Review: Phoenix Dance Theatre

Phoenix Dance Theatre – A Mixed Bill Review.

Phoenix Dance Theatre have recently been on tour with a mixed bill of work from a range of emerging and well known choreographers such as Sandrine Monin, Christopher Bruce and Sharon Watson. The mixed bill included 3 pieces – 2 shorter, and a longer one after an interval.

Calyx choreographed by Sandrine Monin was the first. It was choreographed by talented french dancer who also dances with the company and was on stage herself in this triple bill later in the evening. Monin interested in Calyx, the name given to the waxy casing that protects but later supports a flower throughout it’s life span uses this as basis for the piece and the book of poems Flowers if Evil by Charles Baudelaire. There is a subtlety of the meaning of Calyx that comes through in the contortion of creature like movement that’s threaded throughout this performance.

The use of props and material cubes gave the movement somewhere to originate as well as filling the giant space of the stage but at points their presence occasionally disrupted the flow of movement. Poison Ivy inspired costumes by Emma Louise James with vine like artwork on the upper body and the deep red of the velvet was that of roses that you would give to a loved one. They really added to the atmosphere and are beautiful made. The eeary piano music of composer Roberto Roscoe ran through much of the piece and gave just enough uncertainty to make the audience to make them feel on edge but still get lost in the movement. There was a particularly stunning trio towards the end of the choreography that could be played in repeat.

The second performance on the bill was called Shadows, a short piece by well known and loved choreographer Christopher Bruce, an oiginal put together specifically for Phoenix Dance Theatre and draws on the companies storytelling forté. With the likes of Ghost Dances, Rooster and Swansong in the choreographers back catalogue Bruce is well known for his politically aware choreography that can ruffle feathers. It’s an interesting factor and you can tell that every piece that Bruce choreographs has a little bit of his heart and his passion for his chosen subjects shine through.

Shadows draws from experiences reminiscent of family in war torn situations. The piece is subtle and set in a minimalist yet intimate family living room with two benches, a table and a coat hook in the space. There is a distinct sense of loss and sadness to the choreography with the melancholic yet melodic music of . The dancing was beautifully performed by the dancers although there is a lot of movement crammed into the piece, something Bruce is well known for doing but it works none the less. His pieces are often chosen to be part of the GCSE curriculum and Shadows is no exception. You can draw your own conclusion to the meaning, whether literal or otherwise and it’s something Bruce has been quoted as saying. Originally choreographed in 2014, it was so well received it’s toured a few times since so this is a much called for revival. The piece was enjoyed and well received though the pace did feel a little slower in contrast to the other dancing in this bill.

Staying with the political theme, the bill concluded with the main and most lengthy choreography Windrush: Movement of the People. Based on the story of the boat Empire Windrush that brought many Caribbean Immigrants to Britain 70 year ago. In the 10 years following 170,000 followed. The piece is choreographed by the companies award winning Artistic Director Sharon Watson, and Watson’s parents were two that settled in Leeds so it’s a story somewhat close to her heart.

The piece she’s created is truly beautiful and tells an over view of some of the many stories that could have been experienced. From the docks where excited people gathered to board Windrush and the cool reggae beats were enjoyed as the boat left to the horrific racism that was encountered once they had arrived into Britain. The sounds of poem ‘You Called, We came’ were loud and clear showing the unsettling seriousness that was experienced interlinked with happiness and interesting Caribbean culture that was brought into the country with live gospel singers and energetic dancing. It’s ultimately an uplifting piece that highlights the history of Windrush beautifully and it’s truly a piece to be proud of.

Overall, I’d say Phoenix Dance Theatres Mixed Bill is one to watch. It’ll have you tapping your foot and dancing in your seat. It goes on to be performed at York Theatre Royal and Barnsley Civic in November and it’s thoroughly recommended.

Happy dancing!

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