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Phoenix Dance Theatre

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Title: Phoenix Dance Theatre  
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Subject: Garforth Arts Festival, Culture in West Yorkshire, Leeds
Collection: Companies Based in Leeds, Culture in West Yorkshire, Dance Companies in the United Kingdom
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Phoenix Dance Theatre

Headquarters of the Phoenix Dance Theatre, Quarry Hill, Leeds.

Phoenix Dance Theatre is a dance company based in Leeds, West Yorkshire, England, which has grown from small beginnings in inner-city Leeds to be one of Britain’s leading contemporary dance companies.[1] The company tours nationally and internationally.


  • Early history 1
  • Phoenix Dance Theatre 2
  • Sharon Watson 3
  • New Building 4
  • Current Repertoire 5
  • Dancers 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8

Early history

Phoenix Dance Company was formed in 1981 in the inner city Harehills area of Leeds by three young men - David Hamilton (Artistic Director), Donald Edwards and Vilmore James who had begun dancing at Harehills Middle School. They were taught there by Nadine Senior,[2] who went on to be the first principal of Northern School of Contemporary Dance. By the summer of 1982 Phoenix had acquired two other dancers, Merville Jones and Edward Lynch, both members of Harehills Youth Dance Theatre in Leeds, and in 1985 the company moved to its first permanent base in Chapeltown.

In 1987 David Hamilton left the company to pursue a solo career, and in July Neville Campbell joined Phoenix as Artistic Director. This appointment marked a major expansion of the company and its repertoire. In the same year Phoenix moved out of Chapeltown and established a permanent base at Yorkshire Dance in Leeds city centre. Under Campbell’s direction, the company employed female dancers for the first time and increased to a company of ten. In 1990 Phoenix won the Grand Prize at the International Choreographic Competition in Bagnolet for Aletta Collins' piece Gang of Five and was nominated for the Lawrence Olivier Award for the Most Outstanding Achievement of the Year in Dance.

Under Artistic Director Margaret Morris, who joined the company in 1991 Phoenix became established on the UK touring circuit and performed internationally particularly in the USA. Highlights in the company’s performing history during this time include the 1996 Cultural Olympiad in Atlanta,[3] where Phoenix were the sole representative of British dance and the following year, when the company was commissioned to perform at the opening of the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Edinburgh.

Following Margaret Morris' departure in 1997, Artistic Director Thea Nerissa Barnes led the company until 2000. In July 1998 Phoenix was commissioned by the BBC to perform with Roni Size at the Windrush Gala concert which was broadcast nationally.[4]

Phoenix Dance Theatre

Darshan Singh Bhuller was appointed as Artistic Director in 2002 and oversaw a complete rebranding of the company, changing the name to Phoenix Dance Theatre. During his tenure as Artistic Director from 2002 to 2006 Phoenix also began performing in predominantly large scale venues.

He was succeeded as Artistic Director by Javier de Frutos during whose tenure Phoenix won the ‘Company Prize for Outstanding Repertoire (Modern)’ in the Critics’ Circle National Dance Awards, 2006.[5] In 2007 the company was invited to perform at the 5th International Festival of Contemporary Dance - La Biennale di Venezia, closing the festival with the final performance.[6]

Sharon Watson

Sharon Watson became the 7th Artistic Director of Phoenix Dance Theatre in May 2009 continuing a relationship with the company that stretches over 20 years. She first joined Phoenix as a dancer under the stage name Chantal Donaldson from 1989 to 1997,[7] during which time she choreographed the pieces Shaded Limits and Never Still for the company.

She returned to Phoenix in 2000 as Rehearsal and Tour Director following which she embarked upon a fellowship with the Clore Leadership Programme[8] whilst continuing her freelance work mentoring emerging artists, lecturing in vocational dance schools and delivering bespoke training programmes.[9]

In 2008 Sharon was one of 26 aspiring leaders from around the globe selected to attend Dance East’s fourth Rural Retreat, an intensive four day think-tank exploring the challenges of the role of Artistic Directors in the 21st century.[10] Prior to taking up post at Phoenix she also spent eight months as Director of Learning and Access at Northern Ballet Theatre.[11]

In 2010 she was named as one of the Cultural Leadership Programme’s Women to Watch, a list of 50 influential women working in arts and culture in the UK selected by a distinguished panel made up of figures from the cultural and creative industries.[12]

New Building

In autumn 2010 Phoenix moved from its home of over 20 years at Yorkshire Dance into a purpose-built dance centre in the centre of Leeds alongside Northern Ballet Theatre. It is the largest space for dance outside of London and is the only space for dance to house a national classical and a national contemporary dance company alongside each another.[13]

Current Repertoire

Reflected Programme Spring 2011

  • Switch - Choreographer Richard Wherlock
  • What It Is - Choreographer Philip Taylor
  • Pave Up Paradise - Choreographer Lost Dog
  • Melt - Choreographer Sharon Watson

Declarations Programme Autumn 2010

  • The Audacious One - Choreographer Warren Adams
  • Locked In Vertical - Choreographer Isira Makuloluwe
  • Haunted Passages - Choreographer Philip Taylor
  • Maybe Yes Maybe, Maybe No Maybe - Choreographer Aletta Collins

Leeds in Barcelona Spring 2010[14]

  • Never 2 Still - Choreographer Sharon Watson

Ignite Programme Autumn 2009 / Spring 2010[15]

  • 1976 - Choreographer Alesandra Seutin
  • Beast - Choreographer Douglas Thorpe
  • Class - Choreographer Darshan Singh Bhuller
  • Fast Lane - Choreographer Sharon Watson


  • Azzurra Ardovini
  • Antonio Borriello
  • Glenn Graham
  • Sandrine Monin
  • Phil Sanger
  • Jitka Tůmová
  • Vanessa Vince-Pang (Junior Dancer)
  • Josh Willw
  • Emma Moran (Apprentice Dancer)
  • Naomi Keighley (Apprentice Dancer)[16]


  1. ^ "Phoenix Dance Theatre". Arts Council. Retrieved 2010-03-26. 
  2. ^ [1]
  3. ^ Dunning, Jennifer (1996-07-29). "OLYMPIC ARTS REVIEW/Dance - Energy to Try Just About Anything - Review". Retrieved 2010-03-22. 
  4. ^ "Entertainment | Stars mark Windrush anniversary". BBC News. 1998-07-22. Retrieved 2010-03-22. 
  5. ^ "National Dance Awards Critics' Circle". 2007-01-25. Retrieved 2010-03-22. 
  6. ^ "La Biennale di Venezia - 2005-2007". Retrieved 2010-03-26. 
  7. ^ Ferguson, Stephanie (1996-10-16). "DANCE Phoenix Dance Company West Yorkshire Playhouse - Arts & Entertainment". London: The Independent. Retrieved 2010-03-26. 
  8. ^
  9. ^ "The National Voice For Dance". Dance UK. Retrieved 2010-03-26. 
  10. ^ "Rural Retreats" (PDF). Retrieved 2010-03-26. 
  11. ^ "NBT's Director of Learning & Access takes on new role as Artistic Director of Phoenix Dance Theatre". Building Momentum. Retrieved 2010-03-26. 
  12. ^ "Women to watch:Sharon Watson". Retrieved 2010-03-22. 
  13. ^ "Building Momentum". Building Momentum. Retrieved 2010-03-26. 
  14. ^ "Leeds in Barcelona". Leeds in Barcelona. Retrieved 2010-03-26. 
  15. ^ "What's On Diary". Theatre Royal Wakefield. Retrieved 2010-03-26. 
  16. ^ "Phoenix Dance Theatre". Phoenix Dance Theatre. Retrieved 2012-10-22. 

External links

  • Phoenix Dance Theatre website
  • Phoenix Dance Theatre YouTube channel
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