Review: Dance: Phoenix Dance Company Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

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The Independent Culture
The moment I set foot in the Queen Elizabeth Hall on Tuesday night I raised the average age of those present. This is not due to my approaching senility but to the simple fact that a large chunk of Phoenix's audience is still having its teeth straightened. The company's easy appeal to a new, young audience is a testament not only to its community education work but also to the easy attack and ready wit of its dancers. The company began as a small, all-male outfit in 1981. Since then it has grown to 15 dancers, has performed all over the world, including a visit to the Atlanta Olympics, and has attracted considerable business sponsorship. Anyone new to the company can glean many of these interesting facts from the six-point typography of the ornamental but virtually illegible programme.

Phoenix's abiding strength is that for all their polish and athleticism the dancers have an almost aristocratic ease of manner. Although the company's growth has been exemplary and its intentions are invariably excellent, its choice of repertoire does not always do its dancers justice and one sometimes yearns for the raw power and modest aims of the older five-man configuration.

White Picket Fence seeks to explore the darker side of life in middle America. The idea of scratching the slimy underbelly of American suburbia might have had some point when Doris Day was still up and running, but since those happy sugar-frosted days virtually everything from Peyton Place to Twin Peaks has established the white picket fence as shorthand for unspeakable goings-on. Darshan Singh Bhuller's piece is for six dancers and uses a mixture of Vivaldi Oboe Concerti and rap music. I dare say this juxtaposition is intended to symbolise the contradiction between the civilised veneer and the horror beneath but it sounded very contrived. Two couples frisk and scamper in a Tayloresque fashion on a stretch of astroturf and are joined periodically by two figures encased in wired, red nylon tubes. Behind them, four television screens show the eponymous fencing and various bits of wildlife like a bad day at the Radio Rentals showroom.

The second work is Pamela L Johnson's Eve's Reflection. A series of gauze curtains compartmentalise the space making the small stage appear larger and more interesting. One by one the muslin drapes are whisked aside, revealing different layers of reminiscence and fantasy in the mind of Chantal Donaldson's everywoman. The live accompaniment is a derivative but pleasant enough little fidget for three soprano saxophones by Jason Yarde.

The final piece is by former Alwin Nikolais performers Danial Shapiro and Joanie Smith and involves a game of musical doormats in which the dancers fight over small squares of patterned carpet. Dressed in Day-glo daywear, they fly through space, pirouette, balance and fall with commendable energy and elegance. Warren Adams, who has joined the company as part of their Apprentice Dancer Scheme, got to show off his ballon (many, many times). The choreographers claim to be "fascinated by metaphors of trust, loss and co-operation balanced with sarcasm and physicality" but this boils down to the dancers' squabbling over the available carpeting. The audience seemed to find this hysterical but then they're at a funny age.