Robert Cohan, grandfather of British modern dance, turns 80 this week, and it's partly to celebrate his long life and influence that Phoenix have revived his 1977 work Forest. In a world where contemporary normally means new, the notion that a dance that was new a quarter of a century ago might have gained an interesting patina doesn't generally figure in dance directors' planning. It was personal memory that drew Phoenix's Darshan Singh Bhuller to Forest, but it was also a hunch that this feral, eerily beautiful and technically challenging work would look good on his revamped company. A few years ago Phoenix wouldn't have been up to it.
Tie-dye unitards and a score constructed from the sounds of wind and birds whisk us back to a gentler age of abstract movement. With neither pulse nor melody to cue them in, the dancers' rhythmic precision is remarkable as they bound across the stage like startled deer, or skitter in leafy spirals. At some unknown signal half a dozen heads turn, attuned to the instinct of the herd. A woman repeatedly hops up to perch on her partner's shoulder like a bird to a branch, yet such feats are so insouciantly done, they are almost thrown away.
There is more deliberation in Didy Veldman's 2001 See Blue Through (pictured), a piece made when Veldman was pregnant. Inspired by the goings-on in her womb and their resemblance to marine life, the piece offers a somewhat soporific view of foetal experience. Dim-lit figures wave their limbs and a man coils blindly inside a woman's stretch jersey, or dangles at the limit of an unfeasibly long sleeve, pressed into poetic service as umbilical cord. I'm not sure that Schnittke's violin concerto was the music to match these antics, but if only for showing us 101 ways with a jumper, the piece is ingenious.
Bhuller provided the finale. Eng-er-land is an entirely non-censorious satire on Friday-night binge culture, enjoyable mainly for its inventive kinetic scenery by KMA. A cartoon bathroom flips onto the back wall, followed by a street of curry houses, followed by a row of beer pumps, each of which dispenses a cascade of virtual liquid into the mouths of the dancers. The virtuosity is in the interface of digital and human imagery, some of it comic, all of it clever. The question is whether pissing and puking in public deserves such a smiling rebuke. I would rather Bhuller had shown some teeth.
The prospect of an evening of fairy stories wasn't enthralling, but that was before I knew about Maresa von Stockert, whose More Grim[m] Desires is a touring version of the site-specific show that was last year's hit at Wapping Hydraulic Power Station. The first thing to know about Stockert is that she's not afraid of narrative: in fact, she likes it so much that she runs an amusingly deadpan text over great chunks of her choreography, sometimes scrambling ahead of the action, sometimes dragging behind. I began making sense of an overhead view of a refectory table and a line of squabbling heads and breakfast plates long before the narrator came to the seven dwarfs.
As well as looking at things from odd angles, another of Stockert's quirks is to bleed stories into one another, as if each were a chapter in a family saga. So Rapunzel gives birth to Snow White and Snow White gets married to Bluebeard. The fun is to guess what the next link will be. She also loves props, and uses them to propel the characters physically. In Rapunzel, women with thigh-length tresses sit plaiting them with their toes in great swiping scissor-motions. In Cinderella, the prince drapes himself in swaying garlands of shoes, linked toe to heel. But the very best thing about Stockert's take on fairy tales is the way she renders them newly intriguing without distorting a detail in the telling.
Phoenix: Cliffs Pavilion, Southend (01702 787 787) Wed; and touring. More Grim[m] Tales: touring to 28 MayReuse content