Phoenix Dance Company was formed in 1981 by David Hamilton (Artistic Director), Donald Edwards and Vilmore James, three young men who had their enthusiasm for dance sparked by the tuition they received in school, particularly from teachers John Auty at Intake High School and Nadine Senior at Harehills Middle School who went on to found Northern School of Contemporary Dance, and following her retirement in 2001, was Chair of Phoenix’s Board of Trustees for six years.
Initially, the three members of Phoenix performed work created within the company, mainly in educational settings however their fresh approach to contemporary dance won them support amongst audiences and critics and they quickly built a following beyond their home city.
In 1987, Neville Campbell joined Phoenix as Artistic Director. This appointment marked a major expansion of the company and its repertoire as, under Campbell’s direction, the company employed female dancers for the first time and increased to a company of ten. In the same year Phoenix moved out of Chapeltown and established a permanent base at Yorkshire Dance in Leeds city centre.
Margaret Morris took over as Artistic Director in 1991 and under her the company began to expand its overseas touring. As well as becoming a regular feature of the UK touring circuit, Phoenix has performed internationally in the USA, Western Europe, South America and the Caribbean. Highlights in the company’s performing history include the 1996 Cultural Olympiad in Atlanta, 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, Thea Nerissa Barnes became Artistic Director in 1997 and under her leadership the company set about preserving its heritage by establishing the company’s first archive. Darshan Singh Bhuller took over as Artistic Director in 2002 and immediately began reshaping, beginning with rebranding the company Phoenix Dance Theatre. Under his direction the company moved into larger scale venues and refocused itself as a multi-cultural company. He commissioned eight new works from established and young choreographers, sourced two existing pieces for company revivals and personally choreographed three new pieces, as well as restaging two of his previous works, including the full-length Planted Seeds.
Javier De Frutos became Artistic Director of Phoenix Dance Theatre in 2006 and programmed seminal works by American choreographers alongside his own work. In 2006, Phoenix won the ‘Company Prize for Outstanding Repertoire (Modern)’ at the Critics’ Circle National Dance Awards and in 2007 was honoured to accept an invitation to close the International Festival of Contemporary Dance at La Biennale di Venezia.
Sharon Watson was appointed as Artistic Director in May 2009. Under her Phoenix has re-introduced diverse mixed programmes of work by established and up and coming choreographers, including classic pieces from the company’s extensive repertoire, and the company has refocused its ambitions, aiming to be the leading middle scale dance company of the UK. In October 2010 Phoenix moved into purpose-built new premises in the Quarry Hill area of Leeds alongside Northern Ballet. With the company having just celebrated 30 years of outstanding dance, the world class facilities of this new home give Phoenix Dance Theatre the platform to continue producing work of the highest quality for the next 30 years and beyond.
David (Leo) Hamilton (1981 – 1987)
Neville Campbell (1987 – 1991)
Margaret Morris (1991 – 1996)
Thea Narissa Barnes (1997 – 2000)
Darshan Singh Bhuller (2002 – 2006)
Javier De Frutos (2006 – 2008)
Sharon Watson (2009 – )
For a detailed history of the company’s first 20 years read Christy Adair’s Dancing the Black Question: The Phoenix Dance Company Phenomenon. Available online and at all other good book shops and websites.