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Interview with Sharon Watson 2010

Declarations, dedication and devotion: Phoenix Dance Theatre’s new Artistic Director talks to Chris High about the pros and cons of touring, her aims for this her debut production, Declarations, and the honour she feels that it is being premiered at The Liverpool Playhouse.

Sharon Watson promotional image 2010

Sharon Watson, the new Artistic Director of Leeds-based Phoenix Dance Theatre, is all set to take her debut production, Declarations, on the road on a tour that sets out in the city that gave the former dancer her first professional role. ‘My very first dancing job was with Spiral Dance here, so I’m really looking forward to it,’ Sharon explained during a break in rehearsals at The Liverpool Playhouse. ‘ It’s really quite special and a huge honour for me to bring my first production to Liverpool but then every venue, to be honest, is special because we have very close educational ties with a lot of theatres all over the country, and those that we’ll be performing in on this tour are amongst them. Each place has an individual importance of its own as a result of the different things the company does with local schools, colleges and communities.’

Sharon took over as Artistic Director from Javier de Frutos in May 2009, having been a dancer with Phoenix from 1989 to 1997 following training at the London School of Contemporary Dance.  Understandably, there are a few mixed emotions involved in bringing her debut production to the stage. ‘Having been a dancer with the company there’s a lot of expectation and in making that transition from dancer to artistic director, you get a real insight into what the job entails from both sides. Haunted Passages is something I did perform a long time ago. The other pieces I’ve observed and had conversations with those who have directed and danced them, so this is quite a different experience altogether and one that I’m enjoying immensely.’

Declarations is made up of four pieces that both celebrates Phoenix past and set outs out the company’s exciting future. ‘Each dance has a link to the company. Haunted Passages is one that audiences keep requesting to be brought back and this is our first opportunity in 15 years to do that. Aletta Collins, again, quite a while ago, gave us a wonderful piece called Gang of Five which really helped establish Phoenix, but hasn’t really been back to the company since. Rekindling that link with Aletta through her latest work, Maybe Yes Maybe, Maybe No Maybe was very important to me. Irisa Makuloluwe, though relatively unknown, has a small but nonetheless important connection with Phoenix and so Locked In Vertical is a chance to bring that connection back into play. One of the conversations we had with the Arts Council who are helping to fund Declarations, involved us asking for time to help build the company again because we want to give audiences quality work that has a real integrity. Very kindly they agreed and so we’ve been able to have eight months in the studio, which is an almost unique amount of time, and that’s really helped pull the best performances out of everybody who is involved. I had six weeks to get the company together as it stands, because the tour was booked before I took over, but this is such a fantastic opportunity for us we couldn’t pass it up and we’re extremely grateful to the Arts Council, and also Leeds City Council, for their patience and support.’

The tour is quite lengthy yet takes in just seven venues over four months, with sizeable gaps in between each performance on occasion. Does this help or hinder the dancers? ‘It’s six of one and half-a-dozen of the other, I’d say. In terms of making sure we can revisit the work and iron out any problems is a definite advantage. That said, the dancers probably prefer to be on the road all the time inasmuch as they like to keep the kettle boiling, but that isn’t always possible or beneficial. Touring is tiring and often quite tedious, so it’s good that the dancers can recuperate and go into each performance fresh.  The breaks also allow us to work on the next programme as well, which is already in the process of being commissioned. I tend to describe our productions as a something like a four course meal. Declarations audiences will be given four individual dance pieces, that all have different links, so for anybody who comes along it really is a question of testing out the different flavours each piece offers. I really want comparisons to be made between each piece and want to know what moved people and what didn’t and why. That aspect is particularly important to me, simply because I want to learn from as much constructive feedback as possible. I’ve learned a great deal from some truly fabulous Artistic Directors over the years and, also, I like to think I’ve learned how not to do it as well. Of course I’ve made mistakes and doubtlessly will make more, but by gaining feedback from those who come to see the dances those mistakes, hopefully, will come less and less. I’m both excited and nervous about what’s to come, but also quietly confident that we’re doing a good job.’

For more information:   http://www.phoenixdancetheatre.co.uk

Wednesday 15th September
Liverpool Playhouse, 7.30pm
Tickets: £10 - £15
Box office: 0151 709 4776

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Thursday 16th September
Liverpool Playhouse, 7.30pm
Tickets: £10 - £15
Box office: 0151 709 4776
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Saturday 18th September
Dance City Newcastle, 8.00pm
Tickets: £12, £8 concessions
Box office: 0191 261 0505
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Saturday 9th October
Brunton Theatre Musselburgh, 7.30pm
Tickets: £10.50, £8.50, £6 under 18s
Box office: 0131 665 2240
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Thursday 28th October
York Theatre Royal, 7.30pm
Tickets: £10 - £17 (plus concessions)
Box office: 01904 623568
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Friday 29th October
York Theatre Royal, 7.30pm
Tickets: £10 - £17 (plus concessions)
Box office: 01904 623568
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Tuesday 2nd November
Hull Truck Theatre, 8.00pm
Tickets: £12, £10 concessions, Groups (10+) £8
Box office: 01482 323 638
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Tuesday 30th November
The Junction Cambridge, 8.00pm
Tickets: £12 (£6 concessions)
Box office: 01223 511511
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Thursday 2nd December
Lawrence Batley Theatre Huddersfield, 7.30pm
Tickets: £14, £12, £10 (concessions £2 off)
Box office: 01484 430528
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If you would like to comment on this interview with Sharon Watson 2010, please feel free to contact me - GUESTBOOK

“Writing gets me away for a while' from this world and into one where I, alone, can make or
break the rules as I see fit.” - Chris High 2003.
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