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Phoenix Dance Theatre
Reflected: 'Switch', 'What It Is', 'Pave Up Paradise', 'Maybe yes maybe, maybe no maybe'
by David Mead
March 18, 2011 -- Pegasus Theatre, Oxford, UK
Leeds-based Phoenix Dance Theatre is on something of a roll. Not only is the company presently
celebrating its 30th birthday, but last autumn it moved into plush new purpose-built premises shared
with Northern Ballet. If the company’s latest vibrant programme, “Reflected”, is anything to go by,
that move is already reaping rewards.
Most impressive of the four works on show was Ballett Basel Artistic Director Richard Wherlock’s
compelling programme opener “Switch”. Wherlock apparently began by putting on a few CDs of
minimal house music by Basel-musician B Free, and seeing what the dancers could do. The result
is an enthralling series of intricate duets and trios that are not only packed with impressive contact
work, but that also show their equally impressive dance technique to the full.
While the choreography is often fast and athletic, there are more sensual moments during which
the dancers often twist and curl around each other, their limbs stretching out into the space before
folding back like hyper-mobiles insect. All the dancers excelled, even the quickest of extensions.
Everything was clear and pin-sharp. Particularly impressive were the beautifully animalistic
Azzurra Ardovini and Josh Wille. Indeed, Ardovini was outstanding all evening. She is one of those
lucky dancers who has that special something that just compels you to watch her, and she has the
technique to back it up. Special mention too for Michael Mannion’s stunning lighting and Lorna
Clayton’s simple yet hugely effective costumes that saw each dancer dressed in a different bright
Running “Switch” a close second was “Pave Up Paradise”. Originally created by the Lost Dog
duo Ben Duke and Raquel Meseguer, and danced by themselves, this comic take on sin and
sexuality that mixes spoken word and dance is fast becoming an audience favourite. The duet is
set just outside the Garden of Eden, from which Adam and Eve (Wille and Ardovini outstanding
again) have just been ejected. Initially Wille tells the audience “It’s all her fault really.” After
their arguing is illustrated by more impressive contact work, Wille also reminds us that God also
told him, “Don’t get distracted by the naked woman.” Of course, before you know the clothes
are coming off as he chases after Ardovini’s body. A few moments later he’s on all fours, almost
pitifully declaring that “It’s definitely my fault.”
Ardovini and Wille’s verbal jousting was less strident than that of Duke and Meseguer, but
then Duke was originally trained as an actor. They also imbue the characters with rather more
tenderness, but one of the clever things about “Pave Up” is that it allows for such variations in
interpretation without being any less engaging and importantly, without being any less fun.
Preceding “Pave Up” was Philip Taylor’s “What It Is,” which also tells a story, this time one of
two men, a girl who seduces one, and the anguish the other suffers. With its Amy Winehouse
music and easy to understand choreography in many ways it is an audience pleaser. But it is also
very lightweight, the potentially powerful story being quickly lost in a sea of incessant gesture
and repetitive dance. It all brought back memories of some of the less accomplished choreography
on “So You Think You Can Dance.” Given the incessant beat of the music I half expected a floor
manager to leap up and urge us all to start clapping along.
For much of the “Reflected” tour the final work is Phoenix Artistic Director Sharon
Watson’s “Melt”. But it’s a work that explores the vertical as much as the horizontal. The
tiny Pegasus theatre was never going to be able to take it, so instead we were treated to Aletta
Collins’ “Maybe yes maybe, maybe no maybe.” There was certainly no chance of anyone enjoying
a quick post-interval nap as Phil Sanger opens proceedings by yelling into a microphone dangled
centre-stage. Even those who were awake got a jolt. The idea of using the dancers to create a
percussive score leads to multiple possibilities, many humorous, if a little obvious. It kept everyone
entertained though, and was a fun conclusion to an enjoyable evening of impressive dance.
“Reflected” continues on tour to Salford, Buxton, Crawley, Wrexham, Swansea, Liverpool,
Nottingham and Halifax. See www.phoenixdancetheatre.co.uk for details.
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