Thursday, 8 February 2018

Windrush: Movement of the People

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Phoenix Dance Theatre  Mixed Programme (Maybe Yes Maybe, Maybe No Maybe, Shadows and Windrush: Movement of the People)  West Yorkshire Playhouse, 7 Feb 2018

Yesterday Phoenix Dance Theatre opened its Spring tour at West Yorkshire Playhouse with a triple bill consisting of Aletta Collins's Maybe Yes Maybe, Maybe No Maybe, Christopher Bruce's Shadows and Sharon Watson's Windrush: Movement of the People.  All three are important works. At any other time performances of the first two works would have received a lot of attention.  But yesterday the focus was on the last which was performed in full for the first time.

Having seen previews of Windrush at A Celebration of Female Choreographers and Windrush Studio Sharing, there was never any doubt in my mind that the work would be a great success.  So it was with the audience on its feet cheering until its members' voices were hoarse and clapping till their palms were sore.  They - we - were applauding a beautifully crafted and performed work of art, of course, but also something more.  A movement of people, a melding of cultures, a response to enormous adversity, hardship and in many instances even violence, a story of individuals and families, an epic in which everyone in the auditorium - indeed everyone in these islands - has participated in one way or another.  We celebrated not just those who boarded the Empire Windrush 70 years ago - one of whom was in the audience - but also everyone who has followed them since. "This was my mother's story" said Sharon Watson after the show. So it was but it was a story of many others and one that resonates with all.

The work divides into four scenes.  It opens in Jamaica full of light and colour and movement. The women in gorgeous costumes. Young men tumbling over each other to read a newspaper. The women are more restrained - subdued, even, as some of them will be left behind - but even they are excited by the adventure. The passengers board the ship still full of hope and energy.

The next scene is the most poignant. A voice calls out.  "You called and we came". The stage was much less bright. The dancers hardly moved. The voice continued about the skills, the energy, the quick minds of those who came and how so many of those talents were squandered in post-war Britain. Matrons reduced to sisters, sisters to nurses and nurses to chambermaids.  Women with masked faces hang out washing each with a letter spelling out the infamous words "NO DOGS" et cetera.  An arrangement of the national anthem is sung live on stage except instead of "Queen" it is "God save the Dream."

The Dream is saved for in the third scene sweethearts reunite in England. They find homes, lay down carpets and purchase settees - and radiograms.  The parents play their LPs but their mini-skirted children will have none of that. Off goes Jim Reeves and on comes 10ft Ganja Plant.  Again there is movement and energy on stage.

The final scene is a church with stained glass lighting, a pastor and his choir.  It's a service but this service is almost a party. The cast invite those in the front seats onto the stage. The audience claps rhythmically and euphorically then rises to its feet as one.  A triumph indeed!

There are so many people to congratulate for this triumph.  Sharon Watson, of course for her choreography, Christella Litras for her score, Eleanor Bull for her designs and Phoenix's beautiful dancers.  I spoke to several of them afterwards.  The show was special for them too.  Something they will remember for the rest of their lives. And for the audience?  I can only speak for myself but it was the best show that I have ever seen in Leeds.

Maybe Yes Maybe, Maybe No Maybe and Shadows need to be reviewed separately and I will review them soon.  They were fine works that were performed well and a paragraph or two about them tagged onto a review of Windrush will not begin to do them justice. Phoenix will perform the mixed bill at Leeds until the 10 Feb. Then it will go to Keswick, Cheltenham, Doncaster, Leicester, Aachen, London, Birmingham and Newcastle.  If you live anywhere near those places you really must go.

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