The Phantom with Phoenix & Fontaine

2014/09/01 Posted by MsAJL

Andrea James Lui with Phoenix Kazree at West Australian Pole Camp

WA Pole Camp with Phoenix Kazree

I’ve just emerged from a bit of a pole dance rut… I spent April & May teaching nearly everyday all over the Greater Toronto Area in Ontario and it was just as Fontaine had said: leaving very little time for my own training. I became so invested in my students that their success became my primary source of joy!

So when US Pole Champion, Phoenix Kazree, was touring Toronto with The Lion King, I leapt at the chance to train with her – an hour per week for four weeks. I had taken her Signature Tricks workshop at West Australian Pole Camp and found her to be, not only an amazingly majestic dancer (Hello, Alvin Ailey!) but she was an extremely clear and concise instructor.

Fontaine had given me the idea for a really twisted and disturbing Phantom of The Opera inspired routine that I was preparing for Encore! Sydney Pole Show and Victorian Pole Championships, so with Phoenix’s musical theatre background, these sessions were the perfect opportunity to develop it. Our training started off with a bang as I eagerly devoured every trick and combo she threw at me – our first session yielded this fast spinning combo and high hopes of amazing things to come…

I wasn’t sure if we’d actually work on choreography together or just brainstorm some new tricks and combos, but when Phoenix showed up with all these amazing movement ideas for a creepy little doll, we were cooking! By the end of our time in Toronto together, we had an entire routine – only 2.5 minutes, but chock full of dynamic tricks and contorted creepy doll movement.

After flying back to Australia, I had three weeks to master our routine – experimenting with intentionally ugly flexed feet and hunched back… not to mention a slew of new tricks. And I remember asking Phoenix: what’s the biggest challenge when she choreographs for her clients? She said something along the lines of learning to communicate with somebody else’s movement vocabulary. I can imagine that everyone in their dreams moves like Phoenix Kazree, but in reality, even the seemingly simplest thing she does is wrought with years of dance training. It takes an incredibly beautiful dancer to dance an ugly character, so for my untrained self, it is challenge enough just to point my toes and straighten my legs.

I felt pretty married to our routine and loathed to change anything we’d created together – I really wanted to make Phoenix proud and do our work justice… but my attempts at ugliness for this creepy doll were a decade or two shy of looking intentional. So in the end, any flexed feet or hunched backs in these performances are entirely my own personal brand of ugly. But the changes didn’t stop there… During my jet lagged return to Oz, I felt as if I’d gained about 20 pounds on the plane ride and realized the poles were about two feet shorter than we’d planned – like looking in a cruel funhouse mirror. I immediately had to rework two of our taller combos to fit, but remained hopeful as I sorted out this more manageable split and shorter drop.

When Amy Hazel says, “That was awesome”, it gives you the confidence to keep trucking along. So I continued to rework, rearrange, and replace elements of the routine. Undeniably, I passed through times of despair and hopelessness, questioning my value, and lying uselessly on the floor like a log.

But about a week before Encore!, I’d finally worked out a manageable version of the routine and showed it to Fontaine – I remember her response like she knows who I am: she said, “I don’t want to tell you to start over again (*she did*)… but you might want to strip it down and put it together again.”

She pointed out that because the routine was absolutely non-stop motion (which is divinely signature Phoenix Kazree flow), there wasn’t a single trick that stood out and Fontaine didn’t once see my face. Considering that the single-most common response to my Rising Stars Flash Gordon routine was, “Oh my God, your face, hahahahaha!”, we took this to be a betrayal of what has become my theatrical style.

After the panic of one week to show subsided, I embraced Fontaine’s feedback with the relief of permission to do what had been lingering in the back of my mind anyway – I did indeed strip my routine and reassemble it with more space to breathe… and manifest some creepy doll-ishness!

I’ve got bootlegs and official videos from both Encore! and VPC, but because the spinning poles were pretty stiff at both shows, this view from the Pole Cleaner on the side is my favourite :)

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