Mixed Bill 2014 – Phoenix Dance Theatre: Linbury Theatre Studio, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, 26 November 2014

Hmm, mixed indeed

Behind you! Phoenix dancers get themselves screened at the airport for Drashan Singh Bhuller's 'Mapping'

Phoenix dancers find the new security measures at Heathrow unexpectedly intrusive. Picture from Drashan Singh Bhuller’s ‘Mapping’

Three sets of choreographers found their way onto Phoenix Dance Theatre’s new mixed bill: Christopher Bruce, Ivgi & Greben and Darshan Singh Bhuller. Not all of them produced work of merit.

Christopher Bruce had two short pieces presented. 2007’s Shift is a whirl of movement for six dancers that’s fluid, fast and peppered with classical extensions and arabesques. It’s highly complex and flits across the eyes prettily but doesn’t linger long in the memory. Bruce’s vintage costumes are interesting in that they immediately provoke thoughts that a narrative will ensue, but one never does.

Shadows was receiving its London premiere. There’s definitely a narrative hovering around the disintegrating family on stage although what it may be isn’t clear. The mother and father are remote to their children and the son appears to be suffering some kind of trauma as he cowers behind a table as though fearing being shot at. The way the family coldly unites at the end is no consolation at all but fits in with the austere nature of the piece. This is one of those works that doesn’t really sink in until quite some time after you’ve watched it, and that’s no bad thing.

Ivgi & Greben’s Document is a bad thing. Set in a post-apocalyptic world of moth-eaten t-shirts and angsty people shaking their fists at the sky, it was redolent of a dance student’s first attempt at choreography. The zombied dancers threw themselves to the floor a lot, enjoyed staring furiously into the middle distance and watching their hands swirl around in front of their face as though that were the most interesting thing in the world. There were some quite neat interlocking sequences and an interesting duet for Sam Vaherlehto and Andreas Grimaldier but Phoenix’s excellent dancers deserve better than this.

Last up was Darshan Singh Bhuller’s Mapping. Despite not making any sense at all, the movement was so thoughtful, diverse and in tune with the new age mysticism of the music that it really didn’t matter. The opening solo for Ben Mitchell was lovely, full of poise and strength, and consequent athletic group scenes flitted in and out of unison to great effect.

A hand-held camera was employed which came across as gimmicky for the most part but the final section where the dancers were filmed from the roof of the stage while lying flat (which meant that on the onstage screen they looked like they were standing up) was funny, clever and brilliantly realised – the ‘floating’ yogi was my favourite bit.

Mapping aside, it was a shame that the repertoire was generally disappointing because the dancers looked really sharp. It would be great to see them expressing themselves in work of more depth and scope.

Phoenix’s Mixed Bill runs at the Linbury until 29 November 2014. For tickets see the Royal Opera House website.

Gerard Davis

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