40 Years Phoenix Review

York Theatre Royal – 23 & 24 of November 2021

Reviewed by Sal E Marino


The stunning and heterogeneous choreography featured in 40 Years of Phoenix had one definitive universal element –  equality.  Some of the issues explored were: gender, power, racism, individual empowerment and interpersonal relationship dynamics.  Each dance commanded our attention to observe how we intersect with each other: as a tribe, family, broader society, with another individual or simply just as ourselves. Dane Hurst, Artistic Director, began researching the Phoenix dance archive during lockdown in order to put this spectacular programme of dance together.  He gave thanks to David Hamilton’s ‘genius’; who founded the Phoenix dance company back in November 1981.  

Signal’, choreographed by Henri Oguike, was danced to Japanese Taiko drumming and could not fail to immerse one totally into the rhythm and vibrations of the beat of the music and the movements of the dancers. As they shape-shifted into what felt like different states of consciousness, set to flames on stage, it was like a ritual or sacred ceremony was taking place and an honour to witness.   Primal, every arm and leg extension had power and purpose that was spellbinding and it felt as if the dancers were experiencing an awakening of some kind was taking place.  (Cast: Reynaldo Santos, Alabama Seymour, Natalie Alleston, Aaron Chaplin and Shawn Willis). 

Harmonica Breakdown’, a solo piece performed by the outstanding Yuma Sylla, who was taught this absolute masterpiece by Dr S. Ama Wray (Associate Professor of Dance at the University of California), represents the struggle of oppression. As Yuma falls to the floor but then realises her self worth, she stands and then struts with a brave defiance.   Yuma’s expressed opposition, which is aimed  towards her oppressor, who Wray confirms is the white middle-class man, is set in a time of turmoil in 1920s / 30s America.  A lot of ‘life’ is covered in such a short dance and throughout you feel the confusion, pain, moments of victory but also a sense of not knowing what to do next. 

Family’, choreographed by Joanie Smith and Danial Shapiro, embraces us into the comfort and discomfort of a family unit who share love, conflict, mischief and mayhem through their common bond. One can’t help but smile at the rough and tumble of child play and the continuous parental frustration of the never ending bickering.  ‘Family’ displays an incredible amount of skill by the dancers as they fall and envelope into one another, literally bouncing into each other’s arms. 

(cast: Reynaldo Santos, Alabama Seymour, Natalie Alleston, Aaron Chaplin, Mirabel Huang Smith, Matthew Topliss and Shawn Willis)

Both ‘Pave Up Paradise’ (choreographed by Ben Duke and Raquel Meseguer and performed by Shawn Willis and Natalie Alleston) and ‘Heart of Chaos’ (choreographed by Darshan Singh Bhuller with the cast: Reynaldo Santos, Alabama Seymour, Natalie Alleston, Aaron Chaplin, Alana Cowie, Mirabel Huang-Smith, Melina Sofocleous and Shawn Willis) highlight the dancers marked individual qualities along with their evident chemistry of partnering with the ability to showcase the best in one another.  We are taken on relationship journeys that test and try the characters  

Dance is one of,  if not the best way, to express and celebrate spiritual, cultural and individual human-rights regarding equality and 40 Years Phoenix showcases these issues with an intoxicating passion that touches you intensely and emotionally.  During and after the performance, you become even more aware of the body’s beauty and strength and a refreshed and newly respected regard for our physical embodiment is felt.  Seeing this once is not enough and it was a truly unforgettable performance for all the right reasons.