Finding an identity and sticking with it has been a challenge for Leeds-based dance company Phoenix. Since it began 25 years ago, the inspiration of three talented school-leavers, it has risen from the ashes too many times to count. But for the past four years it has found stability, and success, under the astute directorship of Darshan Singh Bhuller, who has given the company's repertoire a political edge with works such as Eng-er-land, about Britain's drink culture, and Planted Seeds, on the Balkans conflict.
So it's odd that the touring programme Bhuller has assembled to mark Phoenix's quarter-century contains none of that newsy bite. Pave Up Paradise, an amusing duet for Adam and Eve by Ben Duke and Raquel Meseguer, touches on gender politics, but its theme is more an excuse for a loose-sprung romp than a study of guilt and blame.
Bhuller's own contribution, a solo, Laal, makes a claim for wider reference in drawing on associations with the colour red, "especially the idea of fear". For me, though, Kimball Wong's performance - superbly controlled, magnificently muscled - had no more significance than an extended gym-display, dramatically lit in scarlet. So it's left to two co-commissions with Sadler's Wells to supply the imaginative meat - but both misfire for different reasons.
Arthur Pita's Snow White in Black is a Gothic rewrite that homes in on the idea of unnatural motherhood. Miming to Faye Dunaway playing Joan Crawford in the film Mommie Dearest, Yann Seabra, in drag, is an inspired vision of female poison, while Tiia Ourila's mute acceptance of her mother's vileness makes Snow White a figure of pure pathos.
Pita's second clever idea is to put the grown-up Snow White on stilts, which gives her a damaged, gawky air, as well as making for poignant comedy when her own five Midwich Cuckoo children bundle her into her coffin. All this is brilliantly atmospheric, but every image is milked to a degree that leaves you wondering what something so static is doing in the hands of a dance company.
Javier de Frutos goes to the other extreme with Nopalitos, which contains a manic amount of balletic capering from performers dressed in wrestlers' masks. A major problem with masks is that they prohibit that vital spark of connection with the audience. Without it, dancers may as well not bother.
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