Bernstein Double Bill

Premiered October 2021



Symphonic Dances is a vibrant and dynamic response to the music by Leonard Bernstein that creates an alternate world away from the narrative of West Side Story. To introduce and open this alternate landscape, we’ve created ‘Halfway and Beyond’, with writer Khadijah Ibrahim, that precedes the orchestration. This opening movement acts as a bridge that shifts our perception, transporting us into a place that asks us to stop, to breathe, to consider our actions as we weave through time and space.

We then delve into the Symphonic Dances orchestration, a parallel moment in time informed by the conflict in South Africa during the 1950’s and 60’s. The work looks at situations that affected the melting pot societies such as/of District 6, Sophiatown and South End that were decimated at the hands of the Apartheid government and authorities. The work looks at a community of people striving to live alongside each other in the spirit of UBUNTU but is faced with opposition and forces of division and separation from the outside. Elements of the work are informed by the Group Areas Act which resulted in forced removals that destroyed vibrant communities as it segregated people according to race and skin colour. The Sexual Immorality Act set out to prohibit sex between white and black people and the Pass Laws Act sought to control the freedoms of all people of colour. Protest and tragedy were closely aligned to these events and Symphonic Dances as a work of art touches upon these times and opens our perspectives to question who we are, what we collectively strive for and what forces of opposition there is that prevent us from finding a place of living and belonging, together.

Creating West Side Story: Symphonic Dances in partnership with Opera North has been a fantastic creative journey which could not have been completed without the collaborative efforts and support of the collective team. Full credit and thanks go to the Phoenix Dance Theatre and Opera North teams and to the artistry of all the creatives who have contributed towards developing and creating the vision for this work and programme. The creative process has been a journey of discovery and a labour of love filled with the complexities and challenges of the time we find ourselves in.

West Side Story: Symphonic Dances and Halfway & Beyond is dedicated to David Hamilton and the founders of Phoenix who created the company we celebrate today and to Pauline Fitzmaurice and Jo Stenholm who contributed to building the foundation.