Artistic Director: Sharon Watson
Choreography: Didy Veldman, Ivgi &Greben, Darshan Singh Bhuller
Reviewer: Peter Jacobs
Phoenix Dance Theatre was founded in 1981 and has a gift for reinvention and rebirth befitting their name. Since Sharon Watson became Artistic Director in 2009 they have gone from strength to strength, creating richly varied programmes combining new work with heritage pieces from the company archive. This current season sees a new company chair and new dancers – the much-loved Azzurra Ardovini and others have left the company – but otherwise it’s business as usual.
This mixed programme presents three substantial works, two new and a new production of Didy Veldman’s See Blue Through, which the company first staged in 2005. See Blue Through is first. This piece transforms the stage into an undersea world, with a reflective floor and shimmering reflective panels above, designed by Stijn Celis, enhanced by Ben Ormerod’s watery blue and filtered-golden lighting. The choreography is appropriately fluid and flowing, showing great connectivity with the music – Alfred Schnittke’s Sonata for Violin and Chamber Orchestra, bolstered by additional music from Paul Kendall. The piece utilises the full company – bar Phonenix’s lodestone dancer Phil Sanger – and features some lovely solo and duo work from Sandrine Monin and striking new dancer Sam Vaherlehto, and an especially creative duet by Josh Wille and Vanessa Vince-Pang. Celis’s elastic white costumes enhance the connective, responsive movement. See Blue Through is a lovely piece of contemporary classical work, full of musical and physical variety, subtly but effectively invoking its undersea setting.
The second piece proves to be the highlight of the evening. Document is an uncompromising work of dark beauty, choreographed by European duo Uri Ivgi and Johan Greben, relatively unseen in the UK to date but definitely ones to watch. Document has a strong Israeli vibe – Ivgi is Israeli – and is an intense slab of edgy, modern choreography. Set to a gloriously cacophonous soundtrack of finely modulated, relentless machine noise by Tom Parkinson, Phoenix’s five core dancers twitch, shuffle and flail in and out of synchronicity, thrown together as a group, torn apart as individuals. Document suggests a grim dystopian future world of repetitive drudgery and subjugation as well as strongly evoking the everyday suffering of modern urban warfare. Repetition, obedience, punishment, subjugation, instability and dehumanisation are forensically examined. It’s wonderfully powerful, thought-provoking and exciting.
Yaron Abulafia’s dramatic lighting creates a vivid sense of desperate physical and emotional presence. The dancers, with dark, haunted eyes and beautifully grubby and worn costumes by Lorna Clayton, follow a progressively impactful narrative journey from resigned, wearied emotionlessness through to horror and anguish. Silenced, stateless. The near-ending as Monin, Sanger, Wille and Vince-Pang support a traumatised Jitka Tumova towards front stage is achingly powerful. The remarkable, exhaustedly combative, collaborative duet by Phil Sanger and Josh Wille – always a great partnership – is a tenderly bleak and emotional coda to a fantastic piece of dance theatre.
The programme ends with Mapping by former Phoenix artistic director Dharshan Singh Bhuller, his first work for the company since 2006. Mapping is inspired by his father’s journey from East to West and has themes of viewing the world from above. This piece is as spiritual and lightly joyful and Asian-flavoured as Document is unrelenting dark and European/Israeli. The choreography is expansive and extravagant, full of windmill arms and running exits and entries. There is a nice duet by Josh Wille and Carmen Vazquez Marfil.
Mapping pulls in a number of technical elements with mixed success. The glowing blue Earth that toys playfully with Jitka Tumova in the opening section is rather magical, but the wireless camera that is meant to project the group detail of the middle section onto the rear screen doesn’t work, so the focus of the dancing, and Sanger’s movement especially, is unfortunately misdirected. The final section uses an overhead camera that does work and the dancers are shot from above creating energetic and fun tableaus. As the dancers are flat to the floor this throws full focus on the screen and this seems to flatten the piece, although the gimmickry plays well with the audience.
A mixed programme indeed. See Blue Through was lovely. Mapping was light, crowd-pleasing but oddly insubstantial, and Document was darkly mesmerising and satisfyingly difficult. Ivgi &Greben: more please.
Reviewed 25 February 2014