Last night I was lucky enough to see the opening night of Declarations, Phoenix Dance Theatre’s Autumn Tour. I should say here in the interests of transparency that I didn’t pay for my tickets, but got them as a little perk of my day job. However, the tickets for this tour are just £12.50/£10 concessions, and I can say without doubt that I would have been more than happy to pay that for this unpredictable, energetic and moving showcase in a delightfully intimate studio theatre.
The dancers were – to me – outstanding, although I don’t pretend to be any kind of expert. I feel sure that someone trained in dance would spot errors that I would never notice, but if they were there they didn’t affect my enjoyment in the slightest. Two dancers in particular stood out for me. One was the rather enigmatic but extremely lithe Ryu Suzuki and the other was Azzurra Ardovini, whose intense, mischievous energy shone through even in the quieter, more controlled movements.
The four pieces performed each had their own distinct moods and personalities. The opener, Warren Adams’ The Auduacious One, is the showy, energetic number that pushes all the right topical buttons. There’s almost too much to see – as seven dancers whirl about the stage, whoever you watch, you feel as though you’re missing something elsewhere.
The second piece, Locked In Vertical by Isira Makuloluwe, is dark, slick and moody. The musical accompaniment by Francois Caffenne is grungy and incredibly atmospheric. As it pulses, scrapes and rings, the dancers seem to be slaves, moving against their will into ever more coiled and fluid forms.
Haunted Passages by Philip Taylor was devised in 1985, andPhoenix first performed it in 1989. One might expect a piece that’s almost 30 years old to feel dated and irrelevant, but to me it was the most memorable piece. Ardovini stole the show here with her precise, expressive movements. The three dancers creep through a world of shadows and ghosts, suspended between asleep and awake.
The big finish was original, quirky and fun. Aletta Collins’ Maybe Yes Maybe Maybe No Maybe features five dancers and one microphone, using the dancers’ voices to create the electronic soundtrack. Playful and witty, it was a lovely lighthearted way to end the showcase.
Perhaps because Declarations is so accessible price wise, and has such a strong local identity, the audience was very young. Many seemed to be dance students; there was an unusually high incidence of teenage girls with exceptionally good posture and disarmingly voluminous hair. Their reactions seemed generally good, although I didn’t get the feeling that the first piece impressed many.
What I personally loved about the evening wasn’t the politics, or the meaning behind the different pieces. If they were posing important questions or presenting desperate dilemmas, I would honestly have to say that they passed me by. But I loved the fact that seven bodies on a stage held my complete attention for almost two hours, and, more than that, they made me feel something special. There was a mixture of awe, hope and – I’ll admit it – jealousy! It lifted my spirits, and I left feeling introspective and peaceful. And isn’t that a nice way to feel?