Review: Phoenix Dance Theatre - Mixed Bill - Linbury Studio Theatre

Performance: 25 - 27 October 2012
Reviewed by Germaine Cheng - Monday 29 October 2012

Phoenix Dance Theatre 'Melt' Photo: Brian Slater

Signal / Catch / Soundclash / Melt
Performance reviewed: 26 October

This is Phoenix Dance Theatre’s first visit to London in more than four years. The directorship of the Leeds-based company has since changed hands – Sharon Watson, its then Rehearsal and Tour Director, was appointed to the helm of the company in 2009. For her first Phoenix outing to the capital city, Watson has opted to present pieces that the company has performed all year, showing off her troupe of dancers remarkably well.

The oldest piece is picked to open the evening. Henri Oguike’s Signal, made in 2004, is an unrelenting quintet set to traditional Japanese music. The zither’s melodic line dances across oriental-sounding pentatonic scales, while a slinky, undulating trio unfolds centre-stage. The dancers show incredible contrast, making distended shapes with their outstretched limbs, and punctuating their forceful spinal contractions with short, assertive out-breaths. Against a red backdrop, three ceremonial bowls are lit, and the dance seems to be set ablaze. The aggressive rhythms of the Taiko drums drive the action as the movement progresses from sedate struts to combative shuffles. The dancers are like bulls facing a cape-wielding matador, stamping emphatically with their fists clenched, eyes alert. Fight or flight – I think Oguike’s made his choice clear. And he’s convinced the Phoenix dancers too.

Kwesi Johnson’s Soundclash has a similar confrontational feel, although altogether more docile – a rugby tackle more than a bullfight. The dancers dive fearlessly into hip hop freezes and acrobatic rolls, with ex-gymnast Josh Wille launching into a series of air flares and beautifully nuanced break dancing feats. A purely physical interpretation of Luke Harney’s pulsating score, Soundclash is all head-banging, head-butting and head-bobbing, but not much else.

Belgian surrealist Rene Magritte’s painting The Son of Man provides inspiration for Ana Luján Sánchez’ Catch. The six dancers look impeccable, clad in the painting’s iconic dark suit, white shirt and red tie. There is however, no apple and just one bowler hat. Ordinary yet mysterious, the elusive hat is the impetus for a riveting game of ‘Cluedo/Pass the Parcel’ on speed. There is no clear winner, but I’d pick the modest Phil Sanger, who possesses a striking, understated ease of movement.

Sanger brings his zen-like quality to Watson’s Melt, setting him apart from the punchy, all-out intent of the rest of the cast. To the “hooting and howling” of indie rock band Wild Beasts, the dancers spiral and swoop from ropes as if swept up in the first of wintry gusts. They react to each other; a touch of an elbow and a rippling of a spine begin duets which take flight, aiming skyward. The piece accelerates to an exhilarating end, but only Vanessa Vince-Pang and Wille seem to be enjoying themselves, allowing a smile to emerge on their faces as the Wild Beasts sing “What’s so wrong with just a little fun? We still got the taste dancin’ on our tongues.”

Catch Phoenix Dance Theatre on tour the UK until February 2013

Germaine Cheng is a graduate of the Rambert School of Ballet & Contemporary Dance. She writes for English National Ballet’s Dance is the Word blog and contributes regularly to

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