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Swapping Skills: ONYC and Phoenix Youth Academy

With The Rite of Spring and Gianni Schicchi being performed on the main stage, Opera North’s youth ensemble and Phoenix Dance Theatre’s youth company have also been working together to create their own original piece combining opera and contemporary dance.

At a recent workshop, we spoke to Jasmine and Shauna from Phoenix Youth Academy and to Tilda and Sammy from Opera North Youth Chorus to see how they had found working together, and what they thought of the double bill when they saw it at the dress rehearsal.

Young singers and dancers at a special workshop exploring the different art forms © Opera North

Jasmine, 16, and Shauna, 19, both study at the Phoenix Youth Academy. This is their first time working on a collaboration involving singing as well as contemporary dance. As Shauna says: “It’s been interesting to see how everyone’s worked together and interpreted the tasks in their own ways.”

As part of the day, the singers tried their hand at dancing while the dancers gave singing a go. Sammy, 13, who goes to Carr Manor Community School, discovered he was “not quite as bad as I thought I was” at dancing and was also impressed with how the Phoenix Youth Academy members tackled the vocal exercises: “It’s just been really interesting seeing how their confidence has improved through the session because they were all like ‘oh no, I can’t’ and then they’re like ‘OK, maybe I can.'”

Jasmine used to sing when she was younger and appreciated the chance to do it again:  “I really enjoyed it. Some of the exercises were a bit strange, like having to move all your face about and make all these funny noises and stuff but, once you got into it, it was fun.”

ONYC and Phoenix Youth Academy workshop © Opera North

The young people also attended the dress rehearsal for The Rite of Spring and Gianni Schicchi at Leeds Grand Theatre. Tilda, 16, who is currently in the sixth form at Roundhay High School, was blown away by The Rite of Spring: “I really loved it. I thought the costumes were amazing. The way when they rolled across the floor that the trousers rippled behind them – that was amazing. It was more abstract than I thought it was going to be which was cool.”

Sammy was equally enthusiastic: “I knew it would be good because they’re a really good company. I liked what they did with their hands. The way they coloured them gave more atmosphere. It thought it was fascinating.”

For the dancers, Gianni Schicchi was their first experience of opera. Jasmine says that she “… went with an open mind and it was completely the opposite of what I expected it to be, but it turned out to be really enjoyable.” Shauna concurred: “I honestly didn’t know what to expect at all. I’d never seen anything like it but it was interesting. It was really good actually.”

Shauna particularly loved the moment where Tereza Gevorgyan sings the aria ‘O mio babbino caro’: “As soon as that song came on, we were all like ‘we know this one, we know this song’, it was great”. Jasmine adds: “But to actually hear it live, it was amazing, absolutely amazing. It was beautiful.”

Tilda is adamant that people should go and see The Rite of Spring, even if they are unsure about contemporary dance:

“I loved it and I would pay to see it again! I know nothing about contemporary dance and I absolutely loved it!”

Shauna also gave Gianni Schicchi her seal of approval:

“I’m one of those people who think theatre’s for entertainment and it fulfils that 100 percent!”

ONYC and Phoenix Youth Academy will be performing the work they have created at 2pm and 5pm on Sunday 17 March at Northern Ballet, Quarry Hill, Leeds. Tickets are available from Phoenix Dance.


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