It’s not often that you step out of your comfort zone and experience new things but last night I went to see some contemporary dance, an art form that I know absolutely nothing about and have never experienced previously. I went to see Phoenix Dance performing at the West Yorkshire Playhouse.
It turned out that there would be three distinct pieces / performances – See Blue Through, Document and Mapping, each performance lasted around 30 minutes with Document and Mapping being new works. For me I’m glad that the pieces were performed in this order as See Blue Through didn’t create as much of an impression on me as the other two pieces which were spellbinding.
The Dancers were simply astonishing and I’ve never seen anything like it, the movements throughout the night were mesmerising, a combination of athleticism, gymnastics, ballet, grace, fluidity, angles, robotics, flight, martial arts and puppetry all combining in a dizzying array of combinations with dancers moving around, over, under and sometimes almost through each other. To an untrained eye such as mine it was sometimes difficult to know who to watch or what to follow and I actually found my eyes hurting as I tried to take in so many intricate movements.
After the strange, stretchy undersea world of See Through Blue the atmosphere and style changed dramatically as we moved into Document which was stark, dark, visceral and intense. The stage had been reduced to a relatively thin grey strip from which the 5 dancers didn’t stray as they battled and grappled back and forwards within the confines of this area (quite how they didn’t crash into each other was a mystery to me). This piece was really intense and seemed to be at times (perhaps because of the grey strip on which they were performing) almost a visual dance interpretation of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road mixed in with a depiction of war or even the Holocaust. Despite the fact that I was just sitting watching I felt quite breathless when it had finished such was the tension that had been created.
I was glad that Document was sandwiched between the other two pieces and Mapping was a fantastic playful performance that was both serious and humorous. The dance depicted the journey from East to West taken by many immigrants and the difficulty of finding yourself in a new country not understanding the language or culture. One of the dancers within this piece had a tiny hand held video camera that he used to film parts of the performance as he danced. These video clips were then looped up on a slight delay onto a screen behind the dancers. This creating a real visual contrast as you watched the dancers while at the same time the video glimpsed being actually in the dance. At one point in the performance the dancers placed some tape onto the stage, signifying I think both the journey across from East to West but also the lines on maps that outline borders. Then came a truly amazing section, the dancers laid down and the tape became a new ‘floor’ and when watching from the seats the dancers began to wriggle and roll around. However as they did this there was a camera in the roof looking down and filming them which again was played up onto the big screen, translating these wriggles and rolls into beautifully inventive dancing, movement and somersaults. It’s a hard thing to describe but it was clever, witty and brilliant to watch.
I’m not sure I’ve done any of this justice but I was so glad that I took the plunge and went to see something that I have no experience of, opened my mind and let it be dazzled by what I saw. Before I went in I’d joked that this was not exactly going to be like a Shellac gig but actually I ended up thinking there were in fact quite a lot of similarities: originality, intense, challenging, angular, muscular, humorous and above all memorable.