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Phoenix Dance Theatre

'The Fact That It Goes Up,' 'Me and You,' 'Requiem'

by Lyndsey Winship

April 8, 2003 -- Gardner Arts Centre, Brighton

Despite financial meltdown and what looked like a precarious future, Phoenix Dance Theatre has re-emerged as a slick, healthy and highly professional operation under the guidance of new Artistic Director Darshan Singh Bhuller. 21 years after the company was formed by three young men in inner-city Leeds, Phoenix Dance may just be coming of age.

Bhuller’s company is unmistakeably a different one to the Phoenix of the 1990s, with a more mature outlook and an international agenda, but thankfully, it is also a company that retains its unique personality.

Bhuller evidently has a vision for Phoenix. He wants to take his dancers (and audiences) beyond pretty patterns and physical stunts. And he has something to say. This spring tour showcases three new works but it is Bhuller’s own, "Requiem" that makes the bravest moves.

The piece examines a community’s emotions and reactions when a child goes missing. This is the kind of serious current affairs that ephemeral art forms don’t always do justice to, but Bhuller just about gets right. While the narrative isn’t always completely clear, the scenes are familiar enough -- CCTV footage, search parties sweeping parkland -- and the emotional turmoil is brought sharply into focus.

The dancers are restless, stir-crazy, literally climbing the walls; imprisoned by their helplessness and exhausted by grief. The restrained, private torture of the girl’s parents contrasts with the fraught lashing-out of a teenage sibling -- the need to clutch, claw, grasp and brawl to feel the physicality of her remaining loved ones.

Their gestures are violent but impotent, repetitive but innovative, and geniunely moving. And poignantly, such anguished despair is balanced with the lighter moments of a fledgling romance -- because life and love will always go on.

Bhuller’s work is in complete contrast with the rest of the programme, which serves to showcase some masterful dancers. The opening piece is Jeremy Nelson’s ‘The Fact That It Goes Up’ inspired by busy pedestrian traffic and the accidental patterns that it produces. As our urbanites’ paths interweave some lovely moments materialise out of nowhere and the talents of the dancers as individuals are exposed.

Firstly, eyes are drawn to the tall figure of Martin W. Hylton, all soundless jumps and cushioned edges, pushing his long limbs through thick air. Then Lisa Welham whips round the stage with intensity and precision while the fantastically flexible Kialea-Nadine Williams shows amazing control and has a real edge to her performance.

The remaining slice of the programme is a brief but refreshing burst of Fin Walker’s frenetic choreography. ‘Me & You’ is a ten minute duet for two male dancers with Walker’s regular collaborator Ben Park providing the music -- which sounds like monks put through a mincer. The male duet is often a noble thing, but this is more like stroppy siblings (and that’s compliment); the energy and effort, the huffing and puffing, interspersed with moments of stealthy stalemate.

It was an interesting evening, but lacking some of the spark of the Phoenix of old -- the energy and edge that made them so intoxicating. It would be a shame to see this singular company fade in to the contemporary circuit. They may be soaring to bigger successes, but lets hope Phoenix doesn’t forget its roots.

Edited by Mary Ellen Hunt.

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