Choreography by Richard Wherlock / Philip Taylor / Ben Duke and Raquel Meseguer / Sharon Watson
Phoenix Dance Theatre
Northern Stage, Newcastle

What It Is production photo

The last time I saw Phoenix Dance Theatre was back in 2008 when they brought the then artistic director Javier de Frutos' Cattle Call, a full-length piece, to Northern Stage. The following year Sharon Watson took over and re-introduced mixed programmes of short pieces by a variety of choreographers. This is what their spring 2011 tour, Reflected, provides: four very different works.

The evening opens with Switch by Ballett Basel artistic director and choreographer Richard Wherlock: six dancers in changing combinations, continual motion, suffused with eroticism, recurring animalistic motifs, a unique gestural language - quite breath-taking 23 intense minutes.

A much-needed interval (for the dancers and audience!) is followed by Philip Taylor's What It Is, danced to two tracks by Amy Winehouse. On a stage lit (by Michael Mannion) in quarters or smaller rectangles of deep colour, the relationship between three people - Amanda Lewis, Phil Sanger and Ryu Suzuki - is played out in all its anguish and intensity, reflecting Winehouse's deeply emotional voice with its overtones of Billie Holliday and Edith Piaf. The pain is palpable. At times the movement is slowed to a trembling slo-mo, sometimes bathed in deep purple. If Switch was physically demanding, What It Is makes equal demands on the emotions.

It was an excellent idea, therefore, to follow it with Pave Up Paradise by Lost Dog (Ben Duke and Raquel Meseguer). Taking its title - I assume - from Joni Mitchell's Big Yellow Taxi ("They paved paradise / Put up a parking lot"), this is a light-hearted and very witty take on the Garden of Eden, the fall of man and, in particular, the way in which, in the Biblical story, Adam blames Eve for his breaking of God's instructions about "the fruit of the tree in the midst of the garden".

Danced, by Azzurra Ardovini and Ryu Suzuki to live nusic performed by Alessandro Lima and using some text, it is consistently amusing and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny.

A second interval leads to artistic director Sharon Watson's new work, Melt. All six dancers (Talitha Luke-Eardley and Josef Perou rejoining the other four), dressed in white against a white backdrop, mix contemporary choreography with aerial work, adding a new dimension and dynamic.

I confess to a slight antipathy to aerial work. Too often it seems to be used for its own sake, to be a kind of "look what we can do!" circus import, but here there is nothing flashy, nothing "show off", nothing separated from the rest of the piece. The two strands are perfectly integrated and the dance flows seemlessly from the floor into the aerial space and back again. And it was greeted with huge enthusiasm by the audience.

Reviewer: Peter Lathan

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