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We meet Phoenix Dance Theatre’s Artistic Director Sharon Watson

We spoke to Sharon (pictured above) about how she got into dance, what makes Phoenix Dance Theatre different and Leeds’ Bid for the European Capital of Culture

Can you tell us about how you got into your position at Phoenix Dance Theatre?  

My journey started way back when I was nine years old with an inspirational teacher at Harehills Middle School. There was no professional dance provision in Leeds so at 16, under her guidance, I left Leeds and went to London to become a professional dancer.

I successfully passed my vocational training and worked in London for some time, I also did stints in France, in America and in Norway before coming back to the UK. In 1989, I moved back to Leeds and became one of the first female dancers with Phoenix. Moving on from that, I spent many years touring with the company which was unbelievable. But I decided that I needed to extended myself in other ways so I went to lecture under the same teacher at the Northern School of Contemporary Dance.

Then I came back to Phoenix under Darshan Singh Bhuller, who was the Artistic Director at the time, and he asked me to be his Rehearsing and Tour Director which I did until 2006. I then stepped away from the company once again so I could extend my knowledge and my managerial skills.

I applied for the Clore Leadership Programme, which is a bespoke leadership programme, and I was successful and since then, I spent two years doing that whilst I did my Masters Degree at Leeds Beckett University. In 2009, I was then appointed to be the Artistic Director at Phoenix Dance Theatre.

What do Phoenix Dance Theatre do that makes them stand out from other dance companies? 

People are probably more likely to be familiar with the genres of jazz and ballet but we kind of sit in that middle ground. A fusion of that classic work, which is about technicality, and jazz, which is about the aesthetics, and then we add athleticism into it. All of our dances are athletes, they’re professionals at the top of their game. We challenge a lot of areas of dance that other companies don’t. That’s our unique selling point.

We also have worked with cyclists to create bespoke artwork, we’ve taken 450 people to Wembley to perform on the pitch, we do things that aren’t seen as contemporary dance but we make artwork that engages with everyone. We’re pushing boundaries.

Is that why you think Phoenix Dance Theatre have such a great reputation across the country? 

We try to extend ourselves beyond the norm, we don’t go for things that are mainstream. I think the strength and articulation of our work really does speak to people. We’re accessible too! We’re engaging people with something they’ve never encountered before.

How can our readers get involved with the work Phoenix Dance Theatre do? 

We advertise all of our shows on our website and if people want to stay up to date, we’ve got a newsletter which you can subscribe to www.phoenixdancetheatre.co.uk

In February 2018, we’re producing a new show which we’ll premiere at the West Yorkshire Playhouse. It’s 70 years of the Windrush story, which is when the first generation of Carribeans came to the UK, so we’re looking at their influences on the UK and it’ll be a really extravagant show. Then we’ll take that on a national tour.

We’ve also got a business event coming up on November 21st where we’re for business with whom we might have shared values and those interested in engaging in culture and perhaps wanting to try something new within this particular art form.

You’re also the chair of the Leeds European Capital of Culture 2023 bid. Can you tell us about that?

It’s an unbelievable opportunity for Leeds. To have dance strategically placed as part of the bid and to show off our pride as a dancing city, it couldn’t be any better.

So if someone wanted to follow in your footsteps, what advice would you give them? 

There’s not a clear path. I was a creator as a dancer then stepped into management so you’ve just got to find these opportunities. If the door is slightly ajar, push it open.

For more information about Phoenix Dance Theatre visit their website: www.phoenixdancetheatre.co.uk

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