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Dane Hurst has started his academic direction of Phoenix Dance Theatre with a bang. The company shares the stage with Opera North in a double bill celebrating Bernstein's music in the 1950s. The opera, Trouble in Haiti, a satire on the American dream, takes the first half of the bill. The second half starts with a mixed performance of spoken poetry represented by all the Phoenix dancers in Dane's choreography. Then follows his choreography to a suite made up of Bernstein's music for the West Side Story musical, albeit generic, divorced from the specific dramatic structure of the musical. The publicity beforehand promised mambos, waltzes and cha-chas but my overall impression was of visceral contemporary dance, some of it not that different from Robbins's own choreography for the musical and for the ballet that Robbins later composed for NYCB of dances from the musical. There was a mixture of relationships, some angry and conflictual ; Hurst says he was influenced by the tensions in his native South Africa. There are also varied emotional and sexual relationships but, like the musical, the dance culminates in a final climax of murder. There is clever use of scenery which the dancers frequently move round, often climbing up it or hiding behind it, reminding one of some of the scenes in the musical, indeed much of what takes place reminded me of the musical, whilst being entirely original. The dancers are excellent, dynamic and musical, helped by the stunning playing of the Opera North orchestra which brings out all the colours and rhythms of Bernstein's score. Altogether a wonderful start to Dane Hurst's directorship. There are 10 more performances altogether. It can be seen at Leeds (the Grand), Newcastle Theatre Royal, The Lowry, Salford, Nottingham Theatre Royal. In addition Phoenix Dance Theatre have an interesting mixed bill touring and a gala in December celebrating their 40th birthday.
A cold and rainy Sunday, time to come back to a performance of John Neumeier’s Bernstein Dances with Hamburg Ballet in Baden-Baden on 7 October. Without being a biography of Leonard Bernstein, Bernstein Dances uses key musical pieces to guide through and illustrate 8 themes that Neumeier identified in Bernstein’s life and thinking - to quote from the programme booklet, of Bernstein’s “spirit”. Overture (Overture from Candide) Prologue – Who am I? (extracts from Peter Pan et al.) Start and Departure (Facsimile. Choreographic Essay for Orchestra) The city of all cities (extracts from Wonderful Town/ On the Town) Spirituality (extracts from Mass/ Broadway for Peace) Success (extracts from West Side Story) Time lapse (Overture from Candide) Review (extracts from Wonderful Town) In the Evening and through the Night (Serenade et al.) – this features a party at an apartment in NY Neumeier calls it “a loose sequence of compositions and choreographies”, and the themes flow from one to the next. The parts that I enjoyed most were the interaction on stage between dancers (Christopher Evans as Bernstein) and pianist (Sebastian Knauer) respectively dancers and singers (Marie-Sophie Pollak and Roy Goldman). Plus recognising Age of Anxiety (it’s not listed in the booklet but I recognised a theme from it, unless this theme is also used in other compositions) and Serenade, and thinking about how Neumeier’s choreography compared to Scarlett’s and Wheeldon’s works for the Royal Ballet. Very beautiful, flowing, elegant, timeless costumes by Giorgio Armani. Finally, I just loved the curtain calls, choreographed to Candide’s Overture. Trailer on the company’s YouTube channel https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NOhT1Rahtls.