The radical moves of London’s dance community

© Kent Andreasen

Words by:

It’s an exciting time for dance in London, as the city’s artists are shaking off tradition and using their practice as a vehicle for social connectivity.

A snapshot of London’s experimental dance scene, meet the performers whose work dismantles ideas of class, race, gender and sexuality.

Malik Nashad Sharpe

© Kent Andreasen

The choreographer, who performs under the moniker Marikiscrycrycry, channels themes of melancholia and identity in their thought-provoking work.

How did you get started in the dance scene? What impact has it had on your life?

I like building things and that’s where my interest in dancing started. I came to London to study in a conservatoire and then stumbled upon something both in the fabric of this place and in myself, which led me to making my work here. I’m actively trying to deconstruct and undo much of what I learned from training as a dancer – it’s given me a lot to do. I’m still working at it.

Can you tell us about a standout performance for you this year and why it meant something to you?

Earlier this year during a performance of $ELFIE$ in Glasgow, I got a standing ovation for my impromptu monologue about care, black skin, exhaustion and the ability to claim victimhood. But I ended up feeling really emotional. Not because of those affirmations, but because it showed me that crafting with abstraction would only get me certain information or feedback.

I thought, I’m already perceived as Other, angry and combative by the audience. It felt like they were wanting me to say ‘OK after all of this abstraction, here is something clear, angry and combative… neat and digestible for you to take home instead of this conflictual, difficult, leaky, complexioned subject.’ I’m not interested in the easy way out though, and my work reflects that. I’m just trying to humanise myself. This has been a huge realisation.

Tell us about the dance classes you host. What do they provide for yourself and your community?

I don’t teach ‘dance classes’ regularly because authority is somewhat violent and the body is tender space, so personal and confusing. I usually teach students who are studying in institutions, doing degrees in art or contemporary dance, or are practising artists who are interested in my rigorous aesthetics and movement practice. I always try to subvert the teacher-student bullshit relationship because some of my dance teachers abused their power, and left a lot of us damaged. Sometimes it’s useful to have someone lead stuff, but in my work and teaching I’m trying cultivate the ‘I do what the fuck I want and I know why I’m doing it’ kind of body. Daring to cultivate the formal, emotional, political and aesthetic all at once.

Jay Jay Revlon

© Kent Andreasen

A figurehead of the London Ballroom scene, Jay Jay Revlon caught wider attention in 2017 when a video of him vogueing at London’s vigil for Orlando went viral. With his Kiki house and events, he is driven by the impact dance can have on his community.

How did you first get introduced to vogueing? What impact has vogueing had on your life?

I found it back at school when I was around 14. I always danced in school but I felt like I had a calling for vogueing in particular. It has given me more than I can say, two additional families which are supportive in more ways than you image. It gave me a space to give space.

Can you tell us about Let’s Have a Kiki? What’s the atmosphere like at one our your events?

Let’s Have a Kiki – a monthly event which aims to bring vogueing back to the capital’s dancefloors for voguers and friends. The atmosphere is out of this world! It’s full of love, want, laughter, gag-worthy moments and all round fun.

How would you describe the spirit of London’s dance community?

The London ballroom scene is full of life, it’s bold and it’s powerful.

What are you most excited about for the future?

I’m excited for the unexpected.

Benjamin Milan

© Kent Andreasen

The esteemed choreographer, dancer and movement director has worked with the likes of Madonna and FKA twigs, as well as being the UK Father of the House of Milan.

Tell us about the House of Milan. How would you describe the attitude of the house?

House of Milan is a ballroom house inspired by the fashion capital of Milan, think Versace late 80s. The House is iconic as it’s been in the scene since the late 80s when ballroom got stronger and more established in NYC. The attitude of the house is a silent storm, you don’t see us coming but you will definitely have felt us when we’ve been in the building. Creative, innovative and not scared to think outside of the box.

How are you and your community building on vogueing’s legacy?

In the UK we have been establishing a flourishing ballroom scene in the last five years that’s very exciting to see. All the houses are contributing and people who are 007 (free agents, the name given to performers who don’t belong to a house). This fall alone there are four major balls and one Kiki ball happening. When I first started we didn’t have any balls in London so it’s a very exciting development. I think we are carrying on the legacy by being true to the origins of ballroom and bringing our own fingerprint and personality to the development of the culture.

Benjamin Milan / Radical Dancers © Kent Andreasen
© Kent Andreasen

Where’s your favourite place to perform? When and where do you feel the most creative and free?

In the studio to be honest, to go to my laboratory and express and develop myself and my movement. I feel the most creative and free when I feel no pressure, when I can just let go and let the movement take me where it wants to take me – let my body be a vessel, that’s when dancing is pure ecstasy.

What advice do you have for someone looking to break into your industry?

I would say to break into the dance industry you have to believe in yourself, trust that you’re enough. Be realistic about where you are on your journey and be conscious of what you want and how to get there. The best advice I got is: work hard, be humble and socialise.

Valerie Ebuwa

Valerie Ebuwa tells powerful stories, both as a part of women-led performance platform Woman SRSLY and with her own politically-charged dance art.

How has London’s dance scene evolved over the past year? How do you see it changing in the future?

I think there’s this beautiful blurring of styles and genres taking place which is super exciting. The contemporary dance scene in particular is calling on an amalgamation of different skill sets taken from other dance/movement forms (vogue, breakdance, etc) which help to create a true representation of the word contemporary, which in fact means new. I feel that contemporary dance hasn’t been new for a while. It’s nice to be part of a generation that is fighting to break, push and redefine the boundaries.

How does your womanhood inform your choreography? Is dance a useful tool for feminism?

Choreographically, I’m constantly trying to subvert or challenge how society depicts womanhood or femininity, particularly black women. Black women are just as badly stereotyped in the dance scene as they are in the world. If I’m not pointing my feet then what I present is a dancehall, African dance or something ‘urban’ it seems. I play with and fuse different styles of dance so that I can trip people up a bit. You start to understand then what lenses people are really viewing your work with. It also creates an unpredictability which I love. I also reference different black women (Missy Elliott, Sarah Baartman, Lola Falana) to illustrate how these women were either boxed or found liberation through unapologetically being themselves.

© Kent Andreasen

These women were either celebrated or ridiculed for their womanhood or completely redefined what a black woman is or can be. Dance is definitely a useful tool for feminism because it can illustrate the inequalities within society and challenge people to address why they have these beliefs in the first place. Dance is my tool for feminism.

Can you describe a performance this year that was transformative for you? Why was it so powerful?

Balloons by Grace Nicol is a piece that was super powerful for me because originally it was a solo which required me to play multiple characters in a short space of time. It starts with me as this pretty balloon sculpture and ends with me being a strong, naked woman, swearing at the audience because we as women are super duper tired of being limited to the rubbish stereotypes and bullshit patriarchy. I can be beautiful, I can be sexual, I can be strong, aggressive, rude all in the space of 15 minutes. Yes it’s possible! I pop the balloons in sync with this stripper track (The Stripper by David Rose) so suddenly I morph into this weird burlesque act. I’m empowered by both nudity and modesty, so it was amazing to express that in one piece as well as give a big fuck you to those who think that both can’t coincide. Also a big fuck you to the male gaze. I can and will take full agency on how I want to be seen and represented.

Florence Peake

© Kent Andreasen

With messy performances – this year’s The Rite of Spring had dancers rolling naked in clay for its duration – Florence Peake blurs boundary lines to create provocative, urgent art.

How do you channel your politics through dance?

Recent interests have included looking at qualities of vulnerability, intimacy and instinctive intuitive qualities that the body possesses. How these qualities can be a force for change and a way of disrupting normative conservatism attitudes to the bodies and sexuality. With the rise of fascistic and restrictive perceptions of people and bodies my work has been using materials like clay that have a visceral, primal and bodily quality to further express a kind of protest against these attitudes.

How would you describe the spirit of London’s dance community?

Within the independent dance community I am involved in: politically charged, ethically concerned, fiery fiery…

What are you most excited about for the future?

I would love more collectives to be involved in curating programmes in places like Rambert, Sadlers Wells, The Place to give more diverse programmes – what would it be like to really let artists be part of the decisions. As the fab choreographer Gillie Kleiman says: “More artists making more decisions about more resources.”

Eve Stainton

Co-founder of politically-charged outfit The Uncollective, Eve Stainton’s experimental movement work explores vulnerability, utopian ideals and the power of the queer body.

How is London’s experimental dance scene evolving right now?

That’s a good question because I can find myself being quite critical about the systemic dance condition in London, which potentially dismisses or undermines any progress that has been made – of which there has been some. Also it feels important to say that I’m writing from the place of a white, queer cis-woman from a working class background and so imagine these large political questions from that place. It’s quite difficult to get perspective on or measure change within a time scale from inside the current, but I am feeling a constant sense of evolution, maybe in terms of a desire for individualism and reclamation for the artist away from the Institution (capital I) and the depletion of the company model. I’ve felt something like a surgence, or resurgence, of extremely political solo work dealing with complex subjectivities, prioritising identity politics, sensuality and emotional states.

There’s a lot going on – we’re in the middle of Brexit, #MeToo is more present than ever in the dance world, there are TERFs at Pride, it’s pretty absurd right now. I think there could be a crisis revolution scenario – maybe that’s my secret desire. It’s also really revealing of my context and typical of a movement that is prominent at the moment; this canon of speculative utopian fantasy.

Tell us about your collaborations with Florence Peake.

With Florence, the collaboration comes from a very personal place. We first got together during a performance and from there erupted this passionate, complex, explosive, deeply invested relationship and creative collaboration – it’s hard to define them separately. There’s a lot at stake. To kind of give a ‘copy’ description, we are working with the expressive potentialities of queer bodies through heightened states of performed intimacy. Promoting an emotional landscape of bravery in response to restrictive attitudes to the sensual and visceral body, the collaborative work elevates the marginalised affection, sexuality, power and energies within non-normative relationships.

Our meeting points are through movement enquiry and somatic practices, deconstructing gender codes, queer discourse rooted in feminist theory, sex and our romantic relationship. Scissoring and pathologising.

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