Jo Turbitt finds much to admire in Phoenix Dance Theatre's latest work.
A fit, agile and athletic company who perform with a sixth-sense-synchronicity with each other, Phoenix Dance Theatre are astounding to watch when they dance solos but even more so when they dance as a company. As an ensemble they have a beautiful responsive physicality which naturally sings from each of their bodies as they inhabit the stage: a talent which is rare in the performers of the majority of dance companies at the moment. All four pieces from Declarations clearly show all of this.
'The Audacious One.' Based on Barack Obama's speech and agreeing to disagree it’s a political dance piece that has the dramatic edge of a BBC political miniseries. Choreographed like an opera, the characters of the president and the council perform with power, precision and technical clout. Warren Adams’ choreography to excerpts from Mozart's Requiem Mass in D Minor was fascinating; sparked and responsive movement meshed with subtle gestures and glances. His choice of furniture was simplistic and well-suited but used in a pedestrian fashion. The dancers attacked this piece with integrity, exceptional energy and gorgeous technical prowess.
'Locked in Vertical' is choreographed by Isira Makuloluwe with a sense of writhing release, delicateness, weighted-rhythmically and driven fluidity. I enjoyed that there was no real message to the piece, possibly other than showing how bodies can move. At times, however, there was a bit too much movement for movement’s sake.
'Haunted Passages,' choreographed by Philip Taylor, reminded me of an art-house cinema film with three neurotic characters. Structured with narrative hooks, the dynamic intentions of this piece were often physically satisfying; however the underlying theme of the piece seemed to drag the movement into a choreographic stagnancy in the middle, resolving, however, to end well.
In 'Maybe Yes Maybe, Maybe No Maybe,' choreographed by Aletta Collins, the dancers and their movements were like Street Fighter Dance characters: each with their individual virtuoso movement signatures, unique talents and affiliated sounds they bound around the space similar to the characters of the computer game. They respond to each other’s movement and audio contributions, layering sounds, dynamics and space.
Phoenix Dance Theatre is an ensemble of talented, athletic, sinewed-strong performers. Watching them reminded me that contemporary dance, like any other art form, evolves in the hands, bodies and hearts of those who do it. Reliant on the individual, contemporary dance grows and develops as we respond to what's happening to us and around us. Thank goodness that contemporary dance is in the hearts of these choreographers and dancers tonight: it will live on and evolve with technique at its core, but with an essential dollop of guts, swagger and joy on top.