Since becoming director of Phoenix Dance Theatre in 2009, Sharon Watson has been forging ahead by looking, in part, to the company’s back catalogue. Henri Oguike’s Signal, a blazing work from 2004, opens the current programme. Set to Japanese percussion and strings, it features five dancers in red against a red backdrop, with fires burning in ceremonial bowls. The opening solo splices hummingbird arms and stork-like struts into torqued geometrical patterns; a trio taps an undercurrent of eroticism in its stylised feline undulations; a group section is all territorial display and ritual combat. The mix of animal drive and formal rigour generates terrific tension.
The newer works begin with Catch by Ana Luján Sánchez, inspired by a René Magritte painting. In keeping with its surrealist source, there is much that is strangely recognisable (Magritte’s iconic bowler hat, music reminiscent of a Hitchcock film or a fairground waltz) and little that is understandable. Indeed, the whole trajectory – the dancers successively removing jacket, tie, shirt and trousers in a sequence of highly structured scenarios – feels like a game of charades that approaches, but never reaches, an answer. What a game, though: the dancers are excellent, and Sánchez has a great sense of both drama and design.
The promising opening of Kwesi Johnson’s Soundclash sees the four dancers shaped into odd clusters and strings in response to the blips and blasts of Luke Harney’s score. But the piece soon becomes more like watching a sound visualisation: you’re impressed, but you also zone out.
No such issue with Watson’s riveting Melt, to songs by indie band Wild Beasts. Full of vertiginous spirals, headlong tilts and precarious partnerings, the choreography sweeps the dancers both across the stage and up into the air, to soar and swing on ropes. Like the music, the dance seems to capture the impetuosness, intensity, innocence and aching beauty of youth itself, whether diving into freefall or taking off into flight.