Dance enthusiasts had good reason to be enthusiastic
Saturday night when the Phoenix Dance Company of Leeds, England, splendidly opened Dance on the Edge at the Series' new home theater at Towson State University's Stephens Hall.
In its first U.S. tour, Phoenix showed itself to be a company of extraordinary talent that held the celebrity-sprinkled audience captive for all four works on the well-conceived program. Under the touring artistic direction of American-born choreographer Tom Jobe, the company provided an evening of dances that offered outstanding intellectual, artistic and emotional interest.
The company of five men and five women showed evidence of classical training but they are not classically restrained. With quicksilver moves they surged through the choreography with an integrity to the movement that was impressive and satisfying.
The strongest work on a program of strong dances was Phillip Taylor's "Sacred Space," done to music by Arvo Part. Mr. Taylor's work has no narrative, yet within its framework characters are established and glimpses of the performers' souls are revealed.
It is work that is visually compelling, with the nine dancers clustered tightly together as if each one could support a neighbor, or spread apart like islands in the
space. Mr. Taylor wonderfully mixes movement metaphors -- elements of religious rites and theater games are welded so the work becomes densely layered with levels of meaning and the movements are so closely attached to the music that they become an inspiring visual extension of the score.
"Subject of the City," choreographed by company member Pamela Johnson, opened the evening. "City," an abstract work, took its movement clues from architecture as four dancers continuously connected themselves in a variety of ways. As the dance progressed, the movements cleverly and subtly changed from impersonal combinations to more human attachments.
Next, Mr. Jobe's rousing and delightfully costumed "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues" gave a wonderful glimpse of Western sensibilities with all the wackiness of a cartoon. Well-staged in several sections to the country music of k.d. laing and the Recliners, the five dancers were able to get to the guts of a character with just a well-placed stance. Humorous, nostalgic and as much fun as a hoedown on Saturday night, "Cowgirls" hog-tied the blues away.
Jobe's other choreographic offering was "Tainted Love," a well-conceived work that was centered around AIDS. This work, with its clever costumes, superior dancing and obvious message of "Take Care," closed the evening with a flourish.