Caroline Finn’s Bloom Impresses in Phoenix Dance Theatre’s Triple Bill

15/11/2015

 Various composers, Until. With/Out. Enough; TearFall; Bloom:  Phoenix Dance Theatre, Royal Opera House (Linbury Studio Theatre), London, 12.11.2015. (J.O’D)

Phoenix Dance - Bloom 07 PHOTO Brian Slater

Phoenix Dance Theatre’s Bloom (c) Brian Slater

Until. With/Out. Enough

Dancers  Natalie Alleston, Carmen Vazquez Marfil, Ben Mitchell, Sandrine Monin, Sam Vaherlehto, Vanessa Vince-Pang, Prentice Whitlow

Production:

Choreographer, Lighting and Costume Designer: Itzik Galili
Music: Henryk Mikolaj Górecki
Staging: Elisabeth Gibiat
Lighting Designer: Yaron Abulafia
Costume Designs and Realization: Bethany Holmes

TearFall

Dancers – Natalie Alleston, Carmen Vazquez Marfil, Marie-Astrid Mence, Ben Mitchell, Sandrine Monin, Sam Vaherlehto, Andreas Grimaldier, Vanessa Vince-Pang, Prentice Whitlow

Production:

Choreographer: Sharon Watson
Music: Kristian Steffes
Additional Music by Valgeir Sigurðsson
Lighting Designer and Scenographer: Yaron Abulafia
Costume Designer: Emma James
Costume Realization: Emma James and Bethany Holmes
Dramaturg: Lou Cope
Scientific Advisor: John Holman

Bloom

Dancers – Andreas Grimaldier, Carmen Vazquez Marfil, Ben Mitchell, Sandrine Monin, Sam Vaherlehto, Vanessa Vince-Pang, Prentice Whitlow

Production:

Choreographer and Design Concept:  Caroline Finn, Andreas Grimaldier
Music: Fanfare Ciocarlia, Ersatz Musica, Emilie Autumn, Adam Hurst, Beirut, Frank Bennett
Lighting Designer and Scenographer: Yaron Abulafia
Set Designer: James Renson-Smith
Costume Designs: Caroline Finn and Emma James
Costume Realization: Emma James and Bethany Holmes

Phoenix Dance Theatre comes to the Royal Opera House’s Linbury Studio Theatre for a fourth time, and opens its triple bill with a piece co-commissioned by The Royal Ballet. Originally created in 1997, the Dutch/Israeli choreographer Itzik Galili’s Until.With/Out. Enough has been reworked for seven dancers. With its frequent use of the deep plié, it is a piece that suits these strong dancers well. But it is a piece that, in its current form, goes on too long. What the programme inexplicably refers to as ‘immersive’ music by Henryk Górecki is filled out with solo after solo, duet after duet. However impressive these are as the bare-armed, bare-legged dancers perform them, the tension initially set up between the individual (Sandrine Monin) and the group wears thin. The end of the piece seems very far away from the beginning it refers to.

Funded by the Wellcome Trust, Sharon Watson’s TearFall comes with a feedback form on which you half expect to find spaces for student name, candidate number and examination centre. ‘Explain your answer,’ it says in a box below the multiple choice question: ‘Following the oral introduction to the science of tears, how well did the dance piece TearFall communicate the scientific concepts?’

My answer to that question would have to be ‘Not at all’. I enjoyed the oral introduction to the piece a lot. I learnt several interesting things about tears from it. It was flawlessly delivered, in a mellifluous voice and gleaming white underwear, by the dancer Prentice Whitlow. The choreography that follows, though, is very similar to that of Sharon Watson’s DNA-themed Repetition of Change (2012), performed by Phoenix Dance Theatre at the Linbury two years ago. Scientific concepts seem largely to be communicated by dancers bending forward on the spot, stretching out one arm, and spinning.

If in terms of its choreography TearFall has moments of clumsiness, in every other aspect it is clearer and sharper than Watson’s earlier work. Composer Kristian Steffes creates an evocative soundscape that includes rain and the repetition of excerpts from Prentice Whitlow’s introduction. Yaron Abulafia provides transparent balloons and a shower of blue lightbulbs. Emma Jones’s costumes are attractive and fresh, though I am not sure they convey what the feedback form calls the ‘transition from the science to the emotion of tears’. Unless underwear is science and pastel-coloured linen emotion.

The dancers become dancer-actors in what is the most disconcerting, but probably most fully realised, piece of the evening, Caroline Finn’s Bloom (2014). In a claustrophobic, black-curtained setting that could be an asylum all but one of them wear dark clothes and the white facepaint of the pierrot lunaire. The one who doesn’t is dressed in a jacket and trousers of brightly clashing checks, and a mask moulded to a stylised expression of infinite sadness, infinite perplexity.

Mocked by the others, upstaged by them in his attempts to sing at a microphone, dancer Sam Vaherlehto matches expressive movement in his shoulders and chest to the mask that covers his face. Carmen Vazquez Marfil extends her range in a spotlit pas seul to Emilie Autumn’s Miss Lucy Had Some Leeches. Prentice Whitlow looks at the audience as if checking the fit of his trousers behind in a mirror. All the dancers except Vaherlehto line up at the footlights, trying to wipe their face paint away. Described in the programme as ‘darkly comic’ (it is dark; it is comic), the piece ends with the masked man at the microphone at last, miming to Creep by Frank Bennett.

John O’Dwyer

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