Arlene Phillips CBE, the icon of dance, theatre, and choreography doesn’t need an introduction. Her long history of success spans from her mid-teens when she came to London from Manchester for one week to get more dance experience. She never went back. Admittedly, because she was afraid she wouldn’t have the courage to leave her father and little sister again.
Since then, Arlene Phillips has choreographed numerous West End and Broadway musicals including A Clockwork Orange, We Will Rock You, The Sound of Music, The Wizard of Oz and many more. Among her credits are also the 1982 film, Annie, and the Duran Duran song The Wild Boys named Best British Video at the 1985 BRIT Awards.
We spoke to Arlene Phillips CBE at the 40th-anniversary celebration of Pineapple Studios at their Covent Garden headquarters. At the premises, royal sculptor Frances Segelman was sculpting Debbie Moore, the founder of Pineapple Studios, live for the audience to see and enjoy. During the Q&A we put questions to Arlene.
Q: Tell us about your early days in London. How was your journey like?
A: I arrived from Manchester as a very, very poor student. My mother had passed away and there was no hope that I could dance in Manchester. I would have to help my dad and look after my sister. I started to teach dance and came to London to do a dance course for one week. And then I never went home again.
I had a determination and I just knew that if I ever got to Manchester, I wouldn’t come back. I found a job and a place to live. I was very lucky because I met Ridley Scott who was searching for a nanny. For me, it meant money and a place to live. I was totally focused on my career and my dance group Hot Gossip. I was always driven forward, I always wanted something new.
Q:How did you meet Debbie Moore, the founder of Pineapple Studios?
A: I was teaching dance classes and Debbie was one of my students. She always wanted to be at the back of the class. I called her a ‘butterfly’ because she would do all the exercises and work very hard but as soon as we started working on a Jazz dance routine, the butterfly would just tiptoe out of the class and never stayed.
I never got to know her really until the day that we found out that the Dance Centre was closing and all the teachers were given one week’s notice. There was pandemonium. Hordes of dancers would go there every day. And Debbie was saying: “Don’t worry everyone, I will find somewhere. Just give me your names and your phone numbers…” No one believed that it was possible. But, low and behold, within a few months that building in Covent Garden became one of the most extraordinary places to dance.
Q: What are your plans for the next 5 years?
A: I never stopped working from the moment I arrived in London. But I became a grandmother three months ago and now I realise that I have one more little human being to find time for. Along with my daughters, my partner, and my passion for work. I want to continue working and I want to leave a legacy in dance. I want to leave kids who have a will of their own… find themselves in a situation where they can unfold or do what they want to do, which is dance. And I shall work to provide that legacy.
I am very lucky. I have two wonderful musicals coming up this year. And I know that I cannot live or breathe or go about my normal life without dance in my life.