Irony, Fear, Grief and Joy in Phoenix Dance Theatre’s Programme

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Various composers, Mixed Programme 2014, Phoenix Dance Theatre, Royal Opera House (Linbury Studio Theatre), London, 26.11.2014 (J.O’D)

Phoenix Dance Theatre.  Works by Ivgi & Greben, Darshan Singh Bhuller and Didy Veldman. Photograohed at West London Playhouse. Picture shows: Mapping by Darshan Singh Bhuller.
Phoenix Dance Theatre.
Works by Ivgi & Greben, Darshan Singh Bhuller and Didy Veldman. Photographed at West London Playhouse. Picture shows: Mapping by Darshan Singh Bhuller.


Dancers: Andreas Grimaldier, Sandrine Monin, Sam Vaherlehto, Carmen Vazquez Marfil, Vanessa Vince Pang, Andrew Peasgood
Choreography: Christopher Bruce
Music: Kenji Bunch
Lighting Design: John B Read


Dancers: Vanessa Vince Pang, Andreas Grimaldier, Sam Vaherlehto, Sandrine Monin
Choreography: Christopher Bruce
Music: Arvo Pärt
Lighting Design: John B Read
Dancers: Sandrine Monin, Andreas Grimaldier, Carmen Vazquez Marfil, Sam Vaherlehto, Vanessa Vince Pang
Choreography: Ivgi & Greben
Music: Tom Parkinson
Lighting Design and Staging: Yaron Abulafia



Dancers: Andreas Grimaldier, Sandrine Monin, Sam Vaherlehto, Prentice Whitlow, Ben Mitchell,Carmen Vazquez Marfil, Vanessa Vince Pang, Alice Shepherdson
Choreography: Darshan Singh Bhuller
Music: Warren Cuccurullo with Shankar and Kaki Kin, Ahanu Tibetan Singing Bowls
Lighting Design: Darshan Singh Bhuller and John Slater


The dancers of the Leeds-based Phoenix Dance Theatre return to the Linbury without the musicians who accompanied them last year, but with increased assurance. Four works make up their mixed programme; two of them are light in tone, two dark. The evening begins with irony, proceeds through fear and grief, and ends on a note of contagious joy.

In the eight-minute long calling card that is Shift (2007), by Christopher Bruce, six dancers dance their automatic, factory movement to the ‘mechanical drive’ of a score by Kenji Bunch. The women wear scarves tied, 1940s fashion, around their heads. The men wear checked shirts and jeans. As a dancer himself in the 1960s, Christopher Bruce was described as ‘lean and lithe, quick-moving and accurate’. Speed and accuracy are what he asks of his dancers here, both on the production line and, it would seem, in the palais de danse afterwards. Andreas Grimaldier, no longer a ‘junior’ dancer of the company, is as lean and lithe perhaps as the choreographer himself, when young. Sandrine Monin shows from the start a definite way of placing her arms in the air, so that you notice her arms.

Having danced their work and their leisure, four of the dancers then go on to dance their apprehension. Shadows (2014, also by Bruce) begins with a brief flickering that disturbs four members of a family who sit, as if at dinner, around a table on which there is no food. Their rigid postures, and the closed suitcases on the floor in the background, show them to be people sur le qui-vive. As if all the tension has lodged there, the back of each dancer often remains rigid as he or she performs a solo (to music by Arvo Pärt). Vanessa Vince Pang and Sam Vaherlehto, both of whom had looked uncomfortable in Shift, now begin to make their mark on the evening: she the daughter with quaking arms and legs; he the father who tries to reassure his son (Grimaldier), who desperately turns the table into a barricade. At the end, the mother (Monin), with calm decisiveness, helps the others into their coats and hats (which are in the style of the 1930s). Suitcases in hand, all four stand looking at the audience. Are we on their ‘side’? Are we the people causing them to flee?

The darkness of Document (2013) is more contemporary. In a work created on Phoenix Dance Theatre by the Israeli-Dutch choreographic duo, Ivgi & Greben, the dancers wear mud-coloured leggings and tops, lightly ripped. Standing in a group of five at the far end of a vertical strip of white flooring, they sway, first of all as individuals, then in unison. Their heads are bowed. When they begin to move it is in a slack-kneed, head-bowed shuffle. Were it not for the slackness they would resemble the workers clocking in for their shift in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.

Tom Parkinson’s music keeps up a machine-like rhythm as the dancers’ movements become more expansive. Yet each one moves, for the most part, in isolation. Sometimes they form repeated, freeze-frame tableaux. The emotion they share most strongly is the above-mentioned grief. It starts with one of the dancers (Carmen Vazquez Marfil) slowly opening her mouth as if to let out a silent howl. As the other dancers gather around her, their own mouths open in the same way. They have become the people in newspaper photographs and television footage, helplessly grieving after a bomb has killed one of their relatives. The three women in the piece then lie as if they have been killed. The two men perform an emotionless duet, notable for the way in which they more than once lift and position each other’s head. The piece ends abruptly, almost in the middle of a downstage shuffle by one of the dancers. The audience had greeted the Christopher Bruce pieces with loud applause. Now they began to cheer.

And then the joy. Mapping (2014), the first work created on the company by Darshan Singh Bhuller since he gave up the post of its Artistic Director in 2006, puts eight dancers under a clear, bright light; it dresses them in loose trousers and long-sleeved, wrap-around tops made of what looks like unbleached cotton; it gives them movement which all eight seem to find ‘grateful’. In its balances, its extended arms, and the ample space it gives the dancers, it is movement that may owe something to Richard Alston (Singh Bhuller has also been Assistant Director to the Richard Alston Dance Company). Sam Vaherlehto is supple and bright-eyed, Carmen Vazquez Marfil and Andreas Grimaldier sensuous in a duet. Nothing is cramped in this ebullient reflection on Singh Bhuller’s own father’s journey from east to west. Though simplistic at times (the repeated running in wide circles with vertically rotating arms), the piece is complex in its use of (mobile phone) technology. The eight dancers become sixteen; the ‘play off’ between the live and the recorded is dizzying. The man beside me sat forward in his seat. The people in the row behind were laughing with delight. The piece ends with a sudden shower of tennis balls. This could be a reference to the single tennis ball that bounced on to the stage at the end of Nijinsky’s Jeux in 1913, alerting the three dancers of that ballet to the presence and possibilities of a fourth person. Vaherlehto’s seen but unheard exclamation of ‘Wow!’, into the camera as he reaches the top of a stepladder in the backdrop film, had certainly suggested the discovery of a brave new world.

John O’Dwyer

Leave a Comment