Phoenix Dance Theatre (formerly Phoenix Dance Company) was formed in 1981 by David Hamilton (Artistic Director), Donald Edwards and Vilmore James, three young, black British men who had their enthusiasm for dance sparked by the tuition and support they received in school, particularly from Charles Gardener, John Auty at Intake High School and Nadine Senior at Harehills Middle School (founder of Northern School of Contemporary Dance).
Initially, the three members of Phoenix Dance Company 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.
Increasing from three to five dancers when Merville Jones and Edward Lynch joined in 1982, the Company also took on its first full-time Administrator in their former Harehills Middle School teacher Pauline Fitzmaurice. Pauline – along with Office Manager Jo Stenholm managed the rapidly developing Company from a spare bedroom of the Fitzmaurice family home in Headingley creating the Phoenix brand, raising funds, and booking tours that included a successful tour across Australia.
In 1987, Neville Campbell joined Phoenix Dance Company as Artistic Director. This appointment marked a major expansion of the Company and its repertoire, and under Campbell’s direction, the Company employed female dancers for the first time increasing to a company of ten. In the same year Phoenix Dance Company moved out of the Fitzmaurice family home and established a permanent base at the Yorkshire Dance Centre 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 Dance Company 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 Dance Company was 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 to 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 Dance Theatre 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 directorship, Phoenix Dance Theatre re-introduced diverse mixed programmes of work by established and up and coming choreographers, including classic pieces from the Company’s extensive repertoire. The company refocused its ambitions, aiming to be the leading middle scale dance company of the UK.
In October 2010 Phoenix Dance Theatre 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.
Sharon Watson departed Phoenix in May 2020 to take up the role of CEO and Principal at Northern School of Contemporary Dance. Following a recruitment process, acclaimed and award winning dancer and choreographer Dane Hurst was appointed Artistic Director in February 2021.
In late 2021, the Company looks forward to celebrating its 40th anniversary with a new programme of work. This milestone is a significant one for the company, as they reflect on four decades of performing and inspiring audiences across the UK and the world.
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 – 2020 )
Dane Hurst (2021 – present)