Phil Ashby’s journey to a First Class degree in Dance and Drama & Theatre Studies was not just an academic one, but a personal one that saw his love of dance help him recover from addiction.
“In 2011, as part of a rehab programme through Addaction in Liverpool, I went to see a show by Fallen Angels, a dance company set up by former Scottish Ballet Principal Dancer Paul Bayes Kitcher during his own recovery from addiction,” said Phil.
“It was a hard, beautiful story called The Battle for the Soul part 1. It really surprised me that I had an instant connection to it. I’d never been involved with dance in my life. In 2012 I officially entered rehab and really started to take dance seriously. I attended Fallen Angels workshops in Chester and with Wirral Youth Theatre. It was very difficult – very intense, and I knew I had to face these fears. The focus of the workshops was simply to create movements. The emphasis was on creating a very authentic, physical movement.
“We were given questions such as “what does fear look like to you?” and there was a focus on devising and working as a group. It was really emotional seeing those movements being performed. When you are an addict, you supress any creativity you have. I had lived in self-pity and doubt for twenty years but it felt like dance had lit my soul.”
Phil performed with Fallen Angels Dance Theatre, went on to study ballet, contemporary dance and improvisation at Liverpool Community College and undertook a one year HNC course in dance – receiving a distinction.
He then started to think about university. “I had worked with Liverpool Hope’s Dr Zoe Zontou through Fallen Angels (Dr Zontou, Lecturer in Drama, is a Fallen Angels Board Member and works closely with the company).
“Speaking to her gave me a good insight into what to expect at university. I knew that there was a strong focus on community arts at Hope, which appealed to me. The course was definitely challenging – as well as looking at technique we also had to analyse dance."
Alongside his studies, Phil worked with Fallen Angels as part of his recovery, and he now teaches and performs in the dance company Risen. Phil has performed the piece Upon Awakening at the Lowry in Manchester and the Royal Opera House.
Phil says: “I want to help break down the stigma associated with addiction and show that people can change. I have changed through dance. It has challenged me, and it still challenges me all the time. It is hard and it is painful at times, but I am buzzing when I dance. I’d love to reach just one other person and say ‘look where I was and now look where I am going.
“Hope University, and the Creative Campus, have been like a home to me for the last three years. I entered the lectures and seminars like a nervous sponge, shy yet very eager to learn, not aware of what was to happen to me. It has been a journey of highs and lows but extremely rewarding. For me, the Creative Campus’s biggest asset is its academic staff: their kindness, their passion for the arts, their constant drive to support the students. Words cannot really describe the gratitude I have for them. I have emerged from Hope a stronger, happier more confident person, with belief and passion in my own and others’ abilities.
“The next plan is to continue to work with Fallen Angels Dance Theatre in their new project over the summer, as part of their creative team and performer. In November, I shall take a long holiday! Then I’ll be returning fresh and hopefully continue as a freelance artist and facilitator. Let’s just see where the wind takes me!”