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Carnival Ballet to mark 50 years of Leeds Carnival

With plans well underway for this year’s Leeds West Indian Carnival, organisers have announced the first plans to celebrate the event’s 50th anniversary in 2017.


Europe’s longest running authentic Caribbean carnival will partner with the critically acclaimed Leeds based Phoenix Dance Theatre to stage Carnival Ballet – a unique, world class dance production which will share the spirit, history and heritage of the Carnival with national and international audiences.

Set for an autumn 2017 world premiere in Leeds, Carnival Ballet will bring together leading artists in dance, music and carnival costume design. With an original carnival music score, stunning costumes and set design, the unique production will be performed by 16 dancers from Phoenix, the UK and other international dance companies.

Carnival Chairman Arthur France said; “The Leeds West Indian Carnival partnership with Phoenix Dance Theatre is a perfect match, reflected in our shared heritage and beginnings in inner city Leeds. Carnival Ballet will be an incredible centrepiece of our milestone 50th anniversary celebrations and will share the stories behind the phenomenal spectacle which brings people together every year”.

CARNIVAL BALLET IMAGE 1 -  CREDIT Richard Moran Photography
IMAGE: (L) Phoenix Dance Theatre Artistic Director Sharon Watson and Leeds West Indian Carnival Founder Arthur France (R), share costume style which could inspire the 2017 Carnival Ballet production with dancer Marie Astrid Mence. Image credit: Richard Moran Photography

Author and BBC producer Colin Grant is working closely with carnival organisers and contributors to capture the stories behind one of the North’s biggest annual events. The resulting narrative will shape the dance piece which will be created by award winning Phoenix Artistic Director Sharon Watson.

CARNIVAL BALLET - CREDIT - Richard Moran Photography
IMAGE: Phoenix Dance Theatre’s Marie Astrid Mence in the carnival style which could inspire 2017’s Carnival Ballet production. Costume by Leeds designers AnonyMas. Image: Richard Moran Photography

Ms. Watson commented, “Phoenix Dance Theatre is delighted to be standing side by side with Leeds West Indian Carnival to celebrate the 50th anniversary and to create such an exciting, unique production. Steeped in Caribbean culture and flying the flag for a wonderfully diverse Leeds, Carnival Ballet is an amazing opportunity to be at the heart of brand new inspirational art which will appeal to UK and international lovers of dance, carnival spectacle, music and theatre”.

The production has received funding from the Arts Council England Exceptional Award programme for projects of potential national and international impact. Alison Clark, National Director, Combined Arts said, “We are delighted to support Carnival Ballet through our Exceptional Awards programme. Carnival Arts are an important part of the UK cultural scene, and I'm sure that this innovative partnership between Leeds West Indian Carnival and Phoenix Dance Theatre will result in work of exceptional quality and scale, which will both develop the practice of carnival arts in this country, and bring the work to new audiences.”

The professional cast of Carnival Ballet will be joined by amateur performers taking part in an education programme which will share carnival arts, dance and music with communities in tour locations.

The high profile world premiere will kick-start a national tour to six venues in major UK cities including London as well as Hull, Bristol and Liverpool whose histories resonate with Carnival and its origins as a celebration of the emancipation of slavery. The UK tour will be followed by touring to Europe and the Caribbean in 2018.

Carnival organisers are working with partners across Leeds to develop a range of special events and projects in 2017 to mark the 50th anniversary.