Founded by three black British men in 1981, Phoenix Dance Theatre is the UK’s longest standing contemporary dance company outside London. This week, they bring a dance double-bill of ‘The Rite of Spring’ & ‘Left Unseen’ to the capital’s Peacock Theatre.
For his first work created in the UK, Jeanguy Saintus re-envisions The Rite of Spring, moving away from the original themes of pagan sacrifice and instead focusing on the rituals and ceremonies practised in the Haitian Vodou religion. Meanwhile, Left Unseen explores inclusion and isolation and how we rely on our five senses to find our place and navigate the world.
Dancer Carlos Martinez caught up with Secret London’s Ollie Cole to chat about the production, bringing it to the city and dancing through life…
Take me through these two pieces and how you see them…
The Rite of Spring has been choreographed by Jeanguy Saintus. It’s a reworked version, and he wanted to bring his Haitian culture to the piece. It’s a version that explores the concept of community, and allows him to bring his story here from the Caribbean.
Amaury Lebrun is the choreographer behind Left Unseen, and he was very clear with what he wanted. There’s great clarity of movement and interaction with the sounds, and the message of the piece. It looks at what happens when we lose ourselves and our place in a chaotic world. We get to explore our emotional states, and how our bodies react when we need to trust in someone else. For me, the piece really does represent who Amaury is as a choreographer – the quality, and the honesty.
What do the pieces mean to you?
As a Caribbean practitioner, to perform this version of The Rite of Spring in the UK means so much to me. The fact that I can represent my country and share my culture with different people makes me so grateful.
I get the chance to give audiences the opportunity to explore a different way of life, a different culture, and an environment of community and trust. The piece, with what Jeanguy has done, it’s just magical.
What impact do you think dances like this can have on audiences?
With any piece of dance, our bodies are making a statement. In a way, our bodies are a political force these days and contemporary movement brings contrast to, and shines a light on, the emotions and stories of today.
For example, productions like our recent one about the story of Windrush, which was shown on BBC Four earlier this year, help to focus the narrative back on real people, and remind audiences that these are real stories from real families. These aren’t just one-day stories in the newspapers.
It’s important that these stories have a legacy, and dance can help people connect with them. It ensures that these stories stay around. It also allows people from different communities and backgrounds to connect with contemporary dance and to connect with their history.
Take me through your life in dance, from competing to appearing in these more theatrical productions…
I started dancing on the streets of Cuba, dancing for money for cookies basically. In that time, my parents couldn’t afford to even give me a pack of cookies, and that was my way of getting money for snacks and treats. Eventually, I was able to start practising ballet, which wasn’t easy because I had to hide from my Dad. Now, my Dad loves supporting me and my work, he’s my biggest fan.
I did my studies for five years in my hometown, and when I turned 15 the Cuban National Ballet School in Havana was interested in me, so I spent another 3 years over there away from my family. It was a very big sacrifice for my parents to send me because of the economic situation in the area. But I finished my studies and was sent to the national dance company, where I started to work and compete.
After that, I felt it was the right moment to try something outside of Cuba and away from what I’ve known. The UK was the perfect place, and fortunately, companies were interested in me, so I joined Phoenix Dance in November 2016.
It’s quite different here, but we’re a company with a lot of different backgrounds and influences so it’s great that we can represent dance from everywhere. I love being a part of that.
Bringing this double bill to the capital must be a good feeling too…
Bringing these pieces to London is so special and so exciting. We’re the oldest contemporary dance company outside of London, and we have a multicultural cast, so it’s important we bring our performances to as many people as possible.
I love going to London, the first thing I do is get in touch with my Cuban friends, reminisce about home, and catch up with what everyone’s doing now. It’s a huge city, so I love to walk around with friends and see new places and explore new parts of the capital. It’s a city bursting with opportunity.
What advice would you give to aspiring dancers who want to be where you are?
Train hard, believe in yourself and never give up. Every day is a chance to learn, so have faith in your growth. It’s a hard career but there’s so much beauty and power in it.
Finally, in one sentence, why should people come and see the double bill?
It’s exciting, it’s impactful, and… it’s dance, so it’s great!
Words by Ollie Cole
See Phoenix Dance Theatre perform The Rite of Spring / Left Unseen at The Peacock on 27 & 28 June. Tickets here.
Also published on Medium.