On Friday 27th January Phoenix Dance Theatre held a presentation to celebrate the first 40 years of the company. Being good Yorkshire folk they opted to get value for money by highlighting two brilliant announcements at once. Although the company was set up in 1981, the 40th Anniversary Tour began in November 2021 and so it has taken time to collate the details of that into these two celebratory items.

The first memento is a book called 40 Years of Phoenix: A Photographic Journey, which is a sumptuous 136-page hard back coffee table book covered in a monotone suede-like material, hence the fingermarks (not mine – honest) which just brush away.

Photograph by Stan Graham

As the name suggests it is a collection of photographs taken during the life-span of the company and I found it fascinating to see not only how the styles of the dancers have developed over the years, but also the pictorial interpretation. The early shots are obviously a documentary-style record meant to capture the productions and off-stage moments as the beginning of an archive, but as the shows became more sophisticated and ambitious during the tenure of each artistic director, so did the photography until it is now as much of an art form as is the subject it portrays.

Frontispiece from c1984 by Tony Cryer

2012 by Chris Nash

2020 Oli Bentley, Split and David Lindsay

To order your copy which is £35 or £40 for a Limited Edition signed by David Hamilton MBE and Dane Hurst, go to https://www.phoenixdancetheatre.co.uk/book/

We then came to the second part of the presentation, which is not only more in keeping with the world in 2023, but has the advantage that it is accessible to everybody, free of charge! It is a virtual gallery, created and developed by Judi Alston, CEO/CreativeDirector of One to One Development Trust and Digital Director Andy Campbell.

Under normal circumstances my blood would be boiling watching people looking at their mobile phones and tablets when there was someone speaking or a performance going on, but here it was compulsory as we were all linked up to sample the virtual world of Phoenix Dance Theatre.

There are over 250 artefacts including costumes, programmes and props with video clips from performances spanning the decades. You can have a 360-degree look at some of the costumes, zoom into magazines lying on the tables and flick through them, in fact it is just like being there, except that it doesn’t really exist – at least that means that there won’t be any finger prints on these particular publications!

For the full experience please go to https://www.phoenixdancetheatre.co.uk/virtual-gallery/ and take a leisurely tour.

The best thing about the evening though was seeing one of the founder members, David Hamilton MBE, looking fit and well and enthusiastic as ever. If you go to the website https://www.phoenixdancetheatre.co.uk and click on About Us you will be able to read about how the company was formed by three young black men; the aforementioned Mr Hamilton, Donald Edwards and Vilmore James, who had their passion for dance fired by their school teachers, Charles Gardner and John Auty at Intake High School and Nadine Senior at Harehills Middle School, who went on to found Northern School of Contemporary Dance. While you are there why not have a look to see what productions are coming up in the near future.

David Hamilton MBE. Photograph by Point of View

Phoenix Dance Theatre Members past and present. Photograph by Point Of View.

I would like to thank Phoenix Dance Theatre for their hospitality at the launch and wish them every success for the next 40 years….and beyond!

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