Phoenix Dance Theatre: Mixed Programme 2014

Posted: December 1st, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Phoenix Dance Theatre: Mixed Programme 2014
Phoenix Dance Theatre in Darshan Singh Bhuller's Mapping (photo: Tony Nandi)

Phoenix Dance Theatre in Darshan Singh Bhuller’s Mapping (photo: Tony Nandi)

Phoenix Dance Theatre, Mixed programme, Linbury Studio Theatre, November 27


Christopher Bruce opens Phoenix Dance Theatre’s Mixed programme 2014 with Shift, choreographed to the last movement of Kenji Bunch’s Swing Shift. Although Bruce cuts this movement from its musical context he makes something complete and beautiful within it. In the present critical environment where length is an issue, it is too short. In its brief eight minutes Bruce creates a suite of lyrical dances for six dancers in 40’s costumes (from Bruce’s own wardrobe) like a letter written home in an effusive, youthful handwriting: Dear Mum and Dad, guess what we did today… There is that breathless quality of pure enjoyment mixed with images of daily toil that flow effortlessly through the dancers’ bodies as if the choreography was made on them (Bruce created Shift in 2007 and it has only just entered the Phoenix repertory). It doesn’t harm the piece either that the lighting is by John B Read who illuminates the movement as if from the inside. There’s another shade of Bruce in his next work, Shadows, to Arvo Pärt’s Fratres for violin and piano. “To me, many of Arvo Pärt’s compositions evoke images of a European history and tradition steeped in over a thousand years of human experience and, frequently, suffering. These themes, and particularly the turbulence of twentieth century events, have influenced my reaction to his work.” In giving his reactions to the music colour and form (aided again by Read’s lighting), Bruce makes the music visible. Shadows describes the effect of an unseen external menace on the members of a family of four. There is a sense of sympathy and compassion, and in choosing Sam Vaherlehto as the father, Sandrine Monin as the mother, Vanessa Vince Pang as the daughter and Andreas Grimaldier as the son Bruce confers his emotional understanding with confidence. ‘The poetry is in the pity’ wrote Wilfred Owen in a preface to his war poems and in Shadows both the choreography and the music are in the tragedy of impending upheaval.

The same cannot be said for Ivgi & Greben’s Document. Set to music by Tom Parkinson the work purports to ‘see five dancers grappling with the darkest aspects of human emotion.’ I am taking a wild guess here, but I don’t think either Uri Ivgi or Johan Greben have experienced the darkest aspects of human emotion closely enough to begin to choreograph them. Instead we see an approximation of what they imagine it might look like which resembles uncannily the vision of other choreographers searching for a similarly degenerate scenario. The dancers work really hard making the shapes but Document fails to reach beneath the surface.

I should confess that I have just finished performing a piece that Darshan Singh Bhuller choreographed recently for Gravity & Levity called Rites of War, so some of his preoccupations in Mapping like the radio-controlled device and the camera on stage projecting live images on to a screen are familiar. According to Bhuller, the work is inspired by his father’s move from East to West, though travel is only suggested in the opening. The musical mapping follows a parallel trajectory though the choreography is firmly in the west. Bhuller loves clean shapes and it is no surprise that he chooses Ben Mitchell to carve out a lovely arabesque line as he strides like a colossus over the tiny blue globe that races around and through his legs. Circles form a predominant theme in Mapping and in the centre of the sweeping, swirling forms is Sam Vaherlehto as a young explorer with camera in hand (perhaps Bhuller sending selfies to his father) quoting from the nuptial pyramid in Nijinska’s Les Noces. Vaherlehto seems to draw around him the other solos (Monin in particular has a lovely lyrical quality), duets and trios like a benevolent progenitor. He also has a sense of humour and thinks up a wonderful game. Laying down a line of white tape, he instructs his friends to lie on the floor with their feet or hands or heads on the tape. It would not be that interesting for the audience but a camera is placed high above the stage so the floor becomes vertical in its projection on the screen (see Tony Nandi’s photograph above). The game turns into a flight of fancy that sees dancers tumbling impossibly through the air to land effortlessly on their feet and hands, an acrobatic illusion that has the audience in thrall. The whole episode has a high feel-good factor mapping perhaps Bhuller’s own return from west to east.