Arts » Theater + Dance

A phoenix is rising in Indianapolis modern dance

Indy newest dance company debuts their first show.


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Justin Sears-Watson at Phoenix Rising Studios working on choreography with resident dance company Crossroads Dance Indianapolis. - MEREDITH WADE
  • Meredith Wade
  • Justin Sears-Watson at Phoenix Rising Studios working on choreography with resident dance company Crossroads Dance Indianapolis.

Phoenix Rising’s first performance has more than a theme — it’s their story. The show is called A Transformation, and when Phoenix went from a dream to a reality in less than six months, they underwent one themselves.

“The whole concept not just behind our company, but our dance studio … is literally trying to help along the transformation of Indianapolis in the public eye outside of the state,” says one of the owners of Phoenix Rising, William Sears-Watson who runs the dance company with his husband Justin Sears-Watson. (Justin was formally a member of Dance Kaleidoscope and oversees the artistic integrity of Phoenix Rising.)

“Not to say that the Indy 500 is a bad thing, because it’s not, but when you ask 10 people from L.A. what they think of when they hear Indiana, nine of them will say the race,” says William. “… We want Indianapolis to be seen as a cultural city and not just a sports town, we want to be seen as a more diverse cultural place, we want to transform.”

And they are definitely planning a transformation. Right now there are two parts to the Phoenix Rising brand — the for-profit studio (which hosts classes like hip-hop, lyrical, ballet, modern and tap) and the not-for-profit modern dance company. They hope to have the company touring in the next few years and holding auditions in places like Chicago and New York.

“We want to take an Indianapolis homegrown product and take it and show it off everywhere,” says William.

William noted that they have received plenty of opposition, especially from those who think with groups like Motus and Dance Kaleidoscope, that Indianapolis is oversaturated with dance.


“This is a city of over a million people, so to have one or two dance companies
to me is unthinkable,” says William.
“... When Justin and I do something we do it very hard, we don’t listen to naysayers on to and trust me, there have
been plenty.”

He went onto say that Dance Kaleidoscope loaned them the costumes for this show.

“For Dance Kaladescope to do something like that, it not only says a lot about us,” says William. “It says a lot about them.”

Justin left Dance Kaladescope last year after a series of stress fractures put him at a health risk dancing full-time. Now he teaches classes at the studio, oversees the traveling competition team (who train for over 10 hours a week) and is the director for the modern dance company.

The modern dance company side of things has been a leap of faith for the two; to the extent that A Transformation is being paid for out of their own pockets. For now, the company dancers are not being paid for rehearsal time but will get a piece of the profits from the door sales.

“They are basically volunteering,” says William.

But he went on to say how Justin is able to spark something in the dancers that is unrivaled.

“I am married to him and I can’t explain it, he just lights fires in people,” says William. “These guys would walk through fire for him.” 

The company is made up of Crossroads dancers (who recently had a Fringe show) and an eclectic assortment of others.

The Sears-Watsons have been amazed at how Phoenix Rising has snowballed. Getting into a theater was in a long-term plan, now they have a four-show season that’s booked at Theatre on the Square for 2016 and 2017.

This particular show will address topics like addiction, all the way to narratives like the lifecycle of a cicada. Justin will be dancing in the show for one song,

“Justin is very into one thing affecting another thing,” says Sears-Watson. “So [in this show] we are talking about the transition you might go through in a day, and a week and a couple years, or throughout your entire life.”

For a retired dancer a former hair salon owner, running Phoenix Rising is a transformation in and of itself. But it’s something they hope to stake their lives around. William puts it well:

“This is our legacy.”


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