Windrush – Review – York Theatre Royal
By Ela Portnoy, November 2018
Phoenix Dance Theatre’s latest tour is made up of three very different pieces of choreography: Aletta Collins’ ‘Maybe Yes Maybe, Maybe No Maybe’ plays with street dance, rhythm and accent, Christopher Bruce’s ‘Shadows’ explores family dynamics in 20th century Europe, and Sharon Watson’s ‘Windrush’ tells the story of Jamaican immigration to Britain after WWII.
The overall programme was, in a word, fine. But in the mind of this critic, Christopher Bruce’s ‘Shadows’ ran circles around the other pieces in quality of choreography. His ability to sculpt the human body into expressions of ideas is just remarkable. I remember a certain moment in which Vanessa Vince-Pang was bent over, running frantically mid-jump. She had a series of actions that formed such a perfect image of desperation that I was shivering in my seat. Nothing else in the programme came quite close to Vanessa’s performance of that solo section. She had a beautiful way of shaping and accenting the movements so as to bring out real shades of meaning and narrative. She was simply entrancing to watch.
“Attention to detail”
I was also struck by the expressiveness of Kennedy Junior Muntanga, who I later learned was an understudy taken out of school to join Phoenix’s tour. Not only did this dancer’s movements seem effortless, there was also a joy about his execution, and a freshness that made his every action just flow and flourish. I was impressed by his connection with Sandrine Monin in their duet in ‘Windrush’ and would have liked to see him featured more in the programme.
Apart from Vanessa Vince-Pang and Kennedy Junior Muntanga, I thought the ensemble was generally very good. The amount of attention to detail is commendable, particularly in ‘Maybe Yes Maybe, Maybe No Maybe’ which had some stunning moments of unison work and coordination in the group’s shape around the stage.
Disappointingly, I wasn’t moved by the centrepiece, ‘Windrush’. I also thought the soundtrack was very awkwardly put together, which is a shame as it was clear that a lot of effort had gone into creating it. I thought the textures and layers of sound sometimes jarred against one another, and in a couple of sequences I found it difficult to concentrate on the dance because too much was going on in the soundtrack. There was an interesting poem used at the beginning – ‘You Called And We Came’ by Laura Serrant – that was played very loudly and read in a very sombre way over a song that was calm and happy, and if I remember correctly, the dancing was influenced by salsa moves, so the dissonance in tone felt very unnatural.
Whilst there was a general idea passing through ‘Windrush’, the individual sequences did not fit together as a storyline, so it felt more like vignettes of a life. They were relatively interesting to watch, but I didn’t feel that I learnt anything about characters or experiences, except in the relationship between Vanessa Vince-Pang and Prentice Whitlow’s couple, which was nicely played out.
I did enjoy the show, and I thought it had an interesting and eclectic mix of dances. But the effect that ‘Shadows’ had on me, and particularly Vanessa Vince-Pang’s performance, put those two elements on a different level to the rest of the programme.
images: Brian Slater