A venue as small as the Barron was not an obvious choice for a dance show. In spite of spatial limits, The Phrase was a thoroughly enjoyable On The Rocks performance with ambitious choreography and talented dancers, even if some floor routines were occasionally difficult to see.
The Phrase was made up of several original dances in a variety of styles. Each piece was a phrase that stands on its own, and the pieces came together to create a whole. Relationships were the central theme on which The Phrase was based, and it was an interesting springboard idea. It is a wide theme that begs to be approached from multiple angles, it is emotionally potent, and it encourages careful thought into the interactions between the dancers. The Phrase’s success came from the way it ticked all three of those boxes with grace and coordination.
One of the show’s merits was its representation of a broad range of different aspects of relationships. Starting with a charming dance entitled ‘Strangers in the Park’, the routines that followed were varied in concept and in style. Courtney Hays’ choreography in ‘Bittersweet’ was ambitious and skilfully executed (how can anyone kick their leg that high?!), although I would have liked to see more direct interaction between the dancers to reflect an unstable relationship. ‘Those Three Words…’ was fast and sassy. Under atmospheric red lights, the dancers performed a perfectly synchronised tap routine which accentuated the beat of the music.
My personal highlight was the first dance of three based on the phrase ‘I’m fine’, and the only one-person section. It formed a counter-reaction to Rachael Hastie’s hip hop choreography to Matrix & Futurebound’s ‘Happy Alone’ which was bursting with attitude. If this represented the tough front that we sometimes put on, ‘I’m fine’ showed the difficult reality beneath the surface. Selina Lau’s solo routine revealed an inner turmoil. What was immediately striking was the absence of a full musical soundtrack; she danced to just a poem with some subtle piano music underneath. The poem was a touching internal monologue which matched Lau’s expressive dancing.
Whilst momentum was built up throughout the first act, the pace of the second act was more calm. The dances focussed on the rebuilding of the self after love is lost; a theme that ‘Fine Without You’ approached particularly well. This piece was complemented by musical accompaniment with Austin Scheerer on guitar and Courtney Hays on vocals, whilst three cheerful girls performed a playful routine, their bright shorts matching their sunny outlook. The dancers were upright, arms extended upwards, showing renewed confidence in single life. ‘Foundations’ and ‘I’m fine, Part Three’ had great synergy. The first was filled with outstretched arms and holding of hands as symbols of friendship. The second was danced with passion, beginning and ending with particular poignancy, as the pair stood in a single spotlight that literally highlighted the relationship between the two.
The relationships between the dancers was further reinforced by costumes, which were carefully coordinated and reflected each piece’s prevalent mood. ‘I’m Fine, Part Three’s seated dancers proved that graceful laziness is indeed possible, and their grey outfits emphasised the characters’ lethargy. ‘Hunt’ stepped up the pace for the final number and the dancers strutted and seduced in tight black dresses.
Variety was a somewhat mixed blessing for the show. By being divided into phrases, the performance was engaging and lively, and the transitions between each section did not bother me as the odd video filled the pauses and they also allowed each group a round of applause. However, music transitions were not always smooth as songs had been edited to fit a certain stage time, causing a few abrupt stops and starts.
Overall, The Phrase was an impressive showcase of fantastic dancing and choreography in a coherent narrative that left me in admiration of the talent of everyone involved.