artist development

STUDENTS CREATE MUSIC VIDEO WITH RAP PRODUCER TSB

Sadler’s Wells Breakin’ Convention team brought together young aspiring dancers, MCs, music producers and graffiti artists to learn new skills and create a music video as part of Future Elements. The free, annual project engaged 28 students aged 13-16 with hip-hop culture during the February half term.

Over the course of a week, professional artists led the participants into an exploration of various aspects of hip hop, from choreographing routines and creating artwork to lyric writing and music production. The week culminated in the creation of a professional music video, which will premiere at Sadler’s Wells on 21 March.

The seven mentors to the group of young students were: Breakin’ Convention’s artistic director Jonzi D; b-boy and founding member of dance group Rain Crew Clint Sinclair; Vicky ‘Skytilz’ Mantey from dance company Boy Blue Entertainment; rap artist Capo Lee; graffiti artist Boyd Hill; film director Sebastian Thiel; and TSB, a music producer who has worked with rappers including Stormzy, Dave and AJ Tracey.

We spoke to some of the participants and TSB to find out about their experience, inspirations and highlights of the project.

“I’m Jordan. I’m 17 years old. My favourite artists are Stormzy and Dave. I joined the programme because it’s all about Future Elements, so it’s all about us – the future! The experience this week has inspired me and my music.”

Young participants filming their music video for Future Elements.

“My name’s Caleb. I’m 15. My favourite artist right now is Santan Dave. I like performing, rapping and acting. I got involved in Future Elements because I had the experience with Breakin’ Convention before, when I took part in the East Education summer school, and I wanted to do it again. This week I learned to be more confident on stage. TSB gave me a few producing tips as well, which was really good.”

Participant Caleb performing during Future Elements music video shoot.

“My name is Havin. I’m 14 years old. Right now, I’m listening to Dave. I wanted to do Future Elements because it was a new opportunity and I knew there would be good networking and good mentors. The biggest thing I learned this week is that TSB is actually alive – before this, I didn’t know if he really existed or not! He’s a bit low-key, so I was shocked when I met him.”

Havin (pictured in orange) and other Future Elements participants during the music video shoot.  

We spoke to music producer and mentor TSB about his experience as a mentor on the Future Elements project.

Mentor Sebastian Thiel oversees the music video shoot during Future Elements project.

How did you hear about Future Elements?

I heard about Future Elements through Shay [Rafati, Breakin’ Convention’s Education Officer]. I’d got involved with Breakin’ Convention’s [artist development course] Minor Art Surgery before, but this was the first time I’ve done any sort of mentoring in this capacity. When Shay contacted me about Future Elements, it looked like something I definitely wanted to get more involved in, so I did.

Could you tell us a little bit about how you work?

I like to start from scratch. I didn’t come with any beats ready; I made everything on the spot in front of them, making sure there was more of an immersive element. It allows you to understand the young people quicker – what they dislike and what they like. Involving them in that capacity allowed things to run a bit smoother.

Mentors (in order of appearance) Sebastien Thiel, Vicky ‘Skytilz’ Mantey, Clint Smith, Capo Lee and Boyd Hill during Future Elements project.

Were there any surprises along the way?

I was surprised about how capable they were – they were able to just jump on beats and do their thing. It’s crazy because I didn’t actually start making music until I was 16. Meeting kids who are younger than when I first started out, it’s good to see how that generation has advanced and developed and grown already. I found the whole process comfortable.

Could you share a highlight of being a mentor on Future Elements?

There’s been a few. Seeing the joy that the young people get from this – that’s been a highlight. Music is an amazing way to express yourself. Seeing some of the kids that are multitalented – that can dance as well as rap and sing and do other things. It’s been exciting to see the talent overall.

Mentor Vicky ‘Skytilz’ Mantey with young participants during a Future Elements workshop.

Being able to witness how good these young kids are has really been a big highlight, especially the ones that didn’t even know they had the ability to do this. For them to try and achieve what they’ve achieved this week has been great to see.

What three words would you use to describe your experience on the Future Elements programme?

Caleb: entertaining, exciting and fun.

Havin: amazing, great and enlightening.

Jordan: Future Elements in three words? Very, very good.

TSB: Fun. Motivating. Inspiring.

Images throughout: Ryan McAneny.

Tickets for Future Elements Night on 21 March are available here.

“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.

MEET SADLER’S WELLS YOUNG ASSOCIATES 2020-21

We’re thrilled to announce Olive Hardy, Vidya Patel, John-William Watson and Magnus Westwell as our Sadler’s Wells Young Associates for 2020-21.

The artist development programme nurtures choreographers under the age of 25 over the course of two years. As part of it, the four artists will receive a tailored programme of professional development, including support with production time across our studios and theatres, advice and networking opportunities, as well as the opportunity to present their work.

The aim is to help the young artists take the crucial first step into their career as dance makers, enabling them to deepen their understanding of their own practice and gain valuable insight into dance production.

WELCOMING A NEW GENERATION OF DANCE MAKERS

London-born and Bristol-raised, Olive Hardy first started dancing for Rise Youth Dance and has performed with the company for most of her young adulthood. Her training began at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, and she graduated from London Contemporary Dance School in 2019.

Olive Hardy (R) working with a dancer.

She has performed in works by choreographers Samir Kennedy, Leila McMillan, Rick Nodine and Seke Chimutengwende. Olive is interested in delving further into the creative and collaborative process of dance making and hopes to produce work that resonates with the people who experience it.

Olive Hardy working with dancers.

Vidya Patel comes from Birmingham. Her background is in Kathak, training under the guidance of Sujata Banerjee. After graduating from the Centre of Advanced Training at Birmingham DanceXchange, Vidya took part in the inaugural BBC Young Dancer 2015, where she was selected as the finalist for the South Asian category. She has since performed in international touring works created by critically acclaimed artists Sir Richard Alston, Gary Clarke, Thick & Tight and Akademi.

Vidya Patel working with dancer Connor Scott.

While continuing her Indian classical dance training, Vidya is looking to develop her own choreographic  practice.

Vidya Patel (R) working with dancer Connor Scott.

Born in Leeds, John-William Watson began his training at Phoenix Dance Theatre’s Youth Academy. During this time, he was also a member of National Youth Dance Company for two years and trained under the artistic direction of Sadler’s Wells’ Associate Artists Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Michael Keegan-Dolan.

John-William Watson (R) working with a dancer.


He then moved to Belgium to study at The Royal Conservatoire of Antwerp. He was selected as the Wild Card finalist in the BBC Young Dancer 2017 competition. Returning to the UK, he is following his creative path within the world of absurd and often comedic dance theatre.

John-William Watson (R) working with a dancer.

Edinburgh-born interdisciplinary artist Magnus Westwell is a graduate from The Dance School of Scotland and Rambert School, where he was the recipient of a scholarship from the Veronica Bruce Memorial Trust. Magnus works at the intersection of music, movement and visual art. He is interested in placing contemporary performance art in a variety of different settings and his work has been shown at electronic music festivals, in theatres, clubs, churches and on BBC4.

Magnus Westwell (R) working with a dancer.

Magnus creates and mixes his own music, drawing inspiration from his background in traditional Scottish fiddle and his interest in left-field electronic music. He is the resident choreographer with multi-media collective SYNTREX.

Magnus Westwell (R) working with a dancer.

The Young Associates programme has been nurturing budding dance makers while bringing fresh and exciting new work to the fore since its launch in February 2018. Sadlers’ Wells’ inaugural Young Associates 2018-19 – Anthony Matsena, Wilhelmina Ojanen, Ruby Portus and Christopher Thomas – completed the programme in December. All continue to work on exciting upcoming projects, adding their talents to a new artistic generation of dance makers.

Images throughout: Camilla Greenwell.

Ivan Blackstock: “Hip hop artists are in a constant rush. This is an opportunity to experience an actual creative process.”

Six hip hop artists enjoyed a week of experimentation, creation and refinement of their practice under the mentorship of leading choreographers, theatre makers and dramaturgs as part of the latest Open Art Surgery course this month.

Delivered by Sadler’s Wells’ Breakin’ Convention team, the artist development programme involved hip hop artists from a diverse range of backgrounds, from dance and physical theatre to spoken word and design, in a series of intensive workshops to devise and develop new work.

With no pressure on them to come up with a finished piece as an outcome, the artists presented their work in progress at a public sharing at the end of the week. This unique format invites the audience to get inside the mind of the artists and to give them feedback, while offering artists a platform to take creative risks and test out new ideas.

We speak to hip hop choreographer and Open Art Surgery mentor Ivan Blackstock, delving into a day in the life of the artist development programme.

Mentor Ivan Blackstock (L) with Open Art Surgery participant Harvey Burke.

What does a typical day at Open Art Surgery look like?

A day in the life of Open Art Surgery sees the artists in the space. Mentors usually pop in every two to three hours just to see how they’re doing. It also involves giving artists the time and space to just be, which is very rare for a lot of them. What Breakin’ Convention tries to do is give the artists enough time to get in a good mental space before the mentors, come in and add, influence… or disrupt (laughs).

A lot of the artists are at different artistic stages: you have professional makers who are creating work already. Then you have the street and hip-hop dancers that have never touched theatre before. Then there’s this added layer of different artists, who range from beatboxers to emcees and writers. It ends up being quite a diverse lineup throughout the week. Where we come in is we see where they’re at, and how we can get them to where they need to be. When they need any guidance, we’re here.

For a lot of the artists, Saturday [the showcase day] can seem like doomsday, but we just have to remind them that everything’s going to be alright; the nerves, the uncertainty, it’s all part of the process. The truth is that even on the day of the performance it’s still a work in progress. I always say there’s ‘Phase 1’, and it’s completely up to you how many phases you want to go through. There is no rush to finish great work.

Open Art Surgery participants Harvey Burke, Sekou Diaby and Mollie Stebbing.

How would you describe your approach to working with the artists?  

The thing that’s amazing about Open Art Surgery is that there are different mentors for different needs and wants. I like to approach the work when there is something to look at. Aesthetic and design – those are the things I love to discover and seek out.  Then you have Anthony [Ekundayo Lennon, another mentor] who deals more with the drama and conflict. Jonzi [mentor and Artistic Director of Breakin’ Convention] obviously has multiple skills. We now have new mentors joining, who are also bringing new areas of expertise.

Open Art Surgery participants Helena Kate Amor and Ellen Wolf of dance and design duo Moving Mountains.

My approach is quite simple. I don’t like influencing the artists too early. I want to see where they’re at and what they’re saying for themselves, and then penetrate the layers. I’m not trying to make the layers for them. Each time I do it, it’s a thing where I come in as ‘bad cop’ – I think you need the mentor who is gonna be a little bit harder. That’s what helped me progress as an artist. We don’t wrap anyone in cotton wool because in our eyes, everyone is the same. Everyone is equal.

What are the ingredients for a strong piece or performance?

Technique is important. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the obvious technique we know sits in that particular style. For me, it’s more about skill. How sharp is your pencil? That’s what’s really interesting to me.

Open Art Surgery participants Frankie Johnson and Toyin Sogunro.

I think performance is equally important. How much are you willing to go and discover? How much are you willing to excavate a character? Performance can be seen as one-dimensional, but as human beings we have many different flavours within us. I personally get excited when I see more of an emotional journey in a performance.

Another thing I always say to the artists is to “make it lit”. What I mean by that is this X factor, this thing that isn’t explainable, that makes the piece go above and beyond. The more you make and explore as an artist, the more you start to find that thing, that language. Sometimes I don’t even need technique – I just need you to be within the work and show me how you can tell this story by being raw as hell. The way you execute a strong performance is finding a way to incorporate all of these things into one. That’s what’s really going to tickle my chakras (laughs).

Open Art Surgery participants Frankie Johnson and Toyin Sogunro.

Is there anything in particular that you’d like to see brought out of the artists and their work this year? 

Confidence. As artists, we all have self-doubt. Sometimes we don’t believe in our work or believe that it’s good enough. It can be quite lonely. As a mentee on the programme, you’re not by yourself. Likewise, as mentors, we’re not telling them what to do. We’re saying: “Let’s find a way to take the idea out of your head and action it.” Write it on paper. Record your voice. Record a phrase. Whatever it takes. It’s about putting your concept or your idea in different parts of your being, beyond the cerebral. When I’ve seen artists open themselves up to the process and start to build something, I’ve watched their confidence grow as a result, because they start to see their work from all these different angles.

Open Art Surgery participant Lionel ‘Mcjiver’ Joseph (L) and mentor Jonzi D.

What are the best aspects of being a mentor?

With Open Art Surgery, so many different types of artists walk through that door. Hearing all of their stories and perspectives and seeing how they approach and grow from those stories. Or seeing people who have never done hip hop theatre before, coming out of the process like “this is what I want to do.” Or someone who might be autistic, who never really had an opportunity to say how they feel or the platform to express themselves. This is why I do it. It humbles you: you realise that it’s not about you, it’s about them. Working on projects like this helps me look at the world differently, you know? By the end of it, I’m so chuffed and pleased for everyone.

Open Art Surgery participant Lionel ‘Mcjiver’ Joseph.

What, if any, are the challenges?

Making sure I have enough tools and using them wisely to help an artist. Sometimes an artist might need help in an area, and you don’t really have an idea of how to approach that task in that moment. Also, I’d say knowing how to problem solve both inside and outside the room. As mentors, our brains are still ticking over, long after a session finishes. We’re trying to figure out how we ease the artists’ process. What’s really interesting and fun is that we’re all going on a journey. There’s much learning and community in that process.

Open Art Surgery participant Shay D.

How do you see the relationship between hip hop and theatre?

Hip hop and theatre – the relationship has always been there. You see it in old school movies like Breakin’ – at the end of it, it’s a theatre show. You’ll find that most of the newer dance films end in a full theatrical production. You can see the lineage throughout the eras, from jazz to the Harlem Renaissance. There is no debate. Personally, in my work, I like to give people the energy of hip hop and street culture, because I think both are very exciting. There’s something that hip hop does – I call it ‘edutainment’ [education and entertainment]. It’s exciting, it’s new, it’s fresh, but it’s also saying something.

Open Art Surgery participants (L to R) Amona Venice, Shirley Ahura and Mike Igbins, members of dance collective The Archetype.

Why are artist development programmes like Open Art Surgery important to hip hop in particular?

Not everyone from the hip hop dance realm wants to battle, or dance behind an artist. For most hip hop artists, our first port of call is to make a little show. It’s really important because we don’t have any conservatoires or vocational schools for hip hop. When I started out as a professional theatre maker, doing Back to The Lab [another artist development course delivered by the Breakin’ Convention team] and Open Art Surgery was the best thing for me. I got to schedule my own time, meet some great people and bring mentors into the process with me who understood my vision, ideas and helped me get to the next level.

Mentor Ivan Blackstock (centre) with mentees during an Open Art Surgery workshop.

That’s another great thing with Breakin’ Convention: once you become involved in their events and projects, you become part of the family. Then you realise that the family is a lot wider; they’re connected to the battle scene still, they’re connected to theatre, advertising and TV. You can take all the skills and ideas from the programme and transfer them to other areas.

Open Art Surgery is for people that are interested in going down the long-term route. With hip hop dancers, we’re in a constant rush: you only have a space for two hours, or you don’t have a space, so you’re doing a quick session in the street before it rains. This is an opportunity to experience an actual creative process.

Open Art Surgery participants Mike Igbins (L) and Pav Rai, members of dance collective The Archetype.

How would you describe Open Art Surgery, both the process and the final sharing, in three words?

Thought provoking. Insightful. Raw.

Header image: Owen Ling

Images throughout: Dave Barros

Breakin’ Convention is an integral part of Sadler’s Wells’ artistic programme. Open Art Surgery launches its first-ever programme in Wales in collaboration with Avant Cymru, which takes place in Wrexham on 10-14 February. Find more information here.

“Each piece is like one side of a coin”: Young Associates on Together, not the same

Sadler’s Wells’ inaugural Young Associates – Anthony Matsena, Wilhelmina Ojanen, Ruby Portus and Christopher Thomas – first introduced their refreshing voices to audiences at sell-out performances in our Lilian Baylis Studio in 2018.

This year, they make their debut on the main stage with Together, not the same. Working with our New Wave Associate Hetain Patel, who developed the artistic brief they responded to, they have broken away from the traditional mixed-bill mould, creating a bold evening of dance that sees two separate segments of work by each choreographer presented either side of the interval. Each section created by the individual choreographer represents a different angle of the same piece.

We speak to Christopher and Ruby about the creative journey behind the production, their personal development on the programme and what the future holds as they continue in their dance-making careers.

Can you tell us a little bit about your creative journey with Together, not the same?

Christopher: For me, the creative journey has really been about collaboration. I’ve been able to work with a fantastic costume designer from Shanghai, the composer Jordan Hunt and our lighting designer Ryan, who is lighting the whole evening and has a good idea of everyone’s pieces and how to make them stylistically different. I have 10 dancers and they’re a mixture of people that I know or have worked with before. To be working with friends is a lovely thing and it’s made the whole experience really fun.

In rehearsal with Christopher Thomas. Image: Helen Murray
In rehearsal with Christopher Thomas. Image: Helen Murray

Ruby: I really care about what the dancers in my piece are interested in, and wanted to embed this in the creative process. When we were workshopping ideas, we found that a lot of what we crafted had a kind of urgency to it. I asked them: ‘What do you feel strongly about right now? What is most important to you? What do you feel most impassioned by?’ I set movement and text-based tasks for the dancers to do, until we got to a point where we realised a joint direction we wanted to go in.

In rehearsal with Ruby Portus. Image: David Lindsay
In rehearsal with Ruby Portus. Image: David Lindsay

What has working with Hetain Patel been like?

Christopher: Hetain’s been great. He’s always available, whether that’s to come to the studio, at the end of the phone, or on email. Artistically he has been with us throughout the process and he’s really helped with feedback. He’s a real pleasure to work with.

Ruby: He’s a really nice presence to have around – he has a very gentle demeanour but is also very focused, clear and specific. He’s not intrusive in any way on the process. He’ll say to you ‘What do you need? Do you want me to tell you what I’m thinking right now, or would you rather not hear it?’ He gives you information only when you want it, which is really nice.

How would you describe your piece in a sentence or two?

Ruby: It’s pulling together elements of what people feel strongly about in our current times, but in a playful and metaphorical way.

In rehearsal with Ruby Portus. Image: David Lindsay

Christopher: It’s intense; it’s emotive. It’s perceiving a situation from two different angles: the first is inside the cognitive process of someone’s brain, the second is living the actual situation. It’s taking two very different spins on how you can portray one thing.

In rehearsal with Christopher Thomas. Image: Helen Murray

Who, or what, are some of the main inspirations behind your piece?

Ruby: We all realised that the thing we were most concerned with, and also most active about, was the climate crisis. That was the main starting point: how can we find a parallel world to tell a story through, and still make people think about the planet that we’re living on now? The inspiration really came from the conversations we were having. That and lots of 80s’ power ballads!

Christopher: I always like to draw from personal experience, because I find that’s an authentic place to come from if I want to do justice to any situation. Ultimately, what we’re showing is not a real-life situation, but the feelings experienced on stage come from a real place.

Together, not the same presents a programme of dance that disrupts the traditional mixed bill format. Can you elaborate on this, and how the pieces speak to each other?

Ruby: The pieces definitely relate to one another. In the first part, we set up this world and introduce the audience to it. In the second part, we frame it a little differently; seeing it from a different perspective and highlighting other elements that aren’t necessarily shown in Part 1.

Christopher:  Each piece is like one side of a coin. As a show, it very much feels that the first half of the production is centred around hope, and the second half feels like it’s more about devastation. That’s just a natural thing that’s happened. Could it be influenced by the type of world we’re living in at the minute? (laughs). Not sure, but it’s one of those magical moments where things just worked out that way.

The programme is also bridging all of our different styles, finding a choreographic language within itself and expanding that. It’s going to be a really varied evening, which is great for the audience. There’ll be things in there that you like, things in there that you don’t like – I think it really caters to everyone.

Sadler’s Wells Young Associates (clock-wise from top left): Anthony Matsena,
Wilhelmina Ojanen, Christopher Thomas and
Ruby Portus.

What have been your personal highlights working on the production? Have there been any challenges?

Christopher: Being able to work on 10 dancers. I’ve always wanted to work with a large group of people, so to work with that many has been a challenge, but the highlight as well. It’s been stressful a times, but you learn from those stressful moments. I’ve loved every second of it.

Ruby:  Being able to see your work in such a massive space with such amazing supporting and enhancing technology. I feel very lucky. All the technical elements in the main house are just 10 levels above anywhere else. It’s like when a photo loads half-way on your phone. You think to yourself: ‘”Ah, that’s a nice photo.”‘ But then all of a sudden it clicks into focus and you’re like: “Wow!” That’s what it’s like on stage. Everything is just so crisp.

Passing an element over to someone else to be in control of is definitely a challenge for me! I’m so used to doing it all and knowing exactly what is happening at all times. Everyone in the creative team is so great and talented at what they do, but it doesn’t mean that the work is taken off your hands – it’s just about doing it differently.

How has being on the Young Associates programme helped you develop as choreographers?

Christopher: It’s really pushed me. It’s not only meant working on things behind the scenes, but also managing myself as a choreographer.

Christopher Thomas. Image: Helen Murray

It’s also allowed me to express myself creatively. With the programme being funded by Sadler’s Wells, it’s helped me with all the things I wouldn’t have been able to explore as easily had I not been part of it: access to space, dancers, creatives and designers. Having an outlet to express myself and show my work in the Lilian Baylis Studio and now the main house is just a dream. I would never have thought that it could happen to me, at my age, this early on in my career. Usually, when you’re starting out as a choreographer it doesn’t happen right away, and so for it to have happened at all is pretty amazing.

Ruby: Learning how to manage not only your time, ideas and needs, but also the needs of others in a practical way has been a really good experience. From the word go, we’ve been meeting and collaborating with dance artists, producers, dramaturgs and even funding bodies. Working closely with our producer, Lucy Clarke-Bishop [from the Learning & Engagement team at Sadler’s Wells], has definitely made me grateful of the work that she does, and that production teams in general do, behind the scenes to bring something like this together.

Ruby Portus. Image: David Lindsay

What are you currently working on?

Christopher: I’m working with New Adventures on Matthew Bourne’s Romeo & Juliet as well as on this production – luckily we’re on a break at the minute! I’ll also be working with the Mark Bruce Company again on a piece that’s coming out at the end of the year.  

Ruby: On Monday I start the research and development stage for a new project I’m working on, which I got my first ever Arts Council funding for. The idea is to create a new work that will be presented both as a standalone piece and as part of a mixed bill alongside another work, which I previously showcased while on the Young Associates programme. It will be a new experience for me being the choreographer but also being in the work as a performer!

Where do you see yourself five years from now?

Christopher: Still dancing, still choreographing. I would really like to start establishing my own company and more of a repertoire in my work.

Ruby: It’s a tricky one – I couldn’t say in five years’ time I want to have a company. Ideally, I would be performing in other people’s work most of the time, making my own work sometimes, and having periods of work unrelated to dance, like working for a charity every few months. I’d like to do something positively impactful alongside everything else.  

BREAKIN’ CONVENTION TO STRENGTHEN HIP HOP SECTOR WITH NATIONAL PROGRAMME

Sadler’s Wells Breakin’ Convention is set to deliver a three-year national programme to strengthen the hip hop sector thanks to a grant from Arts Council England.

Sadler’s Wells has been awarded £630,660 as part of the Arts Council’s National Lottery Project Grants funding programme. Using this funding, our Breakin’ Convention team will continue to build on the learnings and legacy of 16 years of successful hip hop theatre development with an ambitious new programme, Breakin’ Out.

Breakin’ Out will encompass three distinct and connected strands: Grass Routes partnerships, artist development and performance.

Grass Routes partnerships

This will see a new area of engagement for Breakin’ Convention. The programme will reinforce the national hip hop network by fostering relationships between hip hop artists and cultural institutions. Joining forces with six national practitioners – two each year – Breakin’ Out will deliver high-quality training at a local level, including youth projects, masterclasses and teacher training, as well as providing mentorship in organisational development. The first year partners will be with Dance4All in Bournemouth and Bad Taste Cru in Gateshead.

Breakin’ Convention Park Jam. Image: Paul Hampartsoumian

Artist Development

With no formalised training currently existing for hip hop artists in the UK, Breakin’ Out will provide a variety of progression routes at different points in their artistic journeys, giving more people access to hip hop at entry level and forging pathways into the sector. Breakin’ Convention will deliver its successful Open Art Surgery professional development project around the country, offering participants the opportunity to learn under different mentors and perform locally and nationally. Artists will also be offered bespoke ‘Higher Learning’ training days, focused on theatre practice.

Open Art Surgery. Image: Owen Ling

Nurturing the development of artists represents an integral part of the programme in the lead up to the opening of the UK’s first hip hop theatre academy, part of Sadler’s Wells’ additional, mid-scale venue to open in east London in 2022. The new theatre will be part of new cultural and education district East Bank, in Stratford’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

Performances

Breakin’ Out will reach out to wide and diverse audiences through two large-scale Breakin’ Convention national tours, engaging over 1000 UK artists and featuring 34 national performances. The festival will tour to cities including Norwich, Blackpool, Sheffield, Doncaster, Canterbury, Brighton, Plymouth, Poole and Birmingham in spring 2020 and 2022.  

Phase T (France) at Breakin’ Convention 2010. Image: Belinda Lawley

Alistair Spalding, Artistic Director and Chief Executive of Sadler’s Wells, said: “We’re absolutely delighted that, through the Arts Council’s support, over the next three years the programme will engage over a thousand artists and large audiences across the country, strengthening the UK infrastructure for hip hop and widening its reach.”

Jonzi D, Sadler’s Wells’ Associate Artist and artistic director of Breakin’ Convention, commented: “Breakin’ Convention has been a catalyst in the exposure and development of hip hop in the theatre. A hunger from artists and audiences has been created! We have a responsibility to continue supporting hip hop culture and this funding will enable us to strengthen the sector, and to prepare for the opening of Sadler’s Wells’ hip hop theatre academy in 2022.”

Breakin’ Convention Presents

Yaman Okur 1mm Au Dessus Du Sol. Image: Ragbui

After introducing audiences to the work of artist Pierre Rigale by presenting his work Scandale in 2018, Breakin’ Convention Presents returns with 1mm Au Dessus Du Sol (1mm above the floor), a collaboration between French choreographers Yaman Okur and Sébastien Lefrançois.

Curated by Sadler’s Wells’ Associate Artist Jonzi D, the initiative provides a platform for the finest hip hop theatre makers to showcase a full-length work on our stage, as well as welcoming creations by contemporary choreographers working with street dance forms. Breakin’ Convention Presents: Yaman Okur and Jean-Philippe Collard-Neven’s 1mm Au Dessus Du Sol is at Sadler’s Wells’ Lilian Baylis Studio on 27 and 28 September 2019.

“They’re from all walks of life, but they’re already like a family”: NYDC from behind the scenes

Last week, National Youth Dance Company (NYDC) embarked on its fourth and final residency at Sadler’s Wells ahead of debuting its new work MADHEAD, choreographed by Olivier-award winning Guest Artistic Director Botis Seva.

We spoke to Jordan Douglas and Ezra Owen, members of the hip hop theatre collective Far From the Norm and assistant choreographers to Botis, about the journey with NYDC so far.

What has your experience been like as part of the creative team for NYDC, and what have you been working on with the company?

Jordan: It’s been a challenging one – we’ve had to learn what the company dancers are doing as well as help Botis with creative input, so you have to be in two minds all of the time. You have to be switched on and have that mindset ready… have the material ready in case someone forgets their counts. I’d say Ezra has it the hardest though!

Ezra: (laughs) I’m working with both groups, so I guess I have to know pretty much everything. One of the things we’ve been trying to get NYDC to have is presence; because there are so many of them, it’s easy to get lost and just become a number. So even though it’s all about working together, it’s equally about getting them to bring individual presence on stage.

NYDC is currently on its final residency. How have the young people in this cohort changed from their first residency back in October?

Jordan: [The change has been] so drastic. The majority of them are contemporary-based, while our movement is more hip-hop based. The way they moved was a lot more upright, they had a different posture to their movement completely. They’ve had to have that broken down, because the movement initially was quite unnatural to them. It’s taken a little while, but they’re getting there.

Ezra: It’s been interesting watching the company develop from residency to residency. There are areas where they’ve picked up more technique, their movement has become a bit more advanced.

With the responsibility of training and facilitating some of the country’s brightest young dance talent firmly in your hands, do you ever feel any pressure?

Jordan: When you’re teaching something and you get it wrong, you feel it! The stuff that we’re used to within the ‘Norm’ experience is this: if Botis is working on something with one person, everyone else starts going over the material up until that point. Whereas with NYDC, they will watch and wait until you’re ready. It’s a different dynamic. But other than that, I don’t feel that much pressure because they’re so good. Wherever we need to get to, I know we’ll get there.

What has most impressed you working with NYDC participants?

Ezra: I think they’re quite open-minded. I feel like when I was younger, I only really liked to do what I was good at. The dancers we’ve been working with in NYDC, they’re really open to trying new things. Even if they feel weird at first, they just crack on with it. Once they get into it, they’re really determined to embody whatever it is that we throw at them. It’s really encouraging to see.

Jordan: Because they’re so diverse, they’ve learned from each other – that’s what’s impressed me. When you’re from a contemporary background and you’re standing next to someone from a hip-hop background, there’s more of an exchange. When everyone is in tune, and when you combine the length of a contemporary dancer with the power of a hip-hop dancer – it’s really quite powerful. They’re from all walks of life, but they’re already like a family. They also don’t quit too easily – they put up a fight.

How do you get everyone prepared and ‘in the zone’ for long, intensive rehearsal days?

Jordan: We’ve taken over from Botis in terms of doing warm up over the past few days, and I think a lot of it is about just trying to be a good role model; stretching when you need to stretch, making sure that you warm up properly in front of them, showing them the quality of the movement – so that they can see that we’re not just saying it, but that we’re doing it as well, with them.

The most important thing we can do really is try and keep them on track. I guess we’re like their big brothers and big sister. Whenever they’ve got a spare moment, we get them to go over something. We make sure that they’re taking care of each other.

Beforehand it was a case of: “If I’ve got it, I don’t need to go to other people, I just need to worry about myself”, whereas now I feel like they’ve become more of a company. They’re more likely to go and ask someone: “Do you want to go over this bit?” and help them get to where they need to be. They’re more eager to ask others to get the information and support that they need. That’s helped them a lot and allowed them to develop a lot quicker.

Finally, what are your key ingredients for a great performance?

Ezra: You’ve got to condition your body, that’s key to a strong performance. If your body is conditioned, you can last the endurance of the piece.

Jordan: From behind the scenes, I’d say hard work, practising when you’re not in the studio and listening to the music.

And on the stage?

Ezra: When performing, I’d say to use each other’s energy. There’s only so much you can give as an individual. If someone has more energy during the piece, use that and vice versa – you’ve got to give that energy back as much as you take from it. That’s very important.

Jordan: One thing that you can struggle with in the performance is just being ‘in it’. So whatever the character or mood of the section is, it’s about trying to fully embody that. You get that added layer of performance so that it’s not just about movement – you’re doing it for a reason.

Ezra: Yeah, when you’re in a section you have to be in that section and try not to think about the next, as hard as it is. You’ve got to allow room to fully immerse yourself in it. That way the audience will be constantly captivated and engaged throughout the whole performance, because you are.

Pictured (left to right): Jordan Douglas and Ezra Owen
Images: Camilla Greenwell

MADHEAD premieres at DanceEast on 20 April 2019. From June, the production embarks on a national tour across Plymouth, Newcastle, Essex, Brighton and Birmingham, closing at Sadler’s Wells on 19 July.

National Youth Dance Company (NYDC) is supported using public funding by the Department for Education and Arts Council England.

“Sweat, hard work and heart-warming experiences”: NYDC members rehearse MADHEAD

National Youth Dance Company (NYDC) is preparing for the premiere of its new work MADHEAD, choreographed by Guest Artistic Director Botis Seva, in April. Here, two young dancers share their thoughts on the company’s recent intensive periods of rehearsals.

Dancer Ewelina Kosinska, from Surrey, is 18.

“Going into our second residency in December, I was curious and excited to finally start proper work on our piece. Knowing how hard the previous, three-day residency was, I knew seven days would be overwhelming. I can honestly say it was the most exhausting week of my life when I look back, but in the moment it didn’t feel like it. I was so thrilled and motivated the whole time.

I had to be very focused as we learned so much choreography in those days, but it didn’t seem so much because I was loving every minute of it. At the end of each day, it really helped to have Sheela, who led meditation and relaxation techniques sessions with us; it helped me absorb daily information and gave me time to focus on my internal wellbeing.

Ahead of our third residency of nine days I am now even more determined,  as I now know how much focus and effort I need to put in for the piece to look amazing. I already feel like the show will be incredible and it’s the most exciting project I have ever gotten to be a part of so far.”

NYDC with Guest Artistic Director Botis Seva (left) and his creative team in rehearsals.

Dancer Kendra Chiagoro-Noel is 19 and from London.

“Arriving in Hull for our third residency in February, I was greeted by smiling faces and an eagerness to jump right back into the studio together, to pick up where we’d left off. I was buzzing, slightly nervous and full of excitement.

Getting back into the material and remembering steps and qualities with the premiere looming was definitely a challenge. A lot of personal reassurance and collective motivation helped us all overcome frustrations and energy levels to push through. 

The perseverance definitely paid off and the choreography was really getting into our bodies and beginning to take shape. It was so reassuring to see us adjusting to the physical demands and fully enjoying and embracing the movement through our rising confidence in the material. 

With the premiere so close and the vision of the piece becoming clearer to us, having the opportunity to see the costumes, talk to Botis and his company Far From The Norm, the lighting designers and production team as part of a Q&A session made it even more exciting.

The days flew by! It was a blur of sweat, hard work and heart-warming experiences. Coming home, I felt stronger, energized and ready to keep going – I even went for a run! I can’t wait to be back in April!”

MADHEAD premieres at DanceEast in Ipswich on 20 April. It then tours to Plymouth, Newcastle, Essex, Brighton and Birmingham, closing at Sadler’s Wells on 19 July.

National Youth Dance Company (NYDC) is supported using public funding by the Department for Education and Arts Council England.