Arts: On a wing and a prayer: PHOENIX DANCE QUEEN ELIZABETH HALL LONDON

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The Independent Culture
IT COULD have been worse. Instead of sitting in the audience, I might have been one of the eight dancers wrenching my limbs into incoherent angles and spraying exhausted sweat with every pirouette. Or I might have been the soprano Eileen Hunter, standing at the back of the stage and adding irritating screeches to Tim Fleming's pretentiously grandiose music. I might even have been one of the bouncy beach balls that "symbolise passing energy and signify camaraderie between dancers" or an elastic ribbon "symbolising connection to their individual histories". Worst of all, I might have been the American choreographer, Dwight Rhoden, whose second piece this is for the all-black, Leeds-based Phoenix Dance.

PeregriNations is an unforgettable experience of epic length, ambition and twaddle. The programme declares it to be inspired by the dancers' experiences of living in Yorkshire, but that becomes lost in the rambling chaos, absurdly significant props and grating movement. PeregriNations does no favours to British black dance or to Phoenix's attractive and gifted dancers.

Yet the first half of the programme, consisting of three duets, had been so much more encouraging. Admittedly, the middle one, The Last Word, was an irritant, choreographed by the company's director, Thea Nerissa Barnes. She offers up a tedious couple squabbling far too long around and on a poncey stool that wheels about the stage. But Jonzi D's two girls in Us Must Trust Us are deftly and realistically drawn, part of his didactic agenda in presenting aspects of black society through gesture, dance and rap. What starts on a jolly note, with best friends swapping intimacies and jokes, and feeling enough trust to catch each other as they fall, darkens into suspicion and recrimination. One girl, who, it emerges, is pregnant by her friend's brother and wants an abortion, has burdened her friend with this confidence. Conflicting loyalties and anger now rips this friendship apart.

Cornered, by Andile Sotiya (a company member) and Warren Adams (a former member) is the evening's simplest piece, and perhaps because of that, the most satisfying. The macho physiques of the performers, Gee Goodison and Hugh Davis, set us an intriguing contrast with their lithe, coiled grace and the sweetly soft music of the first section. I was gripped by the astonishing interplay of holds and smooth gymnastic movement. One man is lifted overhead by the other in a frozen running pose, or sits on the other's hands as he might in an airborne armchair. Yet the effect is never just empty dazzle. Cornered is a portrait of trust and togetherness as potent as Jonzi D's Us Must Trust Us, and with the added virtue of concision. This is the image of Phoenix that I hope will dominate its future.

Nadine Meisner

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