Phoenix Dance Theatre is ‘25 years young’, as a filmed documentary shown halfway through last Thursday’s performance reminded us. The notion of youth is a relative one, particularly in the performing-arts world, where a quarter of a century is often regarded as a respectable old age, synonymous with a well-established reputation, a sound history and, arguably, a string of successes. Indeed, 25 years down the line, Phoenix remains a vibrant dance company that thrives on the collaboration with cutting-edge performance-makers. I was not surprised, therefore, to attend a programme, intriguingly entitled Stories in Red, that encompassed a wide variety of styles, techniques and forms; after all, artistic eclecticism has long been one of the company’s distinctive traits.
The new programme, which is already on tour, kicks off with Arthur Pita’s Snow White in Black a theatre-dance work revolving around a post-modern reading of the old fairy tale. The influence of Matthew Bourne, with whom Pita has worked, is detectable in the intertextual approach to the storyline. In the opening sequence, the tormented relationship between the evil queen and the young princess is thus a parallel to that seen in the movie Mommie Dearest, which illustrated Joan Crawford’s somewhat distorted and disturbed understanding of what it means to be a mother. Yann Seabra, in his drag rendition of Faye Dunaway’s interpretation of Joan Crawford, immediately captivated the audience by moving neurotically to a number of lines taken from the movie. Despite being intentionally camp and over the top, his rendition of Crawford never slips into predictable or cheap antics; behind the humorous caricature of this impossible mother lurks an unsettling, dark archetype we all try to exorcise through laughter. Next to him Tia Ourila is a Snow White who suddenly grows into an equally unsettling giant female figure thanks to the clever use of sticks.