Recreating the SS Empire Windrush’s voyage from the Caribbean to Britain was clearly a deeply personal and passionate project for Sharon Watson and her team at Phoenix Dance Theatre, and it seems fitting that this contemporary dance theatre performs the world premiere in their home city.
Windrush commemorates the 70th anniversary of the arrival of the ship which brought the first large group of immigrants to the UK from the Caribbean in 1948, and is synonymous with many migration tales. From the moment the curtain rose to reveal the set based on Tilbury docks, it was clear to see how much the story means to so many people, from the dancers to the audience.
The audience reaction evoked by the moments of wit, emotion and music choice throughout was magical, with spontaneous applause breaking out as the dancers moved through the journey from boat to Britain.
There was a particularly striking scene showing the reaction from local communities, and a washing line sequence spelling out the levels of prejudice that many migrants endured. A touching romantic duet was a highlight, and the music choice, from Seal and Jim Reeves to Jocelyn Brown and Mary Mary incorporated live gospel singers and band, plus a house party DJ set, which truly had the audience up on their feet.
Phoenix has produced a true celebration of Britain’s multicultural heritage, yet again fusing dance with music in its newest creation, one that will surely delight audiences in Leeds and beyond.
Windrush is at West Yorkshire Playhouse from 7 – 10 February.
Photographs supplied by Phoenix Dance Theatre.