When Phoenix set up in back in 1981 they were a unique force in British contemporary dance. For a start they were all male, in a world where male dancers are still an endangered species. But most striking of all, they were from inner-city Leeds and black. Stereotypes being what they are, most people expected these young, black city-dwellers to take to the stage spinning on their heads to a hip-hop beat. Instead they turned their bodies to an energising brand of classic ‘white man’s’ chdreography and effectively shifted public perception of what ‘black dance’ is all about.
How over ten years later the company is much changed. They’re still all- black - and lighting proudly for the profile of black dance in the UK - but they now have girls on board, and have even replaced their original artistic director, fleville Campbell, with a female artistic director, Maggie Morris. As tough and sassy-looking as ever, the unisex 905 Phoenix has grown to middle-scale, spread its wings to work with more international choreographers, and even under Morris begun to nurture the dancemaking talents within its own ranks.
0f the three pieces the company are bringing when they return to Scotland this year, one is a favourite rep piece, Haunted Passage by Philip Taylor
Phoenlx Dance Company: young, black and lifted
(1989), Movements is the result of a collaboration between Maggie Morris and assistant artistic director, Cary Lambert, and llever Still is the second piece for the company by resident dancer Chantal Davidson.
‘Where are our young black choreographers going to come from,’ asks Morris, ‘unless we support and develop those who’re interested? lt’s vital that these are the dancers who’re fighting the stereotypes, choreographically as well as socially.’ (Ellie Carr)
Phoenix Dance Company, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, Wed 20 Sept, 7.30pm.
Crime and banishn
Aboglnal sinner: Our Country‘s ood is set In Australia‘s earliest penal colony
The current debate about crime prevention has been veering dangerously close to the hanging’s- too-good-foh’em line. A forthcoming production at Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum takes a fresh approach: get ’em on stage and they’ll soon see the error of their ways.
The play in question is Tlmberlake Wertenbaker’s Dur Country’s Good. Based on Thomas Keneally’s novel The Plunder and set In 1789, it follows
the fortunes of the first shipload of convicts to arrive in Australia. At the suggestion of a benevolent governor, they stage a production of George Farquhar’s play The Recruiting Officer. llone of them can read, and one faces the threat of hanging, yet the governor hopes that acting will encourage them to turn away from crime.
For these first Australian colonials, the toughest punishment was exile itself. ‘There was an extrordinary
, sense of isolation,’ says the play’s
director Caroline Hall. ‘Most convicts had never travelled more than ten miles from their birthplace. To be shut up in a prison ship for eight months, to emerge in a different land - the equivalent experience for us would be to be sent to the moon.’
Casting Our Country’s Good has been a three-handed affair, also involving fellow guest director Cerard Murphy and artistic director llenny Ireland. An ensemble of fifteen actors will play all the roles in this season’s productions — more than 50 characters in total - so every actor had to be approved by all three directors. Hall feels this intensive way of working will bond the company together, carrying the benefit through to the other plays.
She is unabashed about her enthusiasm for Our Country’s Good. ‘It’s a play about different kinds of power,’ she says. ‘The power of words, of the human spirit and of theatre.’ Keep your eye on those crime figures. (Catriona Smith)
Our Country's Good, Royal Lyceum
Theatre, Edinburgh, Fri 15 Sept-Sat 7 Oct.
Seen at Royal Lyceum Thea/re. Edinburgh. AI (litre/13' Thea/re. Gluxgmr until 23 Sept.
Spain in the 16th century. and the prevailing ethos - embodied in the ageing King Philip H and the calculating Grand Inquisitor — is ‘better the corruption of the body than this freedom ofthe mind‘. Philip‘s son Carlos. who stands to inherit an empire in decline. is far too ‘rash and arrogant' to win his father‘s blessing as heir. To be fair. he’s notably lacking in the stability one might hope for in a monarch. Then there‘s the fact that he‘s in love with his stepmother Queen Elizabeth.
Friedrich Schiller‘s historical tragedy is a sprawling. complex play. which carries echoes of both Hum/er and ()I/It’f/(I. and exposes the dessicating effects of kingship and of selfish love; but has at its heart Schillch favourite theme: the freedom of speech and
’."W)"z":;" )r .. thought The ht lc third lLl is t ikcu u; , “mm, by u gm“. “Inga” mm.
with a frank discussion on the subject between the despotic yet sensitive King and the Marquis of l’osa. the Prince‘s loyal friend and ‘a citizen of times to come‘.
The only character in modern dress. Posa stands out as the mouthpiece of liberal reason in director/designer Philip Prowse's otherwise austere. classical production. played on a starkly beautiful laquered black and
Honourably cunning: Andrew Woodall (left) with Benedick Bates in Don Carlos
The colloquialisms of Robctt David MacDonald‘s translation sit less comfortably with the stiffly period- dresscd characters. but its ﬂashes of poignant poetry and humour are not
i among whom Giles llavergal's frail.
earnest King. Murray Melvin's clfm. conniving (‘onfessor and Sophie Ward's radiant lili/abeth are outstanding.
At 200 minutes. Dun (Ur/us is
something of a marathon, but l’i'tiyy'se
and MacDonald have rendered
3 demanding tnaterial accessible and
gold set. It's an obvious device, but one
which works well. largely dtte to Andrew Woodall's confidence in a role that encompasses both cunning and
entertaining, without in any way undermining its seriousness. As the West's cultural and economic empire
crumbles Schiller offers a vision of
repression as relevant today as it was in I787. (Andrew Burnet)
FISH HEADS AND TALES
Seen at Theatre Workshop, Edinburgh. At Coftier Theatre, Glasgow until 9 Sept, Men touring. Jacques Brel has long been a hip name to drop as an artistic influence, and his songs are transformed into a visual feast in this treatment by the inventive Theatre du Pit. Some of Brel’s best known works, including ‘Amsterdam’ and ‘Jackie’, are used as an inspirational launchpad for a series of witty sketches which primarily use physical comedy rather than script. There are moving moments too, particularly in the tale of a young girl who tells her story as she is painstakingly eased into a strait- jacket. The three Hong Kong actresses who perform the bulk of the work are a delight, with Theatre du Pif’s co- founder Bonni Chan in particular showing off a graceful dexterity. Though no Scott Walker, Sean Curran’s renditions of the songs, accompanied by Yngvil Vatten, are powerfully evocative in tone. His Scots accent is kept firmly intact, coming on at times like The Proclaimers doing Brel, which works a whole lot better than you might think. The true Brel aficionado might well prefer the songs to stand alone, without the fuss of illustration, but this figurative, impressionistic and delicate work is a feat of the imagination which leaps to life in all its vivid colours. (lleil Cooper)
DEE— EBB TIDE
Citzens’ Theatre, Glasgow, until 23 September.
Published in the year of his death, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Ebb Tide extends the dual psychological forces of Jekyll and llyde to an unholy trinity of bounty hunters adrift on the South Seas with a holdful of stolen champagne. Herrick, a self-loathing Oxford graduate, tries to chart a level course and keep a level head while Huish, a self-seeking Cockney rabble- rouser, drinks his way through the cargo. Both are presided over by the reprobate captain, an old sea dog who’s had his day, played by Patrick llannaway somewhere between Sierra Madre Walter Huston and the Tasmanian Devil as he spits and spills his liquor all over the deck.
Enter Demant, despotic ruler of an island where the vulgar boatmen land, a grey eminence in a white suit who declaims his philosophy like an Old Testament prophet and whose pearls of wisdom tempt the trio towards their nemesis. The play never escapes the moorings of Stevenson’s original: in the novel, character and theme are all; in a small theatre, they carry little momentum and the dramatic elements fail to coalesce. The result is a vague condensation with the darkness in the protagonists’ hearts roughly sketched, and we are left to steer our way uneasily through the unfathomable flotsam. (David Harris)
52 The List 8-2] Sept 1995