Last week we bid a very fond farewell to Company Dancer, Shawn Willis.
His performances of 40 Years of Phoenix at The Peacock Theatre, Sadler’s Wells, London on 29 and 30 March were his last with the Company.
We caught up with Shawn to ask him to reminisce about his time with the Company and to find out what it has meant to him to be a part of the Phoenix family:
Shawn said, “My first experience working with Phoenix was in the CC Lab (Choreographers and Composers Lab) which was two weeks of research lead by Sharon Watson in 2019. I had a wonderful experience getting to know the Company and the talented dancers.
At the end of this experience I had a strong desire to stay, feeling that this environment could really facilitate my next development as an artist. Shortly after, I received the opportunity to tour as a Guest Dancer with the Company in The Right of Spring by Jeanguy Saintus – that is when I first got a taste of life as a Phoenix dancer.
And if by alignment of divinity, the Company was also holding auditions during this time! I applied and got the job with a start date of 17 February 2020. However, two weeks later sadly we entered lockdown due to coronavirus.
The Company was so gracious and offered me support in this very confusing and turbulent time. As part of this support, I produced pre-recorded classes for the Phoenix Youth Academy to keep them moving and grooving through worldwide isolation. Creating these classes also kept me proactive and positive through the pandemic.
We slowly returned in person in September 2020 and really attempted healing as a Company, with deep collective reflections as well as reflecting individually, and at this particular time in the Company I truly felt an alignment in values and human integrity. This motivated me to work even harder on personal artistry, endeavouring to reflect the hard work taking place inside the Company through my own movement.
I have been challenged in a positive way by the Company’s ethos. Each experience moulding, nourishing and refining the artist that I am meant to be. Many of my once weakness have now become strengths and I can only thank Phoenix for facilitating and holding space for my evolution.
My experience on tour has only bonded me closer with the dancers and staff in the organisation and so it is with a heavy heart that I exhale and leave Phoenix. So much laughter, so much shared, so much struggle – all profoundly shaping my next inhale with ACE dance and music in Birmingham. My next journey, my next breath… Thank you Phoenix!”
Phoenix Rehearsal Director, Joanne Bernard, shared with us her fond memories of Shawn:
“My first encounter with Shawn was via Zoom, when I did my introductions as Rehearsal Director during lockdown. His presence and energy was joyful. During this time Shawn’s generosity of spirit, openness and can-do attitude was undeniable. His contribution to Company life was always positive, committed and smiling.
“The 40th Birthday programme was where he shone and his versatility was highlighted, dancing four of the five pieces in ‘40 Years of Phoenix’. He is the consummate team player and will be greatly missed, but I am excited to watch him spread his wings and fly.”
We wish Shawn all the very best as he takes up an exciting new position with ACE Dance and Music, and look forward to seeing him dance again very soon.
Featured image of Shawn backstage at Bernstein Double Bill, captured by Jude @ThisIsJude