DANCE Phoenix Dance Company West Yorkshire Playhouse

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The Independent Culture
Perhaps he's had a whiff of insecticide too many, but choreographer Darshan Singh Bhuller conjures up some strange creepy-crawlies on the neat green baize lawns of mid-America in his new work for Phoenix, White Picket Fence (which has been specially made for their 15th-anniversary tour).

Peeping out and eventually emerging from wiggly red tube cocoons, the undulating duo, Ricardo G Goodison and Jeannette Brooks, give us a quirky caterpillar's eye view of what's going on behind the fences in those all-American, apple-pie homes.

This is a new departure for Bhuller, who was once a member of London Contemporary Dance Theatre and is now with Richard Alston. The piece has a surreal, dream-like feel, combining some wonderful, free-wheeling dance and sinuous gyrations with fun. The emerald green Astroturf set, designed by Liverpool artist Graham Dean, features a phalanx of TV screens running images of the titular fences, birds on twigs, rain, and the whole thing is set to Vivaldi oboe concerti and a sound collage of birdsong, running water, barking dogs and nocturnal noises.

Inspired by trips to the US with his American wife, Bhuller lifts the lid on superficial domestic bliss with two couples, one living in harmony, the other in discord. Red skirts flurry across the green set. The Allegro movements are thrilling, the duels full of carefully thought-out yet exhilarating action, slickly handled by the dancers Chantal Donaldson, Booker T Louis, and Dawn and Ricky Holgate.

But an extra dose of organic lawn food should go to the perceptive and engaging critters. Goodison, the jibey, rapping caterpillar, and Brooks, his rippling mate, both show the poise and control a praying mantis might envy. Their sinuous duet hugged the stage with acrobatic entwinings and daring horizontal balances, hip on hip.

This tour is the swansong for artistic director Maggie Morris who has gently guided Phoenix into the big time over the past six years. Assistant Thea Barnes is poised in the wings and it looks as if this aptly named company will rise again, renewed for the next millennium.

Morris has always served up triple bills like well-planned meals. This time there's a sharp starter, a rich and dreamy centre and a fruity dessert, packed with fizz and zest.

The second new piece, Pamela L Johnson's Eve's Reflection, was more of a light but elegant lunch, but was beautifully lit, danced behind gauzy curtains and, with costumes in shades of chocolate, coffee and cream, it looked delicious. Inspired by Rodin, it's set to In Her Own Time, a vibrant score full of counterpoints and twists for three soprano saxophones from composer Jason Yarde.

Eve, a kind of Everywoman, looks back over her life, past loves, joys and sorrows. Johnson seems to set her on a pedestal, aloof, like a high priestess. Chantal Donaldson, who gives the role an imperious, powerful quality, creates a woman at one with herself, matured through her experiences.

Borne aloft above an assemblage of fellow dancers like an icon at a feast, her feet rarely touch the ground as she uses bodies as human stepping stones. She's lifted, stretched and carried around like something precious, at one point straddling her bearers like a Colossus. Action is broken up around the draped stage as if looking into boxes where the past is unfolding with different couplings and a lyrical trio. Johnson sculpts bodies and creates wonderful shapes, especially for Melanie Teall's solo with fluid, arching arms. Overall, the piece is a tranquil evocation of feminine reflection that works well with the haunting sax score.

The dancers flicked up a gear for Covering Ground, Shapiro and Smith's fast, funny game of musical mats, with its Opal Fruit costumes and dashing leaps showing their athleticism in full flight. There was fabulous confrontational strutting from Stephen Derrick, king of the carpet, and an amusing stepping- stones passage from Chantal Donaldson and Jeannette Brooks.

The company are dancing with polish and assurance. Let's hope the Phoenix doesn't get its wings clipped to suit corporate tastes. The dancers' raw energy has always been what makes them special. They have led the way for black British dance and now they need more daring, risk-taking, innovative works to keep our adrenalin flowing

Further performances 21-23 Nov, Theatre Royal, York (01904 623568)