Phoenix Dance explores the arrival of SS Empire Windrush

Watch on the BBC

Sharon Watson’s production for Phoenix Dance Theatre – Windrush: Movement of the People, is a contemporary dance work exploring the arrival of SS Empire Windrush, the ship that brought the first Caribbean migrants to the UK.

The work is a lively celebration of the rise of multicultural Britain and features an uplifting soundtrack from calypso, jazz, gospel and reggae with original music created by Christella Litras and features set and costume design by Linbury Award set design winner 2017, Eleanor Bull.

Windrush: Movement of the People by Phoenix Dance Theatre. Photo by Brian Slater

Vanessa Vince-Pang and Prentice Whitlow in Sharon Watson’s Windrush: Movement of the People by Phoenix Dance Theatre. Photo by Brian Slater

Commended by audiences and critics since its premiere at Leeds Playhouse in 2018, Phoenix Dance Theatre’s production has toured UK venues to sell out auditoriums and festivals, was performed at Schrit_tmacher Festival, Germany and had two performances at Tilbury Dock on Windrush day in June 2018.

Following a year of national and international touring, is billed for a BBC Four broadcast during February 2019.

Sharon Watson, Artistic Director at Phoenix Dance Theatre said:

“Windrush highlights both the struggles and good times the Jamaican community experienced during those early years. It is an uplifting production that is not only enjoyable but shines a light on an important era of black British history here in the UK. I never expected when creating the piece in 2017 to have resonated with so many people, but in it doing so, it reflects how important this story is and I am proud that we have managed to be an advocate for so many voices.”

The piece was broadcast on BBC Four on Sunday 17 February at 10:30pm – and then on BBC iPlayer.

Watch online – Celebrating Windrush Day 2020

In celebration of Windrush Day, Phoenix Dance Theatre’s Windrush: Movement of the People can be seen on BBC Four on 22 June and will then be available on the BBCiPlayer.

About this artist

Phoenix Dance Theatre was established in Harehills, Leeds, in 1981 and is the UK’s longest standing contemporary dance company outside London.

Sharon Watson became its seventh Artistic Director in 2009. She was Yorkshire Woman of the Year in 2016 and is in the Top 50 Power List of the Northern Power Women Awards and previous Chair of Leeds 2023. Sharon is committed to improving diversity within the arts by supporting the creative voices of women and BAME artists.

In 2017 Sharon choreographed Windrush: Movement of the People to commemorate 70 years since the ship SS Empire Windrush brought the first large wave of migrants from the Caribbean to the UK.
The piece was created using stories from her own family, Leeds Black Elders and Leeds resident, Alford Gardner, who had travelled to the UK on Empire Windrush in his early 20s. Windrush has been nominated for several awards and received the Jason Steele Foundation Legacy Award at the 2018 National Windrush Star Awards.