Phoenix: The Spirit Never Dies

Presented by the Chinese Performing Arts Platform
Directed by Fenfen Huang
Unity Theatre, 26th May 2006

Reviewed by Mark Langshaw

Much like the mythical phoenix, the Chinese Performing Arts Platform is looking to shed their old self and soar to new heights. To accomplish this they have embraced both traditional and contemporary Chinese music and dance, allowing practitioners to interpret their work in a modern perspective. Calling upon artists from a variety of different backgrounds, Phoenix is essentially a work of cooperative creation, assimilation and accommodation.

Given the strong Chinese contingent in Liverpool it was no surprise to see a capacity crowd at this event, but it was refreshing to see such a diverse mix of ages and ethnicities in attendance.

Over the course of two hours, the audience was treated to an eclectic mix of music and dance, ranging from traditional Chinese to mainstream contemporary. Mournful piano scores and silhouettes provided an apt backing to opening piece ‘The Spirit of Peacock’, a beautifully choreographed piece oozing aesthetic femininity. This was followed by ‘Point of Synthesis’, a multicultural piece paying homage to martial arts and the Spanish folk art of flamenco. A guitarist who looked like he would have been more at home accompanying Ozzy Osborne blended into the bizarre amalgamation seamlessly.

The dancers themselves were of varying ages and levels of experience. Unfortunately for some of them, their lack of experience showed. They lacked coordination and fell out of sync with the others from time to time.

A solo performance from Clive Newton was one of the evening’s highlights. His gentle acoustic numbers were soothing and almost subliminally touching, accessible to all despite being sung in Mandarin. At times he upped the pace, veering towards 1950s-esque rock n roll.

After the interval they pulled out all the stops. ‘The Elements’ was a choreographic comparison of Chinese and modern dance, and a celebration of Liverpool’s twin city status with Beijing. ‘Butterfly’ was backed by John Williams’ Oscar-winning score from ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’, and featured a dexterous solo piece portraying the life cycle of the butterfly.

The final piece - ‘Foreigners!?’ - was the most eclectic of them all. Drawing its influences from martial arts, African, hip hop and Latin American sources, this dance was a representation of self-discovery in a foreign environment. Although some of the pieces seemed slightly incongruous, there was no denying the overall feeling of cross-cultural unity on show in this piece and the show as a whole. It was pleasing to see performing arts with such universal appeal, undoubtedly what this whole Capital of Culture thing should be all about.

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