tensions—all the more powerful.

The evening finished with “Los Picadores”, set to Stravinsky’s “Les Noces” and again choreographed by Javier de Frutos. This is de Frutos’s latest creation and though I cannot say I loved it, I have to admit that it kept me engaged. I have a problem with new reworkings of “Les Noces”, as I still regard Bronislava Nijinska’s masterpiece difficult to match. De Frutos, at least, does not attempt to do that, which is something to thank him for. The piece is about sex and violence, which are recurring topics in the choreographer’s work. However, the problem with the way the piece is structured—and unlike “Paseillo”—is that the beginning is so strong and powerful that the rest of the piece does not really take you any further along. Though the dancers are totally committed to the choreography, they do not seem capable of engaging their audiences. There are no climaxes, no journeys… and in fact the ending was all but a surprise, as there was no context for it.

Overall it was a good evening. The company looks great and the dancers had choreography they could really dance and enjoy. It has been a long time since London had seen such a rich and varied evening of contemporary dance.

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