It's not at all clear what was going through the collective mind of the creative team behind Phoenix Dance Theatre's new show 'Cattle Call', if anything at all, but from our perspective, here in TheLab™, somebody, somewhere is making a very big mistake.
The main problem, although there are many with this show, is that it makes no sense. If it made some sense then at the very least that would something, but it doesn't.
From the staging and design we can at least determine that this work has something to with show business and auditions. 'Cattle Call' as a whole however has no idea what it actually is!
Is it a dance piece? Is it a musical? Is it a plane? No, it's a non stop conveyor belt of nothing at all. This work is the equivalent of a BMW 3 Series. It's just "15 feet of car", devoid of character, substance, grace or the faintest modicum of a point!
The music and sound effects are loud and obnoxious (a repeating gunshot being the main culprit) and the dancers are required to continuously move the set around throughout the entire show. Shifting chairs, doors, make-up tables and cages around is fine once but after the fifteenth time all your looking for is the exit.
As a musical it falls flat on its face because the songs, crafted by Richard Thomas who was partly responsible for 'Jerry Springer The Opera', are witless and forgettable. The choreography, such as it is, is more often than not hidden behind the overbearing set design so the poor audience can't actually see what's going on. Not that the dancers can move anyway because the bloody set is in the way!
Interspersed with the dance making are frequent bouts of faux violence, disturbingly aimed toward a pregnant woman. These sequences appear to be there to shock but they smack of little more than a desperate attempt to get some attention.
Adding insult to injury is the ridiculous curtain call procedure when this entire mess finally grinds to a halt. The dancers, obviously under instruction, are required to come out all together and then one at a time (a procedure that takes many minutes to complete) to receive the strained adulation of a distinctly unimpressed audience.
We don't normally go after an individual piece of work like this. If we don't like it then OK, we move on and forget about it. But 'Cattle Call' signals a very strange and problematic shift in direction for one of the UK's best known dance companies.
The key phrase here is "dance company". Let us not take dance making down the route of dance film by making "what is a dance piece?" into an idiotic semantic argument. Phoenix don't have the resources to do musicals and 'Cattle Call' is nothing more than a cheap, a very cheap, musical.
It's not that dance companies cannot take on this type of dance theatre because Vincent Dance Theatre, with 'Punchdrunk", covered a similar theme with consummate ease.
We are reminded of Richard Alston's tenure at Rambert, many years ago, when he drove that well established company into a wall at very high speed and was sacked for his efforts. Javier de Frutos (Phoenix's current AD) should take care that he does not suffer the same fate.
Mercifully, Phoenix have numerous other works, actual pieces of choreography, touring alongside 'Cattle Call' which are worth watching.
This musical mess of fractured ideas and half baked social commentary should be cast back into the trash can it was so obviously pulled from.