Phoenix Dance create some truly outstanding pieces of dance theatre. They make full use of theatre as a storytelling medium, utilising all of its production aspects to enhance the superb performances of those on stage. This year is their 35th birthday, and to celebrate, they’re performing a triple bill of work old and new as part of the West Yorkshire Playhouse’s new season. The stage is set for an exciting evening, and a nostalgic look back at some of the company’s most prominent work.
The evening kicks off with Melt, created and choreographed in 2010 by Phoenix’s Artistic Director, Sharon Watson. The piece sets out to explore the effects that water, ice and fire have on movement, and the performers present to us physicalised representations of these effects. As expected, the dancers in this performance certainly deliver that trademark Phoenix quality; sharp, focused executions of Watson’s choreography, intertwined with emotion throughout. There’s also some mesmerising aerial performance manoeuvres here too, seamlessly locking each performer’s movements together against the enchanting musical backdrop from Wild Beasts. Michael Mannion’s lighting design also functions superbly well in this piece, casting a variety of washes and shapes over the company as they perform, fleshing out the atmospherically rich landscape the dancers create.
After the excitement generated by Melt, Phoenix slow things down a little bit, and present us with their newest work, Undivided Loves, which was choreographed by Kate Flatt this year. Drawing on text from Shakespeare’s Sonnets, we’re brought into the world of The Reader, who sees the characters and themes from each of the Sonnets come to life before his eyes. He interacts with them in a dreamlike world. Adriano Adewale’s compositions and Yaron Abulafia’s lighting design come together to bring such a world to life. Deep, autumnal colours paint the stage, and the performers playfully and precisely execute Flatt’s choreography. It’s a piece that’s filled with character, and has a distinct energy coursing underneath the feet of the performers and percussionist Adewale, who emphasises various moments throughout with his instruments. This is perhaps the most atmospheric piece of the evening.
The final piece of the evening is Until.With/Out.Enough, choreographed by Itzik Galili in 1997. This is definitely the most abstract out of the three pieces this evening; the audience is not given any indication on what the piece is actually exploring, leaving it up to them to interpret it for themselves. Through Galili’s choreography, which ebbs and flows with aggressive, staccato-esque movements and trademark Phoenix grace, there are some clear images being formed. One motif that continuously crops up is the idea of leadership, perhaps even slavery underneath it, with performers taking leads from one another and dividing into groups throughout. Galili himself has said that this piece is designed to be abstract, and take the audience on an emotional and intellectual journey; I’m still figuring out what to take away from this piece. Abulafia’s lighting design emphasises the themes of division and leadership through small spotlights and area-specific illuminations that single out groups of performers. There’s plenty of tension and intensity in this piece, articulated by the excellent performances from the whole company.
Phoenix Dance have once again showed off their stunning skills in an evening of some of their finest work. While perhaps not as playful as their Triple Bill in 2014, there’s still a sense of a mature and powerful dance company coming together to present some excellent pieces to the audience. A delightful, enjoyable and inspiring evening. Happy 35th Birthday, Phoenix!
Phoenix Dance Theatre’s 2016 Triple Bill is at the West Yorkshire Playhouse until 20 February 2016. For more information and tickets, visit www.wyp.org.uk/events/phoenix-dance-theatre-emerald/