Interview: Arlene Phillips


If you survey the audience of theatres in Leeds or Bradford there's every chance you'll spot Arlene Phillips in the crowd, taking in a show like everyone else.

"My sister lives in Leeds and we always go to the theatre up there," she says. "So it's a place I have great affection for -it's somewhere I tie in with work and family."

More recently, however, you're more likely to have seen her at The Alhambra, hard at work. The Bradford venue is one of the many theatres playing host to her latest post-Strictly Come Dancing venture, Midnight Tango.

As someone so sinonymous with one of TV's biggest hits, it's hard for her to shrug off the tags of her days on the Saturday night ratings-topper, even though she parted company with Bruce and the rest of the judges two years ago.

But she certainly hasn't been at a loose end. As well as choreographing The Wizard of Oz in the West End, she's taking Midnight Tango on the road and has already been forced to add new dates to meet ticket demand.

Set in a late-night bar in downtown Buenos Aires, the show was created by Strictly's Vincent Simone and Flavia Cacace, who also take the lead roles.

If you like Strictly, then you'll probably love this as the duohave created a very sexy story packed with the dance which kept TV viewers enthralled throughout six series of Strictly.

"Rest assured, audiences can expect to see Vincent and Flavia demonstrating what they do best," says Arlene. "We are including every variety of tango, but within that we're adding in just about every form of dance. Vincent and Flavia are amazing to watch.

"On the first year of the Strictly tour there wasn't a single night when the audience didn't jump up and scream for more when these two danced – there's just no other partnership like it; they are so perfectly in tune with one another. They use every part of their bodies, from their heads to their fingertips. It's tango to make you tingle."

Describing her love of dance as "a passion beyond all passions," as a small child she danced any time she heard music. Formal lessons soon beckoned. "As many little girls do I started with ballet, then later ballroom, tap and what used to be called modern dance. I was completely wrapped up in dancing. All I could think of was getting to class and what it would be like when I got there. It was my idea of heaven and a complete revelation; I had to dance to live."

Given her phenomenal drive and outstanding talent, success was inevitable. Creating the then ground-breaking dance group, Hot Gossip, Arlene swiftly became one of the world's most celebrated choreographers. West End, Broadway, movie blockbusters, television and music videos – her name is now synonymous, not just with Strictly, but with dance in general, which is why her services widely clamoured for.

But with a long CV one wonders how she continues to find fresh choreographic inspiration. "In theatre it's mostly from the music, and of course the genre dictates up to a point," she explains. "Flashdance, for instance, is all street dance, but with things like The Wizard of Oz it's a fantasy, so you can be more creative right from the start. TV is different. There I have greater freedom and then I find inspiration and ideas from all sorts of places. I might be reading Vogue and an image will just spark an idea,"

Looking at least a decade younger Arlene is now in her 60s and has a body that is the envy of women half her age. Coupled with her energy, one wonders what her secret is. "Having been a dancer you always want to keep your body in shape and I'm lucky that my energy hasn't started to diminish – yet!" she laughs.

So she pops some kind of wonder vitamin? Not a bit of it. According to Arlene if we eat up our greens, we too can look like she does. "I am a huge fruit and veg eater," she confides. "I always have some in my bag and dancing is such a great way to stay in shape. You are never too old to start.

"You watch people walk down the street listening to an iPod and automatically they are walking in time to the music. Well, walking is only one step away from dancing. Look at John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever. The basis of all those dances was nothing more than him walking in time to music."

But street dancing aside, Arlene is concentrating entirely on Tango for the moment.

"The perfect tango means that the dancers have mastered the technique so completely that you don't even notice it," she says. "The audience should hold their breath in excitement from the first moment they see the dancers go into hold. The dance is so strong and passionate with precise footwork and exciting shapes, and because Argentine tango isn't floor bound it is all the more exciting.

"There's the man lifting the woman so that you don't even see how he lifts her, she's just suddenly up in the air. It has the sexiest moves too," she sighs. "Her toe dipping through his legs – it's just so intriguing! It's a dance of power and passion."

April 26 to 30, The Alhambra, Morley Street, Bradford, 7.30pm, Wed mat 2pm, Sat mat 2.30pm, 17.50 to 32.50,

Tel. 01274 432000

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