Don't Not Read Just Because It May Not Be Your Thing; Dance, Opera and Great Teachers: Day Four of the 24 Blogs of Christmas
In February next year two Leeds greats, Phoenix Dance Theatre & Opera North will collaborate for the first time to bring a reworked version of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring to Leeds Grand Theatre.
Phoenix will perform with Opera North’s 60-piece orchestra to bring this seminal piece back to life just over 100 years since its premiere.
Right – that’s my press release talk over (for clarity I’m working with Phoenix on this project).
Phoenix Dance Theatre started out like most of us little companies – with a passion, a belief, a need, and a desire to do something different.
It began life in Harehills in 1981. Three young men had their enthusiasm for dance sparked through classes at school with a certain Nadine Senior* – a teacher, it seems, like no other.
Whether you have heard of her or not, whether you have an interest in Phoenix or dance or not, I urge you to watch this five minute-film made by BBC2 in 1979. If ever we were we in doubt of the need of arts in education…
Streets of working class, multi-cultural Leeds poor families, not much hope. And at its heart – Nadine Senior.
This is where Phoenix began.
Phoenix Dance Theatre is still based in Leeds and is very proud of that. It shares its home with Northern Ballet down at Quarry Hill where there is also a performance space - The Stanley & Audrey Burton Theatre - which with just 224 seats is small but perfectly formed.
Every Autumn you can catch Phoenix at Home, a showcase of the company’s own work, at the S&A Theatre; new dancers and choreographers, new works, their youth academy - up and coming just like those young men before them.
This is where I saw a very early preview of what would go on to be the hugely successful ‘Windrush: Movement of the People’ choreographed by Artistic Director Sharon Watson.
Sharon became the seventh Artistic Director in 2009. She is currently Yorkshire Woman of the Year, is in the Top 50 Power List of the Northern Power Women Awards and until recently was Chair of Leeds 2023.
She’s quite the Leeds Lass.
Also from Harehills (she came through a similar route to the men that started the company she now directs) Sharon is committed to improving diversity within the arts by supporting the creative voices of women and BAME artists. She too recognises she wouldn’t be where she is without Nadine saying “Like so many others, I would not be doing what I do today if it wasn’t for the inspiring leadership Nadine gave … a motivating and influential woman…”
Companies like Phoenix may be wonderfully successful but they still need our support, for where are we without buyers, customers, funders and champions?
I can tell you this: watching human beings use their bodies in the way Phoenix do is incredible - even if you don’t ‘get’ it.
Opera North’s Orchestra are phenomenal and there’s nothing quite like hearing that soaring sound in a theatre like The Grand.
Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring?
I know nothing.
I’m currently researching it and can tell that it was considered outrageous and nearly sparked a riot when it opened 1913.
But I do remember that when studying A Level in Stagecraft & Design some 30+ years ago our Art teacher had us listen to the score full belt whilst painting on large sheets of paper. We were sprawled on floors and tables, pressed up against windows.
A group of teens from all over West Yorkshire, in a portacabin in Wakefield, listening to Stravinsky and, between fag breaks, throwing paint around?
Where was BBC2 when we needed them?
Opera North celebrated its 40th Birthday in November. It began as an offshoot of English National Opera, with the specific intention of delivering high-quality opera to the northern areas of England which, up to that point, had had no permanently established opera company. It continues to champion Opera for all, is based in the heart of Leeds at the beautiful Grand Theatre, and tours nationally and internationally.
We’ve some good shit in Leeds.
Tickets for Rite of Spring are on sale now priced from £15 to £75
Find out more here https://www.operanorth.co.uk/whats-on/rite-schicchi/
Phoenix will then go on tour, independently of Opera North, with Rite of Spring and a supported mixed programme (venues and dates to be confirmed)- keep an eye on www.phoenixdancetheatre.co.uk
At Stanley & Audrey Burton you can book multiple dance productions and get a discount – more info here: www.theatreleeds.com
*Nadine Senior started Northern School of Contemporary Dance in 1985; it remains the only provider of conservatoire-level professional training in contemporary dance outside of London.
Nadine sadly died in January 2016. Because of my work with Phoenix, I was proud to be invited to a gala in her memory at Leeds Playhouse last year, where it was very clear that she is much missed but has left a huge legacy in both Phoenix Dance, NSCD and many young people that passed through her classes.