History of Phoenix explored in 40 Years of Phoenix Heritage project

23 Feb 2022

Phoenix Heritage

The Phoenix heritage project is part of a wider programme of 40 Years of Phoenix activity, exploring and celebrating the history and cultural contribution of Phoenix Dance Theatre since its inception in November 1981, in a variety of heritage-focused activities taking place throughout 2022.

Led by a team of heritage specialists working collaboratively with key Phoenix voices, including Phoenix Founder, David Hamilton MBE, the heritage project will explore the story of Phoenix Dance Theatre over 40 years, looking at how Phoenix changed the face of the British dance landscape, offering a pioneering role in culturally diverse leadership and bringing untold, culturally significant narratives to the stage.

The 40 Years of Phoenix Heritage Project will cover a variety of exhibitions and activities, from digital and physical exhibitions, to podcasts, to heritage-focused work within schools and the community.

The Physical Exhibition (40 images for 40 years), will display 40 images that highlight and celebrate the history of Phoenix, each selected carefully by a heritage team and community steering group. These images will be mounted on bespoke structures that chart the Company’s distinctive journey and choreography, and will tour with the Company for the ’40 Years of Phoenix’ Tour, to theatres across England, before being displayed in local settings across Leeds.

In the Digital Exhibition, there will be further images selected for an online gallery. One To One Development, a local digital development company, have used state-of-the-art technology to create a 3D online gallery with rooms that reflect different decades. The rooms host a variety of resources, including an Archive Room and a virtual theatre stage to show video material of performances and play footage of the historical repertory of the Company. The online gallery will also host a room where members of the public can add their own Phoenix images and memories. Dr Laura Griffiths from Leeds Beckett University, whose PhD created the Special Collections archive of Phoenix Dance Theatre at the University of Leeds, will work with the developers and heritage team to identity archive resources to be digitised. This is the first phase of a long-term ambition to fully digitise the Phoenix archive and make it accessible to the public.

Another exciting part of the Heritage project is the Podcast series, which has been led by Dr Laura Griffiths and Leeds Beckett students. The podcast will feature oral histories and interviews, in a series of ten podcasts that capture key voices from across the decades.The podcasts will be available online at Phoenix Dance Theatre and Leeds Beckett University websites. ​Key quotes from the podcasts will feed into the heritage book which will be available to buy soon, and key quotes will be cropped and joined together to feature on the online gallery.

Other Heritage activities include the Heritage Strand, which encompasses a period of Research and Development with David Hamilton MBE, Heritage Corner’s Joe Williams and four former dancers, leading to the creation of lecture-demonstration, to be tested with select audiences from primary to Higher Education settings and six participating young people’s groups. A short film capturing this process and the insights gathered will be launched soon.

In order to facilitate wider engagement with Phoenix Dance Theatre heritage, the Phoenix team are working with four young people’s community and school groups on the Young People Project, featuring dance and spoken word. ​Each group will participate in eight workshops with the heritage team, to learn about the history of Phoenix and co-create a performance piece in response.

The 40 Years of Phoenix Heritage project is funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, and is part of a wider 40th anniversary programme of activity, including a retrospective touring repertory, a national 40 Years of Phoenix tour, the Gala Performance which took place on Saturday 12 February, and a publication of the pre-mentioned book which showcases Phoenix’s 40 years.

The creation of the retrospective repertory, Gala Performance and book publication has been made possible with funding from the Arts Council, Ellerman Foundation and Weston Culture Fund.