Artistic Director: Sharon Watson
Choreography: Sharon Watson, Kate Flatt, Itzik Galili
Reviewer: Beverley Haigh
To commemorate their 35th anniversary, it is befitting that Phoenix Dance Theatre premiere their Triple Bill 2016 in Leeds, hometown and birthplace of this acclaimed and prodigious company. As the UK’s longest standing contemporary dance company outside London, Phoenix Dance Theatre continue to innovate and excite, challenging conventions and producing truly outstanding work.
The first piece in the Triple Bill is Sharon Watson’s Melt, a show-stopping opener performed to the mellifluous and multi-layered soundtrack of Mercury Music Prize nominees Wild Beasts. Although upbeat in tempo and mood, the piece still evokes a sense of calmness, prompted also by the neutrality of the white costumes and white-lit backdrop.
Inspired by exploring the themes of water (mainly in the form of ice) and fire, Melt considers the effects on these elements when they react together and how this influences movement. What Watson achieves is very fluid and cohesive choreography, almost mesmerising to watch and at times, like a pendulum swinging. The introduction of ropes and harnesses provide the dancers with an extension of their bodies, echoing the notion of perpetual motion and spinning whirlpools, providing scope for some beautiful pas de deux.
The lack of narrative allows the dancers the freedom to explore movement and creating shapes with their bodies rather than focusing on expression and storytelling. This makes for a compelling and very watchable piece. Melt is an absolute triumph; the dance is exhilarating and strong, the music marries and compliments perfectly and the work as an entirety is a credit to Sharon Watson.
In contrast to the energy and vivaciousness of Melt, Undivided Loves is played out by just three dancers and one on-stage musician. Translating the material of Shakespeare’s sonnets into dance, the dance has a much sparser feel and also a slightly darker undertone. The slower tempo is derived at the outset from the melodic use of voice reciting the poetry. The material itself includes the iconic Sonnet 18 ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day’, perhaps Shakespeare’s most famous line, which is recorded and repeated in a multitude of languages to emphasise its universal recognition, and juxtaposes it with the line from Sonnet 129 ‘not to trust’. Isolating and repeating this extract creates a shift in the piece as it explores the relationship between the three dancers and introduces light and shade within it.
Until.With/Out.Enough is a reworked piece, updated and developed by Itzik Galili. Another essentially abstract theme, it allows the freedom for the dancers to work with the capabilities of their bodies, touching on elements of the opposition and blending in, exclusion and inclusion, providing the audience with some emotional involvement. There is an almost military feel in places, and, unsurprisingly from Phoenix, some very strong ensemble work, highlighting their signature style, if at times slightly repetitive.
Combining unrelated and diverse themes, Phoenix Dance Theatre’s Triple Bill showcases the endless talents of the entire company. Their work develops year after year, becoming ever more accomplished. What they are achieving is firmly establishing the North of England and in particular Leeds as a centre for excellence in terms of contemporary dance. With such a strong body of work Phoenix Dance will continue to evolve and endure, wowing audiences for many years to come.
Runs until 20th February 2016 | Image:Ben Slater