Windrush: Moving the People...

This week I performed as part of a dance production for the first time.

Lucky for the audience I was not dancing! Phoenix Dance Theatre, choereographed in this piece by the company’s artistic director Sharon Watson, staged Windrush: Movement of the People in Leeds last week, headlining a mixed programme at West Yorkshire Playhouse. 

I was brought in by Christella Litras, my mentor (co-producer of ROB.GREEN EP) and incredible theatre musical director. Initially I was asked to co-write lyrics on a pivotal piece; God Save The Dream , a minor key re-imagining of Rule Britannia and Britain’s national anthem as Caribbeans travelled to the UK ‘motherland’ in response to a desperate cry for help post WWII. 

Eventually as the whirlwind of production picked up I had been included to perform the song live on stage; along with full Gospel renditions of Amazing Grace and Shackles (yes, the one by Mary Mary).

What started out as a songwriting journey became very educational. Windrush, although a very recent piece of British history, is still a rarely told/staged story and even as a grandchild of Caribbean migrants myself there was so much about this story I didn’t know.

Windrush: Movement of the people -  image taken from @PhoenixLeeds Twitter  

Windrush: Movement of the people - image taken from @PhoenixLeeds Twitter 

The furniture, the set design (done beautifully by Eleanor Bull) became like a time machine, the wood panelled Gram, the retro wallpaper and THAT rug. Suddenly an experience you believe to be individual becomes commune. I instantly recognised the trunks, suitcases, furniture and decor as that of my grandparents, which even by the time of my own childhood in the 90s had not changed. I was thrown back to a “God is the head of this house” mantra above the kitchen door, doilies on the backs of sofas and an ice bucket shaped like a giant apple... 

You Called and We Came; a sampled voice recording of an iconic speech of the same title given by professor Laura Serrant (named Britains 8th most influential Black Person - Powerlist 2017) - is set to Litras’ moving soundscape, the track serves as an all too relevant, sobering reminder of the hypocrisy of being invited and yet unwelcome. 

It became instantly clear why this story needed to be told, why it must be immortalised and although this story was told from very personal sources to creator/director Sharon Watson, it retains home truths and realities all Caribbean people faced when responding to the call from the UK for help. 

Overlooking the barriers this show breaks (a lead creative team made entirely of women, a rarely told story, Watson’s first narrative piece, Litras’ first compositions for Contemporary Dance, A European tour for a work developed outside of London...)

Overlooking that this is a British history, a piece of world history, marked this year as the 70th anniversary of the S.S. Windrush’s maiden voyage.

Overlooking it’s purest elements; the narrative, the movement and the music that are as compelling as they are enlightening.

Being part of Windrush felt like a far larger movement.

You need to see this show on tour.  Simple as.


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