Wednesday, 30 March 2022

DANCE REVIEW: Phoenix Dance Theatre: Forty Years Of Dance - The Peacock Theatre, London.

What a wonderful celebration of 40 years!

The Phoenix Dance Company are celebrating 40 years of amazing theatrical dance creations. Originally formed in Leeds back in 1881 by David Hamilton MBE, Donald Edwards and Vilmore James. In the foyer there is a wonderful display of photos commemorating Phoenix’s diverse and talented dancers and their performances. So, looking at these images before the show makes the anticipation of watching today’s talented artists even more exciting.

Under the watchful eye of their new artistic director, Dane Hurst, who took on the role at the beginning of 2021, this arrangement of five dances thrills the senses. Dane Hurst has taken the lead with a fine arrangement of some of the best pieces of Phoenix’s work from the last forty years. Reworking some with a new context and keeping others as pure as the day they were first choreographed. It is not only a celebration of the artists but of the choreographers, musicians, costumes, and lighting.

Opening the show with 'Signal', which showcases the dancers in all their glory. Muscular, athletic, and gymnastic. These are strong performers in all senses of the word. The rhythmic Japanese Taiko Drumming underpins this dance. The drumming vibrates through your body as you watch the movements, you cannot take your eyes off the dancers. With three live fire-bowls on stage, alongside the dancers, the stage is really glowing. The speed and pace of the running makes you gasp. It is exhausting to watch, and you could clearly see all the muscles and lines of the bodies as the performers moved. They danced in perfect affinity, and it was glorious.

Then, 'Harmonica Breakdown', a dance devised by Jane Dudley back in 1938 in New York depicting an African American woman of the time. Dr S. Ama Wray, professor of dance at the University of California is custodian of this dance and it is under her guidance that it has been performed at Phoenix by the divine creature Yuma Sylla. She is mesmerising. Her innate talent brings this dance to life. I simply loved it.

The third sequence was, 'Family'. A colourful dance revolving around a sofa which we all find central in our own family homes. Diving, jumping, and writhing around on and over the sofa, each dancer representing a member of the family. It was designed to underline the imperfections and differences in all the people within that family circle.

The fourth performance, 'Pave Up Paradise', and my personal favourite, was based on the story of Adam and Eve. It was sensual and beautiful to watch with some amusing twists. Accompanied by an acoustic guitar and singer, Andrew Burke. The amazing Yuma Sylla danced this, again, and the beautiful Shawn Willis. This was unusual in that Yuma and Shawn had actual speaking parts.

Finally, we had 'Heart Of Chaos', staged around a boxing ring with the African American boxer Jack Johnson, known as the ‘Galveston Giant’ at its core. At a time when mixed inter-racial marriages were frowned upon. Lots of 1920's Charleston and choreographed boxing. It was a delight. The flapper costumes were also fabulous and fitting for that era. Ending with Louis Armstrong’s 'Skid-Dat-De-Dat'. I felt honoured to be at this show. It truly highlighted some of Phoenix’s best dances and dancers. Lead dancers in this performance were Aaron Chaplin with the rippled body of a boxer and Melina Sofocleous as one of his three wives.

I must mention here, the other amazing dancers who I haven’t already named; without whom the evening would not have been complete and the dances certainly not as enjoyable. Alana Cowie, Alabama Seymour with her wonderful strength and gymnastic ability, Matthew Topliss – dancer, boxer with pure physical strength, Megan Lumsden and Charlie Naylor.

The audience was made up of many aspiring dancers, and this was a spectacle for them to behold and to use as a goal to reach, in their own personal journey.

Dane Hurst is leading a fantastic troupe, and this show is a credit to his team, his eye for style and his choice of dances. This is a must-see show for anyone interested in contemporary dance and I am sure that Phoenix Dance Theatre will gain even more fans and followers. Here’s to the next forty years!

Reviewer - Penny Curran

on - 29.3.22

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