“REASSURING. COMFORTABLE. OPEN. NEEDED”: HIP HOP ARTIST JOURNEYS BACK TO THE LAB

Four hip hop artists went Back To The Lab to develop their practice and create new work under the mentorship of leading choreographers, theatre makers and dramaturgs this month. Nathan Lafayette, Pervez, Shaadow Sefiroth and duo Cat Jiminez & Jaekwon took part in the latest edition of the artist development course, led by Sadler’s Wells Breakin’ Convention’s team.

Back To The Lab invites professional hip hop artists to explore and experiment with different choreographic methods. It supports them as they put their new-found knowledge into practice by devising new work, which is then presented to, and discussed with, a live audience at the end of an intensive, two-week period.

Ahead of the final sharing in our Lilian Baylis Studio on 25 January, we speak to Nathan Lafayette about his creative journey, tackling impostor syndrome and more.

Back To The Lab 2020 course participants ‘walk in’ video. Dave Barros.

What does going ‘Back To The Lab’ involve?

It’s very much a learning process in the first week. You’re picking up a lot of information, which at times can be quite overwhelming, but also reassuring. A lot of it is about extending our palette in terms of the tools we work with, and sometimes focusing more on one specific tool. Using an analogy that Mikey J [Asante, composer and co-founder of hip-hop dance company Boy Blue Entertainment] shared on a previous artist development course: “Sometimes you want to work with the hammer.” Back To The Lab helps me understand what my hammer is. It’s been interesting finding out how we work, sparking different conversations and hearing people’s perspectives.

Course participants and mentors during a Back To The Lab workshop.

We’re in the second week of the programme. Could you tell us a bit about what you’re working on and what are you most looking forward to?

The second week is more work focused. It’s about building your piece to show. This being the second week, it feels like we have all these tools we can choose to use, but also, it’s like there’s no right way to do it. Whatever way works for you is the way to work.   

Course participants Youngung Sebastian Kim (l) and Paz ‘Cat’ Katrina Jimenez (r) during a Back To The Lab workshop.

I’m looking forward to moving and trying things out, even if it does mess up, or it doesn’t feel correct. It’s been a while since I’ve had the space to make decisions, so it’s a bit surreal. I always say when I’m teaching a class: if you find something you don’t like, then you’ve learned that and you know what direction you want to go in. It’s about having the space to refine what’s already there.

Course participants Youngung Sebastian Kim (l) and Paz ‘Cat’ Katrina Jimenez (r) during a Back To The Lab workshop.

I’m also really looking forward to seeing how I work in the studio with someone else, whose movement I love and whom I really love working with. But also seeing how we learn from each other.

What’s a valuable piece of advice you’ve received so far? How has it impacted and informed your approach to your work?

A bit of advice that was given to me for my own movement by Ivan [Blackstock, choreographer] is to find out what my 100% is. Also, something [choreographer] Jonathan Burrows said about ‘decorating’ your work made me think a lot more about that. How can I decorate my work? How little or how much can I say through movement? I feel like my movement is very slow and internal, so it’s about learning the opposite of what I usually do and not holding back.

Back To The Lab mentor Jonathan Burrows with course participants.

Can you share a personal highlight of the course?

Working with Saskia, the dancer I’m creating this duet with. She’s such a beautiful mover and thinker, and sometimes when we’re next to people like that, we can go into ourselves a bit. We’re always going to see more in other people than we see in ourselves. Having conversations with Saskia and hearing how she works, but also what she appreciates in my own movement, has given me that reassurance in realising what my ‘superpower’ is.

Course participants Nathan Lafayette (l) and Saskia Horton (r) during a Back To The Lab workshop.

Have there been any challenges?

Working through the self-doubt and self-awareness has been on my mind for the last couple of years. I can look around a room and think ‘Oh, that person is dope because of this or that’, but I don’t often feel dope for anything. I don’t know what my ‘thing’ is. I feel more comfortable knowing now that I have accumulated what I’ve accumulated, and whatever I’ve accumulated is what I am. In a way, we become a cross-stitch of all our influences and teachers. I am a product of everyone I’ve ever interacted with and everyone that has taught me before. It’s been nice to be able to step back and understand that a little bit more on the programme.

How are you feeling about the final sharing?

I’m actually not that anxious about it. I definitely feel like there’s a sense of levelling up but knowing that I’m working with Saskia makes me feel less nervous. Having someone in the room to bounce off [ideas] means a lot; it settles my mind.

Nathan Lafayette (l) and Saskia Horton (r).

I’m kind of excited. Of course, [as it happens] inside every artist you want people to like your work. The purpose of a piece isn’t necessarily to inform, but it would be nice to know that mine puts the audience in a state of thought. The work is called Player2 and is very much based on a world of energy, chemical reactions, magnetism and vibrations. How elements react and come together is a core part of it. It’s turned into something that is quite scientific, but it uses science as an analogy for relationships. It would be interesting to see the piece as a catalyst that gets the audience to think about the people they connect with.

Nathan Lafayette (l) and Saskia Horton (r).

Could you describe the Back To The Lab experience in a few words?

Reassuring. Comfortable. Open. Needed. I’m in London, performing on Saturday at Sadler’s Wells theatre! To know that I’m one of four choreographers whose work is going to be seen is surreal.  It’s a great opportunity, but again, I don’t feel the pressure to do it ‘right’. Coming from Birmingham and being a part of something that is as high-profile for the hip-hop dance community as Back To The Lab, I feel even more of a push to represent myself.

Nathan Lafayette (centre) during a Back To The Lab workshop.

Breakin’ Convention presents Back To The Lab is at Sadler’s Wells’ Lilian Baylis Studio on Saturday 25 January. Tickets are available here.

Images throughout: Dave Barros.