Lay-offs at Leeds’ Phoenix Dance Theatre “beyond comprehension”

  • Phoenix management have confirmed they will be ending fixed-term contracts for some dancers and ‘laying off’ other dancers who are permanently employed
  • Lay offs would allow Phoenix to keep dancers in employment but pay them only £100 a month until they are needed at work again, severely limiting their chances of taking on other work
  • Phoenix Dance Theatre has recently been in receipt of millions of pounds of public funding from the Arts Council and Leeds City Council, among others

Equity’s North East Official Dominic Bascombe has called the decision to lay off the creative team at Phoenix Dance Theatre, Leeds, “beyond comprehension” and “appalling”.

Following recent consultation meetings, management at Phoenix have confirmed that they will be undergoing a ‘creative pause’ from June 2022 to January 2023 instead of proceeding with previously planned work. This means that following a performance to be staged in Newcastle this Friday 20 May – the final show in celebration of Phoenix’s 40th anniversary – dancers will not go into rehearsal for at least three planned pieces of work in the autumn, which is what they had been told earlier this year.

There are six company dancers and two apprentice/placement dancers working for Phoenix. There are also other creative team members in rehearsal and education roles. Of the dancers, six are on fixed-term contracts and have been told that their contracts will end on 20 May 2022 following the final anniversary performance.

Two dancers are on permanent staff contracts and have been told that they are to be ‘laid off’ from 1 July. This is when an employer can ask an employee to stay at home or take unpaid leave if there is not enough work for them: see information on the website. It is typically used as a means to keep workers in a factory or production line setting on staff without the need to pay them a salary.

Phoenix intends to pay its dancers £300 guarantee pay every three months while they are laid off – the equivalent of £100 per month. During this time, the dancers are expected to be available to Phoenix if needs be, severely limiting their chances of taking on other full- time work. They could also be restricted on any other work, including not being allowed to work for a competitor.

Equity has been accompanying dancers to their consultation meetings and have continually argued that the process is unfair as there is no genuine shortage of work and the company remains in benefit of public funding from the Arts Council and Leeds City Council, among other funders. Equity believes that Phoenix management needs to urgently reconsider this decision and its approach with the creative team.

Phoenix management have never fully explained how this decision to pause all creative work and establish this period of lay-offs will assist the company. The lay-off period for seven months will mean that Phoenix management expects the dancers to somehow survive on this paltry sum at a time of rising inflation and cost of living increases.

As part of Arts Council NPO funding extension 2022-23, Phoenix Dance Theatre received £436,395. During the 2018-22 period, Phoenix received over £1.7million as a National Portfolio Organisation from the Arts Council.

Dominic Bascombe, Equity Regional Official for North East, Yorkshire and Humberside, says:

“The decision to lay off the creative team at Phoenix Dance Theatre is beyond comprehension and seems designed to push away professional performers who have poured their heart into working for the company. This is a well-established dance company, suffering not from a shortage of public funding but from the absence of creative leadership. The manner in which this managerial decision has been made and disseminated to the members of the company has also been appalling.

“In consultation meetings with the union, Phoenix management have told us that their decision was made by the Board of Trustees in agreement with the Arts Council. Equity has written to the Arts Council questioning that decision.

“Phoenix management needs to explain what has happened to the public money they received that would normally go towards paying the dancers and creative team. They need to explain how they decided that lay-offs was the best way to somehow continue the legacy of a company that is celebrating 40 years in the industry. And they need to explain why they are not treating the dancers and creative team – who have helped build the reputation that Phoenix has enjoyed over the past 40 years – with the respect they deserve.”

For more information contact Equity’s North East Official Dominic Bascombe

About Phoenix Dance Theatre

Phoenix Dance Theatre is currently celebrating its 40th anniversary year. Over the past decades it has had a chequered history but has produced work to wide acclaim and has developed a reputation as a leading mid-scale touring dance company. In May 2020, famed Artistic Director Sharon Watson MBE left to take up a new role as CEO & Principal of the Northern School of Contemporary Dance. The company hired a new artistic director, Dane Hurst, during the pandemic but he subsequently left in November 2021. Phoenix management say that they don’t currently have an artistic director.