Phoenix Dance Theatre
Particle Velocity tour: All Alight, Ki, Tender Crazy Love, Repetition of Change
London, Linbury Studio Theatre
19 November 2013
Sharon Watson is such a passionate and convincing advocate for her company, Phoenix Dance Theatre, that it is disappointing to find her own work for their Particle Velocity tour, Repetition of Change, to be the least engaging of the programme.
Professing to unravel the mysteries of DNA, the ballet is driven by a sawing score by Kenneth Hesketh that prompts much agitated frenzy in Watson’s choreography. In a striking image, a length of gauze flows across the stage – the river of life perhaps. It soon billows aloft, speckled with globular lighting effects. Scurrying below, the dancers seem to represent some kind of pond life. There is much repetition but little change for these creatures, trapped in mechanistic steps. Or possibly that is Watson’s point about human existence. Her dancers serve her wonderfully, which is the great tragedy of a piece that does not really find a way to animate its premise.
The precision and intensity of the dancers is the overriding triumph of the programme. We begin with Richard Alston’s All Alight, which sets a Maurice Ravel violin sonata dancing. I am not fully convinced, as with Alston’s most recent compositions visualising Benjamin Britten, that he has fully tamed his chosen music but the way he sets the dancers moving is always elegant.
We see dances at a gathering. There is even a girl in purple. Throughout, an ensemble of seven friends meet, only to dissolve and reform in ever shifting configurations. There is a sense of shared experiences and hinted emotion that flow through the music and through Alston’s typically mercurial writing. He is less convincing when responding to the more rhythmically insistent sections of the score – but at best, the controlled legato and partnering control that Phil Sanger displays captures the quiet yearning of the music.
Ki, with choreography by Jose Agudo, is an altogether different sensory experience. The audience is complicit in the manner of Maurice Béjart’s Boléro. We discover Josh Wille, his back to the audience but evidently pleasuring himself. Exhausted and curious he starts to explore the world into which he stumbles. Agudo’s inspiration was the life of Genghis Khan, the prompt for much machismo posturing, but this could anybody’s journey. The way in which Wille articulates Agudo’s twitching, convulsive choreography suggests a rebel fighting against a hostile world, aggressive but vulnerable too. The intensity of choreography and performance alike make this a stimulating solo.
As provocative – and frustratingly ambiguous – is Tender Crazy Love, with choreography by Douglas Thorpe. Sandrine Monin and Phil Sanger are the couple that Thorpe painfully presents. Dressed for a party, Monin and Sanger appear as guests with a history, stranded with each other. Their inability to touch or capacity for intimacy degenerates into an aggressive bout of power play and control. We are voyeurs in an exhumation of the dynamics of passion that is worthy of Ibsen or Pinter. How Monin and especially Sanger articulate that is utterly chilling – and reason to cheer the expressive powers of dance.