Review: Windrush: Movement of the People, West Yorkshire Playhouse

Vanessa Vince-Prang and Prentice Whitlow in Windrush: Movement of the People. Picture by Richard Moran.
Vanessa Vince-Prang and Prentice Whitlow in Windrush: Movement of the People. Picture by Richard Moran.
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The 70th anniversary this year of the arrival of the ship SS Windrush bringing to the UK the first wave of post-war settlers from the Caribbean provides the inspiration for Phoenix Dance Theatre’s truly magnificent new piece of narrative dance.

Choreographed by artistic director Sharon Watson it is as perfectly balanced as the dancers who interpret it. While it is a joyful celebration of the significant and ongoing contribution that the black community have made to British culture and society, the piece also faces head on the uncomfortable historical facts. New arrivals from the Caribbean in the late 40s and 50s routinely faced racism, prejudice and discrimination.This is powerfully expressed in the piece through an ingenious section involving masked women hanging out washing that eventually spells out a brutal rejection. It is also present in a searingly poignant poem with the repeating line ‘You called us and we came’, a reference to the invitation from the British government for workers to come and help rebuild the country after the war.

Specially comissioned live music composed by Christella Litras is combined with carefully selected music of the era and beyond, building to a life-affirming party finale, while Eleanor Bull’s dockside set design brilliantly evokes the sense of departure and arrival.

Presented as part of a mixed programme of work alongside Maybe Yes Maybe, Maybe No Maybe, a playful and humorous combination of movement and voice and Shadows, exploring complementary themes of migration and isolation, Windrush is uplifting, thought-provoking, witty and very moving. Dance theatre doesn’t come much better than this.

To February 10; Cast, Doncaster, March 7.