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Phoenix Dance Theatre

Crossing Points: 'Signal', 'Catch', 'Soundclash', 'Melt'

by David Mead

October 25, 2012 -- Linbury Studio Theatre, Royal Opera House, London, UK

Since her appointment as artistic director in 2009, Sharon Watson has re-established Phoenix Dance Theatre as one of the UK’s top contemporary dance companies. This quadruple-header of revivals and new works once again demonstrated the power and strength of the dancers.

Making a return to the repertory after several years’ absence, Henri Oguike’s “Signal” is set largely to the imposing rhythms of Japanese drums. Initially danced to a backdrop of a venetian blind effect, but later of three large bowls of fire, the dance shows off the dancers’ strength and physicality. Oguike seeks to embrace the frenzy of the battlefield. In the more aggressive sections their whole bodies replicate the percussion of the drums. There is much violent quivering, slicing through the air of limbs and urgent running. There are quieter moments too that are altogether more formal and courtly. As Masaya Takashino’s music switches to koto and what sounded like shakuhachi, there are Japanese references in the movement too, including sumo-style stances and fast tripping geisha-like steps. Throughout, the dancers leave us in no doubt that every gesture has significance.

Former Phoenix and Rambert dancer Ana Lujan Sanchez’s “Catch” takes its inspiration from René Magritte’s famous painting “The Son of Man”. It starts off with plenty of direct references to the picture, the dancers in black overcoats, suits and red ties and the occasional bowler hat. This turns out to be merely as starting point as Lujan Sanchez slowly strips away the uniform to try and discover the real person underneath.

It’s an intriguing work that never loses a sense of the surreal. As they cast off their coats, jackets, ties and even trousers, the anonymity of the figures slowly dissolves. Formality and the social order collapses as the dancers become less constrained and individuals slowly emerge. There’s an increasing sense of disquiet and tension within the group. Watch out, though, for the tension relieving moment of humour at the very end. Everyone danced with great intensity, with Phil Sanger and Azzurra Ardovini leading the way. Ardovini in particular was outstanding all evening. Her clarity of movement and forcefulness, even when standing still, simply demands attention.

Rather less successful is Kwesi Johnson’s “Soundclash”, which is apparently based on the complex patterns made by sound waves when made visible. Pyramids of light frame the stage, with circles of light and other patterns on the floor, some of which the dancers replicate with their bodies. The dance is full of Wayne McGregor like articulation of bodies with hints of street dance thrown in for good measure. It all rather failed to hold the attention.

Things picked up again with Sharon Watson’s “Melt”, set to the evocative music of the Wild Beasts, and that provided an enjoyable conclusion to the evening. It has a wonderful freshness and sense of freedom. It’s often thrilling as the cast, never afraid to take risks, dance right on the edge. It includes plenty of use of two slings on which the dancers swing and perform gymnastic feats. Watson succeeds where so many have failed by making the aerials integral to the overall choreography, but not letting them take over.

Crossing Points continues on tour to Aberystwyth, York and Leeds. See http://phoenixdancetheatre.co.uk/whats-on for details.

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