Linbury Studio Theatre, Royal Opera House, London, UK; November 19, 2013

Jessica Wilson

Josh Wille in 'Ki'. Photo © Brian Slater

Josh Wille in ‘Ki’.
Photo © Brian Slater

Phoenix’s programme at the Linbury Theatre got off to a sedate start with Richard Alston’s “All Alight”. An incredibly lyrical piece featuring seven dancers, it is devoted to his trademark grace and contemporary-classical movement vocabulary, even if it is slightly predictable. “All Alight” is Alston’s first work for Phoenix, surprising perhaps given that he has been one of British mainstream contemporary dance’s most influential choreographers for several decades. The dancers embodied his very specific style with ease, showing natural strength and grace.

The work is consistent and clean; full of jetés and rond de jambs en l’airs. Alston’s work is always enjoyable to watch and easy on the eye, but the piece remained just that, despite the strength and power of the dancers, particularly the men. Only Vanessa Vince-Pang managed to inject any kind of life or intention into the movement, with her slick and smooth lines conveying solid technique and a comfort with the style. Despite the welcome excitement she brought, there was nothing particularly challenging within the work, for the dancers or the audience, although it is arguable that this is a welcome change to so much contemporary dance today seeming to border on the hysterical or slightly mad.

“Ki” by Jose Agudo is a complete contrast. Josh Wille demonstrated an entirely different quality with the initially minimalist, brooding movement. The work was further distanced from “All Alight” by the close relationship with the floor. Strong and muscular, Wille appeared to be fighting something both internal and external in an intense battle with himself. The dance grew and became powerful as the stage was eaten up by continuous turns and leaps. Huge control was evident throughout the now ferocious solo, in which the unknown became a little terrifying. The music and movement seemed to respond to each other, the whole making for a piece that was both dramatic and demonstrative, and that showed the versatility and adaptability of Phoenix’s dancers to tackle very different work with ease.

Douglas Thorpe’s duet, “Tender Crazy Love”, was disappointing. Whilst the programme notes suggested the piece would be both desperate and intense in its passion, what was presented fell short of this and felt forced. The emotion behind the movement was unconvincing, making the dancers appear unnatural. The supposed desire and violence which was supposed to both draw the couple together and threaten to tear them apart was a little clichéd in its approach. The expected ‘catching of breath’ did not occur as the all too stereotypical piece fell a little flat. It did have much potential to become grittier and less staged, but never achieved it. Although the dancers performed the movement itself well, as a whole the piece did not present them well.

Sandrine Monin in 'Repetition of Change'. Photo © Brian Slater

Sandrine Monin in ‘Repetition of Change’.
Photo © Brian Slater

The final work could not have been more different, as Artistic Director Sharon Watson’s “Repetition of Change” showed the dancers’ facility and ability to intend and succeed. Watson chose to concentrate on the intricate world of DNA, using a specially commissioned score, impulsive movement and complex choreography. The work was the most challenging of the evening, and therefore the most rewarding piece to the eye, evoking many questions. Kenneth Hesketh’s score is complex and makes for uneasy listening, although it does suit the mostly scientific approach to the subject matter.

The twists and turns made by the dancers throughout the piece dedicated themselves to the double helix of our DNA, and their strength was demonstrated again as they portrayed animalistic qualities and secure holds and balances. The intention of the dancers was generally clear, although at times it seemed that a more emotive response had generated the movement, and these sections significantly altered the piece’s message, some parts feeling irrelevant and unnecessary to the general direction the piece seemed to be aiming for. Generic Greek-style tunics suitably displayed the intricate movement, although I couldn’t help feeling that the lighting did not do them justice immediately. Still, their swirl and stretch was emphasised by the movement, and vice versa, and the change in lighting from a snow-storm effect helped greatly. All told, though, “Repetition for Change” brought the programme to a unifying end, and showed the excellent dancers to the best.