Zoom, November 2021
Si Rawlinson is a British Chinese choreographer, born in Hong Kong with English and Chinese heritage. He is a theatre-maker with a background in hip hop dance, and he creates interdisciplinary work that seeks to explore identity, foster compassion, and question our dissonant relationship with a rapidly changing world. He has worked with highly acclaimed artists such as Marso Riviere, Gary Clarke, John Berkavitch, Alesandra Seutin, as well as Fuel's Requardt and Rosenberg, to name a few. In 2016 Si started the company Wayward Thread. He is currently an Associate Artistic Director at Chinese Arts Now, Resident Artist at Curve Theatre in Leicester, where he also lectures in dance at De Montfort University.
IA: Could you introduce yourself and describe what it is that you do?
SR: Yes. My name is Si Rawlinson. I am a Hip Hop based artist and I focus on making Hip Hop theatre...but as I've developed my work, I’ve realised that story has taken centre stage, it's become the core of what I do. The means of telling the story is second to the story...if I need to use spoken word, physical theatre, contemporary dance or traditional acting then I'll do that in order to make something that I feel will connect with audiences the most and make the audience feel connected to each other and to the message. It's been a challenging trajectory coming from a background where my style is breaking. You learn to be extremely competitive, extremely aware of your technical level, your expression level and these things are fundamental in terms of understanding your value in the community. It's not as simple as that, obviously, we value people as well, but in terms of the competitive scene, how you are...marked against other people, it’s your skill and what you can pack into a small amount of time. We trained to do 30 seconds, a minute maximum, throw downs. To be able to make something that was one minute, five minutes, 10 minutes and creating a story, then being like, what if I don't always dance? What if I don't always use breaking? What if I use more experimental forms of dance? What if I just use physical theatre? It's very easy to feel - not judged - but that your work will have less value because of that. It's taken a while to get the self-confidence or maturity to be like, actually, the mode of storytelling is irrelevant. I think it feeds back as well into my breaking because I'm still interested in competing and I've actually trained...actually been training for 600 days in a row...it’s a personal challenge to see what happens if I train consistently, to see in the next year what would it be like to go back to competitions? Especially with the mindset of, I don't have to care about the technique. How can the material I have made for performance spaces sit in a competition space? I feel like I've digressed immediately. Can you repeat the question?
IA: Can you introduce yourself and describe what it is that you do?
SR: OK, to retcon what I just said, it is a mixture of breaking, which is like a meditation, it's my practice. It's how I keep feeling, how I develop my discipline and keep my tools sharp. At the same time, with an almost completely different hat, I’m working on creating theatre, working collaboratively with other kinds of artists, visual artists and composers to tell stories in a performance space.
IA: The idea of crews and kinships are really prevalent in Hip Hop. With your relationships and the different crews and spaces that you've been in, can you talk about what kinship and the idea of chosen family means to you?
SR: That's a very big question. On the first level is the very specific crews that I was around, when I was learning, when I was first introduced to Hip Hop as a dance form and an art form. I started dancing quite late, I started when I was about 20 and there was definitely a hard learning curve being an older person...and the expectations that maybe you wouldn't be able to achieve as much starting at that age. I definitely felt like I wanted to prove something from the start and represent people who came to it later, even now as an older dancer I can still bring something to the conversation. I started in Leeds, and there were a few big crews there, but probably the most visible one was a crew called Ghetlow Pirates. There were others...amazing dancers like Flo Gonthier, Ed Stephen (aka Ed Spoons) - who were part of Ghetlow - and they also formed a crew called Kelso Kids who were competing at the same time. Back when Spin was in a crew called...Break Station, I think...Break...Play Station? Gosh, it was 15 years ago now and things are a little bit murky, but Ghetlow Pirates were a big crew in Leeds and they're still...Leeds is still very much a home for them. Compared to I think a lot of other crews they had a certain battle spirit, broad diverse style guys like Zorro - very strong, expressive styles and like Jingles had really beautiful power moves. I'm sure everyone who started, wherever you are, whether you started in Newcastle, which has a strong scene or London, you grow up being like, yeah, Soul Mavs were amazing, or the northern crews were amazing. For me I idolised Ghetlow and I definitely...every single move that I've learnt from basics to transitions, I can tell you who taught me. That is a part of honouring the knowledge that's been passed to you. Even though they might not think about it, I think all the crews that came through Leeds, the generations under, definitely owe Ghetlow. I was in a crew called Mix Blood Brothers when I was coming up and I still have a lot of fondness for them, although I don't rep them. We grew up, drifted apart and don't have as much in common. But I still have a lot of love for them...then I moved into the Hip Hop theatre scene where there's less of that strong sense of crews. You mentioned kinship as well? I was sort of taken under the wing a little bit...I worked for an artist called Marso Riviere - who's a Hip Hop artist as well as a hybrid artist who's done a lot from contemporary to capoeira - he’s now one of the OGs of Hip Hop theatre, after people like Jonzi D. An artist called John Berkavitch. He did a touring show with Jonzi D called Tag, he’s a breaker as well. Their foundation dance was breaking and through the battle scene as I did in my own time. I worked with them as a dancer, and since then - over a decade ago - I’m still in contact with them all the time. They're like mentors to me, like father figures in ways. They've helped me through Arts Council England bids and if I ever have a problem, like just a week ago. I was doing a theatre show at Nottingham Playhouse and one of my dancers had some flu symptoms in the morning and I was like...I don't know what to do, because I don't know what the protocol is. We were freaking out. Could it be COVID? So the first thing I did was I called up Berkavitch and Marso. I was like, I need some advice, what to should I...should I do this? So in terms of kinship, I think there's definitely a close relationship that is born out of these...these dance relationships. I'm in a position now where I'm working with some younger dancers and I feel that same sort of each one, teach one, those responsibilities, how can I help these people out? What opportunities can I send their way? If they ever needed any help or advice and stuff, how can I pass that on, and hopefully I can do more and more of that in the future. Stylistically with Hip Hop theatre making, I drew loads from my experience of working with Marso and Berkavitch. I had the privilege of working briefly for artists like Gary Clarke and Alesandra Seutin which were pretty much contemporary. I have been able to branch out a little bit more, to see what other ways you can tell stories. A really interesting question that has come up a lot is, if the work I make now doesn't look like Hip Hop, is it still Hip Hop because I'm a Hip Hop artist? Or does it make me not a Hip Hop artist sometimes? For me, Hip Hop is definitely the culture as much as the dance...talking about kinship, talking about adopted family, I bought in very early to the peace, love, unity, wisdom, knowledge, understanding and fun...to find a community that was so diverse, that had different faiths and that came together and seems to respect each other on how hard you worked, how fresh you could be and how good you were as a person in the community. Obviously there are challenges and they're problematic issues, but as an idealism that we as a community were trying to abide by, that's what drew me...that was one of the big things that drew me to Hip Hop and I still believe in it. From my background, I always lived away from my parents and my sisters and we've all been spread across the world and haven't been very close. That idea of finding an adopted family...I still have good relationships with my blood family, but it's different. It's been nice to find a community that you can find kinship with.
IA: You've spoken a little bit about this already, but generational hierarchy and lineage are really present in Hip Hop and breaking. I was interested to hear that you can name who you learned each move from...can you talk about your Hip Hop and breaking lineages?
SR: Having trained, in my formative years, in the same space as Ghetlow Pirates, they were a huge influence on the way I think about breaking. They were always about being original, to the point of madness...there was a time when I was training when I didn't do any foundation because I was like, other people do that, I'm not gonna do that. I had some really heated arguments with people in my own crew. They were like, you have to learn to do a baby freeze, otherwise you're not breaking properly. I didn't care. Doing that because everyone does it doesn't mean anything, if I do it I'm not bringing anything to the table. I looked at guys like Zorro in retrospect, and of course they used foundation. But it was their spirit and that mentality, watching them train when they were always trying to flip things, trying kooky and weird things. I was so inspired. Even now, every time I go to training, I'm like, how is what I'm doing different? How is it slightly...how can I be as weird as possible? I mentioned it already, but when I started to realise that I really wanted to tell stories and I wanted to talk about contemporary and urgent issues, I felt the most effective space for me to do that was in theatre spaces. Where I could use this art form, use breaking or Hip Hop, or styles within Hip Hop to engage with people. I became more influenced by artists like Marso who was one of the first people who was able to mix different styles like contemporary, capoeira, Hip Hop, liquid movement and breaking that allowed him to move in a way that was more sensitive and more than what you can do with just breaking. He was open to other kinds of expression. It was scary...anytime you did anything different in breaking, people...whether right or not, call it wack. So it was great to see a role model like that, doing work that was weird and experimental which garnered respect. I was like, OK, this is something I could do...I absorbed a lot of his way of movement, or at least his sensitivity to movement. I think you can see that...I pay homage to him all the time. They were the main influences when I was coming up...John Berkavitch was more about the way he tells stories, the way he uses words, spoken word and mixes that with dance. You can see his influence with a whole bunch of artists since then because it is a really great model and he laid a lot of the foundations when mixing Hip Hop, dance and spoken spoken word. More recently, it's been the people I've had the luck and privilege to work with...fellow dancers like Marius Mates, a Red Bull Romania champion, he’s an insanely high level dancer. Andrei Roman - jumping over from Leicester where I've been living for the last six years to Coventry because I live pretty close...I've also been spending a lot of time in London recently. One last note that might be worth mentioning...I was in a crew...none of the crews I was in were very high level or highly competitive. After a very short amount of time I went into Hip Hop theatre and stopped pursuing competitive breaking, but I was in a crew called Jungle Mania for a while in Leeds that existed for a short amount of time, but it's worth mentioning them because a lot of people in that crew were professional dancers...Dan Lowenstein, Alex Rowland - Crazy Al, Daniel Oval...they also worked for dance theatre companies and a lot of them worked for 2Faced Dance. So I would see what they did...I think some of them actually trained at NSCD, again this is a very long time ago. You can see a massive influence of contemporary dance on their styles - they were way more experimental, more abstract and weirder. I really resonated with them and even though I only battled briefly with them, that micro community of dancers must have had an influence because now I'm doing work that is straddling contemporary dance industry worlds and they've all went on to do different performance stuff and great things in Hip Hop and Hip Hop contemporary dance.
IA: In terms of your networks, those in your orbit, who are the three people - and it's important that it's only three - that nourish, support and feed you?
SR: Hmmm. That's a good question. It's difficult because I have friends who nourished me in different ways. Do you mean specifically in dance?
IA: No. It can be anybody. Inside or outside of dance or Hip Hop.
SR: I've already mentioned them, so I don't know if it's more like I’ve included them already...Marso and John Berkavitch. Both are very much like mentors and if I have any issues, professionally or something else, I'll get in contact with them and they will give me their time. Which is amazing. I call them friends as well. I think I...I guess I want to...I don't know. I think the problem I'm having in terms of answering this is I've already mentioned Marso and Berkavitch, so if they have one of those spots each out of the three...that’s mostly professional. But...I’ve really sort of grown up always travelling, always moving. Even within my own family, we love each other, but there's a certain amount of distance because they've been in another country...basically, I feel like I grew up...at the age of seven I was sent to a boarding school in the UK and I had some wonderful role models and teachers, sort of parental figures. It's not like I was neglected or anything, I had a very privileged upbringing and I always felt supported, but also my sisters went to different boarding schools. Whilst I was in the UK, I was taken care of by a guardian who were friends of the family on my father's side - who's English. They were very much parental figures as well, I call her my aunt, even though she's not blood related. I still try and call her all the time and I'm probably going to visit her at Christmas this year. Me and my two sisters, whilst we were staying and being taken care of by her, we were like kids to them. But what that means is I also feel a certain amount of distance between all of these relationships and I've built up a certain level of...maybe it's a kind of protection. Even with friends and anyone I know. There's always a part of my mind that’s like, this relationship can end. You know? I've moved to different places and I've seen friends disappear. Basically never seen them again for no other reason apart from that’s how life works when you're in different parts of the planet...even if you want to stay in touch. I'm aware that I manage all my friends in a way that I'm not relying too much on anyone in particular, even professionally with Marso and Berkavitch. There’s been a whole bunch of other people who've helped me along the way, but I make sure that I'm not relying on anyone too much, so I could give you a list of 20 people who have been really amazing and supportive and nourished me, but I think it would feel wrong to mention any of them because I've micromanaged how much they've been in my life. Sometimes I feel bad because there are friends who I can tell my friendship to them means a lot more than it does me...and I will only get so close because I'm like...I don't know if I'm comfortable to be in a position where I'm that close with anyone. Because, if I move, not that I'm planning to move...if whatever happens in life, I don't want to be in a position where it will hurt me, I guess. To make it slightly personal.
IA: Paris 2024. Breaking. What are your thoughts?
SR: I'm really excited, really happy about it and I think it's about time. Breaking is an undeniable, athletic art form, very much in the same way that snowboarding, skating and even rhythmic gymnastics - which I don't really follow - is. It has a similar combination of artistic and physical virtuosity...maybe also ice skating. I think skateboarding and snowboarding are fairly good models of how it can become part of the Olympics. So much of the anxiety and criticism of including something like breaking either comes from people outside of the scene - who don't know what it is - or people inside the scene who are uncomfortable with change. I think these are things that people who are much more experienced in the scene than myself can talk at length on in a way that I can't. But there will always be the underground scene, there always has been an underground scene...even the difference between a battle competition which is quote unquote the “real” style of breaking...battling in tiny cyphers is extremely different from Red Bull BC One, which is the much beloved but also the biggest and frankly, corporate sponsored event. It's a very different environment to a cypher battle or an event where cyphering just happens. The underground exists at different levels, from country to country, and you can be a part of it. There's enough space in all of the scenes to enrich it, to be a part of it, to be part of the dialogue and to not feel left out. Those things aren't going to go away because it's in the Olympics. All the Olympics is going to do is going to bring international and massive visibility to people who would have never stumbled across it before...which hopefully means there'll be better funding for people who want to start learning...school groups and college groups etc. Initiatives where professional breakers at the highest level will be able to make a better living and go out to get different opportunities, get sponsorship, stuff like that. Maybe people who are already in a position where they want to make Hip Hop adjacent businesses like clothing brands, stuff like that. I think there's always going to be issues and those are there for people to rise to in all these different fields. I'm excited. I'm excited about seeing a tonne of new dancers...I was so excited to see Sky Brown skateboarding in Tokyo and I’m hearing so many young girls now want to skateboard, I'm like, this is great. It can only make the scene healthier, it can only bring more diverse experiences into the scene. If anything, it'll make someone like me have to work even harder to stay relevant, to find a way to do something interesting with either my style or the expression that I'm using to compete against these kids who are going to smoke me and will be able to do 20 2000s like they're sleeping.
IA: The Olympics are essentially about representing your flag and there's an inherent nationalism in the Olympics, but nationalism politically is quite problematic. Whereas Hip Hop is actually about localism, your ends and who you're repping in your area. I'm interested in your thoughts on that localism, nationalism and repping a flag.
SR: That's a very good question and I think we're going to see lots of wonderful discussions. Right from the start, in the 70s and 80s in America, you have African American people...there has been a history of either slavery or people have come from Latin America and they're claiming their Americaness and American culture by this act of creation, so already we have a question is it American culture? Or is it black culture? Is there a difference between those things? What is the difference? All those things will be read in the Olympics when you've got people from all over the world representing Hip Hop. What is the discussion going to be about? Is there going to be a discussion about cultural appropriation, which I think is interesting. At this point, Hip Hop is an international community, but it is an American art form. Knowing that it's like...it's a weird thing to think that someone from...who's ethnically, I don't know, Japanese can't represent Holland when from it's [Hip Hop] birth it was about different cultures mixing. Sports...some of the greatest British athletes definitely weren’t born in Britain, so I think we're used to that in sport. I think it'll be a healthy reminder of this international community, how Hip Hop brings people together, when inevitably, you'll have people who originally come from one country representing another, because that is a part of what Hip Hop is. To claim an identity, to claim a culture, that's just part of it. The same way as people who play football claim an identity through through their sport, I think that's a beautiful thing. Like sport we hold these footballers up...sport allows other people to see themselves in it and it opens up the idea of what a single culture is.
IA: Can you talk about your routes in, through and current relationship with Leicester?
SR: Yes. Again, I moved around. I went to school in the south, then I went to university in Leeds in the north and then came to London shortly after because that was where most of the dance work was. I wouldn't describe myself as an amazing dancer, I'm fine, I can do what I need to do and I focus on being able to tell the best stories I can. It's a slightly different hat that I'm wearing compared to someone like Sunni or people at the top of the breaking game, which is highly competitive. I was finding work as a Hip Hop artist in dance theatre - it's still a growing field - but barely scraping a living in London. I was paying 600 quid on a crummy little room in somewhere like Deptford...I was having a good time, but it was always living on zero in my bank account, going in and out of my overdraft. I was working with John Berkavitch on a show and went to Leicester. We were put up in a house in Leicester which was really nice, we were at Curve Theatre - which is beautiful - and they let us train in this beautiful public space outside the theatre whenever we wanted from 10 in the morning till 11 at night. Whereas in London, I was getting kicked out of shopping centres...there would be places like South Bank where people would train, but you'd have to train without music or there'd be an event on and you get kicked out...training at Trocadero when that was open, but that was closed down. You're always fighting for space...there were always these little pockets of space that you’d travel out out to and there would be either be drug dealers or whatever going on. There were some good spaces in London, King's College had regular sessions on weekends, so it's not a total nightmare or anything, but it was definitely always a challenge to find regular space. That one thing alone in Leicester blew me away, they were like, you random breakers, yeah, you can totally dance here whenever you want. I was like, this is priceless. Like a lot of breakers, where dance is the thing you're most obsessed with, I was like, this is all I need in my life. So that was the main reason I moved to Leicester...I found out that for the same price of a crummy room in London, I can pretty much get a whole flat. For the last six years the quality of life has been great...the commute from Leicester to London is an hour and 15 minutes, so for a lot of work there, which was very much project based and maybe only a couple of days a week or a couple of weeks, it made sense for me to be in Leicester. After a while I was continuing to make work as a Leicester based artist, then I became a resident artist at Curve Theatre which I'm really grateful for. That was the foundation to get a lot of the opportunities that I've had since...being able to perform with Breakin’ Convention or at The Place or getting residencies at places like the Barbican...having that bit of validation has made me feel less like a randomer that rolls around on the floor to being an artist. Leicester has been really good to me. Since the pandemic, life has gotten - like for so many people - a little bit more complex. My mum came over from Malaysia, where she was living, to live in my flat. My dad stayed over there and he might come at some point in the future, I don't know what's happening. It meant that for a long time, I was living with my mum. I'm in my 30s and as much as it was - going back to conversation I had before - it was a wonderful opportunity to get to know my mum, because we'd been living apart for so long. To actually be in the same space as this wonderful three dimensional woman was a blessing. But now it's...the pandemic has been a long time and I’ve started renting a place in London for a few months which coincided with a bunch of projects I've had. So now I have a foot in both cities. I still have a family home in Leicester, I'm still teaching in Leicester at the uni, I'm still a resident artist there - so I'm definitely embedded in that city, but I can feel now, I'm in a position in my career where I need to be in London a lot more. I’m trying to strike a balance between those two things.
IA: How do you consider your own archive? How do you document your practice? How do you consider your legacy? What are your thoughts on those things?
SR: My own archives? Hmm, that is a good question. I think I haven't really considered archiving. I have had to keep records of the work I've been doing, a lot of that is because these past projects might still be returned to and simply - as a business - I have to have records to be able to share...video footage, concept information, all that kind of stuff if I ever want to showcase my work. If I'm honest the last six years has very much been a process of me figuring out how to be a choreographer, how to be an artist, even who I am and the context in which I live. Because of that, I have a wariness to share it because it feels like my past work is this sort of half evolved creature that is...turning into whatever I'm metamorphosing into now. For example, I made a show that started off being called Finding Words - which is not a great title for a piece - and I wanted it to be about the pursuit of truth. This is still a very important subject to me; activists and journalists risk their lives for truth, the idea of living in an oppressive government...in an authoritarian regime. I think I was reflecting a lot on China and their relationship with Hong Kong and how an inability to share a single reality, to share a single truth, really damages people's ability to prepare for a future. Even the global crisis of climate change is predicated on people undermining our ability to share that single reality, that it's actually happening. So I started this piece, and it was so...beautiful movement, red skirts and at the end of it, I was like, I don't think I've said anything. I mean...there's a lot of contemporary dance shows where I could have the same criticism where you read the show blurb and it's about toxic masculinity and this, that and the other - then you watch it, and it's beautiful, but all you see is a bunch of angry movement. And you're like, I don't know how much I got out of that. So I reinvented it [Finding Words] completely, most of the cast was turned over and I then made a piece which was entirely like a theatre show with a story, characters and backstory...someone gets killed on stage. I reflected on that, I was like, I don't think this is what I'm trying to make...I'm still trying to figure that out. It went through three different versions and got to a stage where I called it Red Ink...and it had elements of each thing, but it was much more driven with some decent technical Hip Hop dance and it had projection and other elements in it. It was at the height of the protests in Hong Kong and it got booked for the V&A Museum and a run at Edinburgh Fringe...and then the pandemic happened and it felt like four or five years of work died with that moment. Obviously everyone in the arts experienced - and in all sectors, everyone in the world - their own loss. So I'm not like, woe is me. I don't know if you know anything about the situation in Hong Kong, but the Chinese Communist Party have created a new law, which was put in place to stop any criticism of the government. You can get locked up with a private trial...newspapers and freedom of the press - closed down and activists locked away or exiled. It was effective to the point that if I went back to Hong Kong doing collaborations - I wouldn't say anything - even though my work is inherently political. It's not worth it. The work is just not relevant in the way it was, so I have to let it go. To go back to that archiving thing, it's hard for me to archive it when it's a personal journey of figuring out what I'm doing. I don't know how to archive it, other than saying OK, these are the shows...I don't know if I particularly want to showcase that work, because it's not relevant and it doesn't reflect the choreography that I want to make now. From a personal standpoint, I was always reluctant to engage with anything personal to do with my own heritage, I thought there was a lot of heavy conversations, difficult political conversations with what it means to be British post empire. If you remember everything that came out from Black Lives Matter and taking down statues, for me being both, mixed, British and Chinese, I think of my dad, who's white - he doesn't tick any diversity boxes. He was a policeman in Hong Kong - you can't get more Empire than that. Depending on the generation you’re thinking of, either he or I was one of the last children of the British Empire, so part of me does have this romantic view of Britain, the benevolent governor that went to India and made railroads. Then also I am Hong Kong Chinese, I feel there's a heritage of being a colonised body, the aftermath of the Opium War. 150 years of British colonial rule in Hong Kong is both positive and problematic - so it's kind of too much for me to engage without feeling like I was doing it because it's trendy or because it's material to go into a show. I was always looking at other groups problems...one show that I made was called Inherent and it was about the awkwardness that people feel when trying to fight for other people's causes. Again, with Black Lives Matter, why is it that there is any confusion...why is there this hesitance where good people will wait to do what they know is right. It's only been the last couple of years where I now feel comfortable to approach more difficult...more personal subject material, things that I feel more connected to. I'm now in a position where I’m like, I want to bring this work to a larger audience and maybe I do feel like it is worth archiving. Whereas in the past, I think they were almost like sketchbooks, of figuring out who I am, sketchbooks for figuring out how to make work. I don't necessarily need anyone to see them, as much as I have to show bits to prove that I have actually been making work and thus warrant opportunities to make more work.
IA: What was the first Hip Hop theatre work that you saw?
SR: I think it must have been a Breakin’ Convention show. I have memories of...I would have been 20, learning breaking, wearing caps backwards and ridiculously baggy pants - as you do when you start - someone said hey come to this show. Everyone in the breaking society I joined was going so I was like OK. I remember seeing a bunch of really cool stuff...the biggest memory is some Korean crew, I can't remember who it was, but one of the big Korean crews back in the day like Gamblerz or Project Soul doing a big show at the end. It was the first time I saw breaking...when I started breaking there was that film You Got Served which was just cool people, being cool and doing cool stuff. I was like, wow, you can make something which is...you can make different shows which are politically charged or beautiful or like contemporary dance. It really opened my mind and credit to Jonzi D because that's exactly what Breakin’ Convention is for, for young people like me to see that, have their minds opened and for everyone in the world to see Hip Hop as this great, high art form that it is.
IA: In the last couple of years you've been in some really innovative, creative collaborations that are multidisciplinary. You've brought Hip Hop and breaking into spaces like the Instagram opera, Every Dollar is a Soldier, HomeX. Could talk a little bit about you in those spaces?
SR: Sure. 19 Ways of Looking - that's the Instagram opera...it was a wonderful project, led by Jasmin Kent Rodgman, who is a composer and multidisciplinary artist. I really connected with making this anti racist piece of art...that process was quite a quick turnaround, but it was beautiful to work with composers and spoken word artists to create something and then have it filmed. I think the total I worked on that was a few days. It's nice to feel these days that I'm brought in on a project, not necessarily because I'm a Hip Hop artist and they're expecting me to bring that as a movement language, but because Hip Hop dance is seen as a legitimate, expressive tool that can tell any story. I didn't feel I was representing Hip Hop in the work and I'm really glad that we're living in a moment where people before me have enabled Hip Hop to reach a level where it is a normal tool to express with. Every Dollar is a Soldier was really ambitious...I think it's hard for people to appreciate the level of ambition when the quality of video content we we consume every day is so high. We have access to literally everything and so the quality of any virtual or game experience is also really high. What they essentially did was take Unity - this game software - and built an exhibition space. It was created by An-Ting Chang, the developer Ian Gallagher, the designer Christine Urquhart, Donald Shek among a few other collaborators, and this team of people put together this whole performance in a virtual space with the software. Audience choose avatars, all that kind of stuff...it’s an insane amount of work and there was constant stress testing and problem solving. I had the privilege to respond to the music and the wonderful writing by Daniel York Loh and had to make some movement. I made a response and then worked with An-Ting Chang to refine that and we went to a green screen studio and filmed it. I feel like I was a very small part of that and I was using whatever language that I have absorbed over the years, which is a foundation of breaking but I’ve definitely absorbed some contemporary sensibilities, other expressive styles of Hip Hop, freestyle, I draw a lot of inspiration from krump even though I’m definitely not a practitioner of it. It's definitely one where you...what's most exciting for me - in a selfish way - is seeing what opportunities can come out of this in the future. Then this last project I did with Chinese Arts Now is called Home X...which was even more ambitious. This was the first time I was brought in in a much larger capacity, I wasn't just doing choreography, I was helping in the whole creative process and building what this project would be...hearing how it was going to be a game where the audience would have one avatar - which would look like a little hand vegetable thing - and then as you cut down trees you'd slowly evolve. Depending on what trees you cut down, different buildings would be built and different flowers would grow on you and you'd evolve. There were going to be these other...how the composer and how the music would be different depending on how myself and other artists from Hong Kong would be projected into this game space three dimensionally...we'll be able to react to each other and the music would react to us and we would react to the music and be able to see the avatars. All these conversations are like wow, that's amazing. I was like, so who's building this, who's programming it? They're like, we are. OK...so I learned how to do some basic animation on Blender which was a fantastic process. Ian Gallagher probably spent four or five weeks working, sometimes like 18 hours a day...occasionally someone would sleep in the office, it was full on...you hear all these stories about Silicon Valley. We achieved so much and yet, probably out of all the things we wanted to achieve, it was still only about 30%. I think there's only a handful of companies in the world that are trying to make what's going to be a new genre - Game Theatre. I'm really excited about pursuing this and we’re going to keep working on it and build other projects. Working with Chinese Arts Now in this genre of Game Theatre...there's so much work that says it's immersive and interactive...we already have really strong models for games and there's a massive market, a massive appetite for game experiences. Very artistic games are winning BAFTAs, and for immersive theatre, how you actually combine that with games, there's only a handful of companies that are trying to mix live performance in a game space. It really feels like something...because within 10 years this is going to be a massive genre and even within Chinese Arts Now there was the thought, let's not call it Game Theatre, because it's not a thing. They wanted to market it as digital immersive theatre...but you're really missing out on attracting people who are interested in something new. If you name something immersive digital theatre, it doesn't mean anything any more, because there's so much work that says it's immersive and digital. I don't really know what that means. But if you call it Game Theatre, which is what we are trying to do, then it gives me the understanding of what I do within this space, I will interact with things and that's going to change the environment or the outcome. That level of real interactivity is really exciting to me and the possibilities are endless. I'm already a big fan of companies like Punch Drunk, and things like escape rooms. I think people are hungry for stuff which isn't passive. We spend so much of our life passively consuming content, that the idea that we can interact with other people is really exciting. Even big artists having their music concerts in Fortnite. There's all these examples of this being legitimate and I think it's curious that some people have a resistance to it...maybe it’s because it's not easy to start or because it seems faddy. I remember when gig theatre started, people were like, “well, it's a fad”, but it's not, it's real theatre. There's some fantastic artists who are making work that you can't say is either theatre or a musical gig. It's something that is both of those things. The work that I've been doing with CAN excites me because it’s one of those things, a truly new experience that people can have. I'm excited to say that I’ve just become an Associate Artistic Director at Chinese Arts Now...I'm excited about not only the projects that I can lead and co-direct with them, but it’s also finding out about many other interesting, wonderful and diverse British Chinese artists, artists of the Chinese diaspora, or who are BESEA, and being able to support and commission them. One of the things I'm going to be looking for is what are other modes of connecting with audiences that maybe we have a blind spot to?
IA: Can you talk briefly about the series of short films that you put out on Instagram last summer that were playing with masking and illusion? I loved those little details like when you popped out the Amazon box or disappeared into your own jumper.
SR: I'm very honoured that you saw them and it’s nice to know that some people are seeing them. They were part of a project that I’m currently putting myself through...it started at the beginning of pandemic when I had too much free time. I'm very aware of my own weaknesses and when I have too much free time, I will do less...the less I have to do, I will somehow do even less than that. So I needed to keep doing something and I did the 100 Day Challenge to raise money for the NHS, which turned into a year long challenge, which has now turned into 1000 Day Challenge. I have an autoimmune condition and early on in the 100 Day Challenge I came off one medication and was put on another and had massive withdrawal from from that. I became so weak I could barely do a single push up. I was still training, but it didn't seem worth posting anything that was dance for a while. Instead I was like, how do I keep this challenge relevant to myself? I was like, OK, I'll do it, but I'll do it as a dance editing challenge. So for a couple of weeks, every single day, I was taking a new idea and then spending literally all night - it would take me 12 hours to edit these things - because I was learning about it and things like mask editing takes a horrendous amount of time. I would have loved to have continued making more of these but I think after 15 days of being awake all night long editing, I'm sorry, I can't do this any more. I learned a lot of skills and I'm going to release another little fun video in the next week or so from the skills I learned during that. Learning those skills put me in a position where I was like, I can learn how to do some software intensive stuff, which helped me on Home X...feeling comfortable to pick up Blender and learn how to do animation. There was one project where - I didn't know what was going through my mind, probably madness - I got 100 items that were in my kitchen and living room, tied them all to strings and then put them across the room. Almost like some kind of steampunk machine, I decided that was a mode of physical choreography. Again, I was like, how can I do something which I find interesting, where I don't have to exert myself. But that was 20 hours of just like, what am I doing?
IA: What do you want to dismantle in Hip Hop?
SR: I have an answer for this which I'll start with short anecdote. I was working on Hand Me Down, which is a piece about intergenerational stories and about connecting to the stories of our parents. It has Paris Crossley in it, who's a fantastic popper, I’m astonished to even work with her, Helder who is a long term company member and great all style dancer and Ffion Campbell Davis who's also a multidisciplinary artist and draws from krump, I would go as far to say that she practices krump, even though she may be very resistant to that. We each made up bits of movement to teach to each other and Ffion was drawing from krump...it came to the day before the performance or the actual...it came to the actual day of performance and she was like, I'm not comfortable doing certain bits of this, because it's krump and it's not legit. Not to paraphrase... she said it in a way that's more nuanced. Firstly, I was like, OK, so let's change it. I understand the fear and I've had this conversation with so many people...I think it's revolved a lot around krump because it's a newer style and maybe they're more hang ups about legitimacy. But if you truly love this style and you're demonstrating that you understand the context of what you're doing within a larger cultural scene, I think it should be acceptable to use any language, to use any cultural language - which is what these styles are - as long as you not just using it without any context. Even talking now, I am trying to choose my words carefully, it is a complex subject and it goes back to the idea - essentially - of cultural appropriation. If as someone who's not a practicing krump artist, I use some krump in a work, is that a problem? Some people really do find it a problem, and very often it’s people who are actually criticising themselves. It's the idea that you don't have legitimacy...or that you will be offending people. But from the other side, like when I see someone from contemporary dance and they're using some break inspired movement, or techniques, if they're doing it in a way which I see their love for it, their passion for it, that they've had to put work into it, because break isn't easy and they're using it in a way which resonates with their own foundational language...I've so much love for that. Even if they're not nailing stuff in a way that I would expect from someone who might have practiced longer. More love for that. Let's see where this language can go. How different perspectives can inspire in a cross pollinating way...I'm not going to judge that...the only time I have ever had a problem with that is when someone regurgitates something, like repeating a famous quote as if it were their own new thought, I've seen a contemporary company do pure contemporary and then have one flare or one head spin...you're like, OK, but what was the point of that? Other than getting a little bit of hype off that one move. If you do it in a way that's integrated, amazing, but if it's contemporary dance, stop, do a head spin, you've not given anything back to culture. You've not said anything that's your own. Feelings around legitimacy has crippled so many artists, it's crippled me in the past...the idea - even within breaking - of doing movement that I know other breakers will be like, that's not legit. Is that important though? If it's not breaking in your eyes, that's fine. I can be doing that, I can be mixing breaking, I'm not trying to sell you anything. I’m trying to find a place where we're not judging ourselves for being inspired by different languages and we're not judging each other for trying to speak in those languages. Obviously there's always going to be a question of cultural respect or appropriation and how to do that in a way which is not purely self indulgent...even saying that, maybe it's fine to be self indulgent. That's what I'm trying to say, dismantling that, that self judgement of using languages that you're not necessarily an expert in and judging other people for trying.
IA: Is there anything else that you want to dismantle in Hip Hop?
SR: That I want to dismantle? Or that I'm going to try and dismantle? I think there are things which are problematic in any community, whether that's within or outside of arts that I would like to see dismantled. I could talk about that...but I think this is stuff that everyone can feel to one extent or another. There's still a certain amount of toxic masculinity, patriarchy and misogynism in Hip Hop. There's a lot of throwbacks to different rap cultures with sexist, homophobic and problematic lyrics which I still hear at jams...someone is playing a song where they're saying words that are really derogatory to different groups. I don't know if I want to dance in those moments...it's a difficult one because some of those tracks, the sound of them are great to dance to, but I think we are in a place now where there is enough good music and we can move past it. There's a lot of people who say, this is a classic...there's enough good music being made and we just don't need to play those tracks any more. I definitely know there's a lot of people who have more diverse sexual and gender identities that find it very hard to be open about that in the Hip Hop community. It's been really problematic in the black community at large that there seems to be a lot of prejudice towards LGBTQ people. That definitely carries over into Hip Hop culture. I'd love to see more role models who have more diverse and open identities...I think that's probably going to be what's going to change things most. It is happening really slowly but there's been a certain resistance to change that...I kind of expect from this from a culture that essentially was started by 13 year old kids, and those little boys are now fully grown adults and will have kids of their own. I think we're finally getting to a place where - as they mature - as the true OGs mature, hopefully we’re opening spaces for new identities and perspectives to come through.
IA: Last year you were part of the conversation with Rain Crew that was tackling racism and which led to a report and a series of recommendations. For you, what has shifted since last summer? What has and hasn't moved within that frame?
SR: Such a good question and I don't know if I know the answer...a lot of this reflection in communities, businesses and institutions came off this huge international movement. If anything positive has come out of the pandemic, on a grand kind of cultural scale, it was giving space for that moment to happen. I don't know if it would have happened if the world had been normal; it was a moment where people's attention was finally opened up to what has been happening forever. You did see changes to some businesses and institutions...working with Curve, they set up meetings with diverse artists - including myself - and made a whole new mission statement to make the building more equitable for people of different ethnicities and identities. I think it was a moment for reflecting on #MeToo as well as sexual identity...Black Lives Matter became a catalyst for equity in general. I think institutions are very slow moving machines and this is a conversation that's come up a couple of times...now that I'm becoming an associate artistic director at CAN with a bigger responsibility to others, and my relationship with Curve, how do I make sure that they're held accountable to those mission statements that I was a part of. I guess it's going to be an ongoing process to see what opportunities they’re giving and who they're hiring and trying to hold them accountable? Was your question how have I seen things change? IA: What has shifted or not?
SR: I definitely think...not in an insignificant way, the sensitivity has increased, the knowledge that there's things like a gender pay gap and a race pay gap was out there for a long time, but we've had time for collective reflection and I think it's given more...it's made those things that we knew to be true, more tangible in a way that people are more likely to stand behind. I say that because I see institutions trying to put more systems in place...I think it's going to be slow...I don't know if you saw the Barbican releasing that statement, because of that massive research...what was it?
IA: Barbican Stories.
SR: Yeah, they had someone to do an investigation into the institutional racism in the building and it's on their website...they're not, you can't...it has to be so much more transparent as well because we're in a moment where you have to be. Things are changing. I can see institutions holding themselves more accountable and I've seen opportunities come my way because you can see people trying...there's a certain amount of cynicism too where I've heard artists being like, they're only offering these positions because they need a person of colour to do it. I'm like, that may be true, but that's how it starts. However many 100s of years of systematic prejudice means you're in a position where you haven't had those opportunities in the past. So now that you do have them, hopefully, you'll be more qualified and you get future opportunities without having to have these initiatives...or young people will see you in a position like that and be inspired. I think things are changing, it did build a momentum and now that the world's getting back to normal I think everyone is more distracted by the grind and the day to day pull. I think the crest has passed, but the wave is still moving forward, this is my feeling. Rain Crew are doing some really good work and I know an artist called Jane Chan who is doing an Arts Council England funded initiative called A F*cking Good Provocation which collected a lot of stories and experiences from the Asian community, tying it into voices and experience that might not have been apparent to the British community at large, bouncing off black lives matter a little bit and then bringing it to a whole bunch of institutions to add to that conversation and keep that momentum going. I know there are people who, in response to everything that happened in that summer, are pushing the needle forward.
IA: I'm interested to hear you talk about your relationship to craft and practice within Hip Hop.
SR: My understanding of the word craft describes a set of practiced skills that forms a coherent expression or coherent art. Practice is what what you do repeatedly. By pure semantics they are different. What was the question?
IA: What is your relationship to craft and practice within Hip Hop?
SR: Within Hip Hop? What is my relationship? It divides into the two categories of Hip Hop theatre and breaking. Within Hip Hop theatre my practice is extremely broad, using pretty much any kind of art form to try and create a theatre piece that has a strong message and has a strong resonance for as many people as possible. Craft is where I use a mixture of audio narratives, spoken word, physical theatre, Hip Hop styles, as well as drawing from krump and contemporary to create the staged works which I would call Hip Hop theatre. The artists I predominantly work with have their foundations in Hip Hop dance, so inevitably that becomes the paintbrush that we use within the piece. My relationship to practice and craft in Hip Hop, in regards to my breaking, I train every day, which I guess is a practice and a part of that is working on foundations...as well as trying to find new ways to explore this...the standard practice for Hip Hop dancers is to practice your foundation but learn to flip it. That's the basic mantra. So I'm doing that and then building a craft which hopefully is as unique as possible. One has a slightly more abstract sensibility than the other, and I use that very loosely, because I think abstract and experimental are sometimes problematic terms in dance, understanding what those really are. I guess what it means is I try and learn the foundation to leave it behind, so there’s as little foundation as possible. There are plenty of fantastic dancers who are doing great things in foundation, there doesn't need to be another one. The dancers that I admire the most are the ones that have movement that you don't have names for or it's constant half moves or transitions between things or ways to use moves, in a way that it seems it's no longer really that move. That inspires me the most. I think for me that is a much more interesting conversation to see in a competitive sphere, regardless of stage or cypher, seeing people say new things. That's the meaning of fresh, fresh isn’t good, cool or technically skilled, it’s new because I didn't think of that before. That's my aim, at least within building my craft, how successful I am - that's up to other people to determine. I'm still very much interested in the craft of the competitive scene and it's been really interesting trying to balance those two things of Hip Hop theatre where I'm practicing movement to work in a much longer format. We have to balance - not just physically in terms of stamina - energy, you can't sprint for 30 minutes, how do you pace yourself and the audience as well? You need to have ebbs and you need to have waves in your energy for space and plateaus for people to be able to digest it and feel the impact of what you're doing. Balancing that between what I practice in my daily sessions, which is short rounds, punchy as possible, extremely compact, and puts as much information into the smallest amount of space. That's how I try and divide my practice and craft into two boxes.
IA: Environmentalism, sustainability and growth are at the forefront of global conversations...but the capitalist world is about more, bigger, faster etc. I'm interested to hear your thoughts on degrowth and slowness, how might they manifest in your practice, in breaking and Hip Hop?
SR: I'm obviously for it. I care about the environment - as everyone should be - we should do all the basic things so I feel like that covers me enough to not feel stricken with guilt. Every day recycling things, trying to not buy stuff that I don't need, trying to not buy stuff that isn't imported from the other side of the planet. Trying to take less flights - obviously that's not been an issue recently because I've not gone anywhere for a while. But if I'm completely honest I can't muster enough useful focus to fight every battle that I care about and there's a lot of things that I do care about in terms of human rights, political truth and political systems, how broken a lot of them are and voting systems, race and gender, sexual identity, prejudice and systems of prejudice. In my work and practice, both as an artist and someone who is sometimes in a position to be responsible for the trajectory of organisations as well - those are the things I'm focusing on. As much as I care deeply about the environment - for the record - it is one thing where I've consciously been like, it's OK to not fight every fight. I don't have any plans to actively step into that fight...half jokingly I often talk about how in maybe 30, 40, 50 years time most people - unless they have specific health requirements - will be much closer to vegetarianism, if not veganism. I think as soon as meat can be made in a sustainable way, like lab grown or whatever and it tastes the same. Why wouldn’t you? Why would you put animals through that? The animal industry, if you think about it on any level, is crazy, just bananas. It's not good for the environment, it's not good for animals and jokingly, we should eat as much meat now because at some point in the future, it's gonna be off limits. I know people - whether they are open about this or not - will resonate with this, a part of me says I need to get as much holidays and travel in before it becomes deeply unethical to do it. I don't know what the world will look like in the coming years as the climate crisis will be brought to our doorstep in ways that we cannot ignore. Even if conservative predictions are true, then in 30 years time, we will have hundreds of 1000s of climate refugees, if not millions. At which point, we will be forced to make changes to our lives that we might not want to, in the same way that the pandemic did. I think it is human nature to get to a point where you have to make a decision...and it is the responsibility of everyone to make those small decisions in their lives like recycling to make the future less terrible. That's my thought, I care about it but I'm not taking any active or big steps and if you go on holiday - get the most out of it while you can.
IA: Is there anything that you want to talk about or record that we've not spoken on so far? It might be a memory, a person, experience or political point?
SR: I should have prepared something before...I could share something which might resonate with people. I feel this is such a wonderful opportunity to talk so long about these broad topics. There's probably quite a lot of less coherent meandering that I've done and for that I apologise to anyone reading this right now. But I want to talk about a little personal story. I remember growing up in Hong Kong...I have two sisters...and as I was growing up, I thought I was the most original kid ever, the music I was listening to, bands like Green Day and Red Hot Chilli Peppers as well as the stuff that I was doing at school that I liked, English Literature and art. For some reason and it took me years to realise I just copied my sisters. I copied them. Everything they did, I copied them. They went to university and studied English Lit. I went to university and studied English Lit...but I was like, this is definitely my own unique decision. We are what we are in the world that is around us...owning that and finding a kind of uniqueness within that emulation. This is true in art. We are going to consume and we're going to emulate the world around us and that's okay. You can find a unique this and something that's special within that in the way that you remix ideas. I remember being taken to an art gallery by one of my sisters, and I was copying the pictures. One of my sisters would be like, you just copied that. Why? She was so unimpressed. Then my other sister was like, no, it's good. Then I’d play guitar and copy songs, make a cover of a song, an artist that I liked and play it. One of my sisters would be like, you're copying, why? Make your own stuff and the other one was more encouraging. I think it was...I don't know...I definitely know it was incredibly formative...because the whole way through my teenage years and coming into Hip Hop, there was that feeling of I cannot copy, it's forbidden. You can't copy otherwise what you're doing is worthless. I mentioned this before, but this has been quite crippling too. And I...I love my sister so much for being so cold, because it has made me who I am in the way that I've always searched, to try and find something unique. But also it would have been...it would have been nice to know that you can start off by copying and from there find your own original voice. Even today, I'll see a company do something that I really love and be like, I wish I could use that idea, but I just can't do that. If you're an artist, or you see someone doing something, feel free to encourage them, to copy, to bite, to rip off anything. Help them find their uniqueness within that tool. This might be an unpopular opinion and there'll be people like how dare you, why are you encouraging biting? But I think there are no original ideas, everything has been done. It's just the combination that is different. I firmly believe that.
IA: Hand Me Down is literally fresh off the stage, so this is quite a unique position. What is it like now, literally within a week of its most recent performance, how are you feeling about it as a work and you as an author?
SR: I've come to a stage in my life where I'm finally addressing things that I didn't feel comfortable addressing before, even my Asianness. Within the UK I'm seen as a Chinese artist because if you look Asian...but I was brought up Western and I never really connected with that side of my heritage and if I ever did, I felt like I didn't have...or wasn’t allowed to...when other people had more, quote, unquote, legitimacy. With this piece, I'm finally looking at that personal heritage and what it means to live in the context of being the son of my mother and father, what it means for everyone to live in a world where, because of modern travel, intergenerationally people are split on other sides of the world. Metaphorically, literally and culturally. It's that generation gap which I think is the real difference in the way that we find our identities I think...much more so than race, which is in people's minds all the time. So it's been really personal...I interviewed my parents for hours for the first time and tried to find as much truth in those stories that I could pass on without making it totally about me. It was the same with the other artists, I asked them to connect with these stories...one of the other artists called Helder Delgado, he has had a very difficult past, he grew up in the foster care system - he won't mind me saying some of these things because it's in the show - but his parental figures have been very difficult. He grew up in quite a poor environment in Portugal and coming to UK was huge for him...being able to even talk about his stories...I think it's because I've been a friend of his for many years and for him to feel comfortable enough to talk about these stories has been a massive personal thing for him. From the feedback that I've gotten, I think those stories are what has connected with the audience the most and I'm really proud of that. It's not easy to open a space up, have people share their stories and to be comfortable sharing those stories with with an audience. We didn't want to make the show a monologue and I am the star of the show, just like I didn't want to make it about race and identity, because every show is about race and identity. I think it's alienating for a lot of people, especially those who don't tick any diversity boxes, like my dad. But through these personal stories, we touch on a lot of what it means to be British in this very post colonial world...without making it that that’s what the show is about. Everyone can resonate from different angles, the way that I'm trying to connect with my dad, the way that I have a relationship with mum - it's the same kind of feelings that everyone has and they can experience it within their own families. From all the work that I’ve made in the past, I think I've resisted using words...because it's almost entirely like audio narrative, again, the idea that I had to make work as a Hip Hop artist that looked and felt a certain way...but in this last couple of years, I was like, no, I want these voices to be in the piece, I need there to be that complexity and the nuance that you get with what's basically a script. I'm really proud of being able to put a piece of work out there like that, to get the support of venues like Nottingham Playhouse - who commissioned it - and The Place who supported the work. We probably haven't had so much work like this within within Hip Hop theatre, it feels like it's got a unique voice and something to say in terms of the heart of the show. Out of all the work that I made in the last six years, this is the one that I want to keep working on, I’ve got to make sure that the dance within the piece actually lives up to the words...as much as it'll be heart-breaking for me to take out some of the words - I don't think I needed to put all the words in - but I had to honour the stories from my parents, the stories from Ffion, from Saskia - who was one of the original artists - and it felt wrong to not put as much of that in there, but now that I've gone through that process, I think the audience don't need to hear everything. They don't need to understand everything, I can leave space and we can have some of that abstract dance which I criticised before - just so there's another element that people can experience. Sometimes having that openness, in balance with the complexity and nuance of those words allows people to connect more. That's going to be the next stage. What we're trying to say when making a piece of work about intergenerational...connecting across generations is the knowledge that there's this massive conversation about race and identity that I'm trying not to make the show about...if that makes sense. When anyone comes to see this work, and see the cast, they're gonna go, it's a piece of work that's about race and identity. But my point is like, I know that, I get that, but that's not what we're trying to do. How do you connect with people who don't care about that conversation? I'm not sure how to do that, but that's definitely what this show is trying to do. Hopefully we'll get a chance...I will make it happen and get the chance next year to develop the movement more, because we had fantastic dancers like Paris and Ffion. They're literally world class. Paris just won another competition in popping...but I don't really give them the opportunity to showcase their skills. As much as I've resisted making work with cool moves, now I need to make space for that as well.
IA: Since the pandemic, there has been a massive grief, massive anxiety, huge mental health issues across the world. It's been really real and really heavy for a lot of people. But as an antithesis to that, I'm interested in hearing from what are some of the kindnesses that you've received from Hip Hop?
SR: How open do I want to be in something that is going to be public? To keep it a little bit vague to protect my fragile ego...I felt judged, to a certain degree, in everyday life. Especially as I was studying theatre...the acting industry is all about how you look on the outside. That's the first thing when you get booked if you're being cast for anything. It makes sense and I didn't have any issues with that, because if they need someone who is gonna look a certain way, then that's who they're gonna hire. It was immediately attractive to notice when I stumbled across breaking is that the only thing that people really cared about was if you're good. Are you good or not? It doesn't matter who you are, what you believe - as long as you’re not psychotic - but if you were a nice enough person and you were good...that's all you needed. Then you'd earn your place, you'd earn respect and you'd earn friendships within this community. I think a lot of people especially...it's a common notion that a lot of black sheep are drawn to Hip Hop because they realise it doesn't matter what you look like or where you come from...you will connect through your love of this culture, the love of the dance or whatever style you're doing. You can gain respect from your community by working hard and being good at what you do...and I think that's such a rare thing when politics creeps into so much - well into everything - it's nice to find these little pockets where you can't con anyone. There's no one going, because they're rich they can be like, I'm the best dancer. So in a very simple, slightly anecdotal way, that's one kindness that I’ve got out of the Hip Hop scene, this feeling that what I did mattered more than who I was. Obviously I've met some of my favourite people and good friends have come through Hip Hop, which is a kindness of sorts. Not to get too corny, but it's also...when I I graduated uni it was the depth of the economic recession. 2009. The housing crisis. My graduation speech, I remember it very clearly, one of the professors saying, don't expect to get a job. That's all. It was fairly bleak times...I was working in a hotel as a chef for three years...but it was always dancing and the idea of being an artist, that was what I wanted, but it didn't seem real. But because I loved the dance, kept dancing and met other people who were making work through Hip Hop dance, I was like, maybe this is something I can do...and then I got hired. It's been one of the best things about my life, being able to learn this art form, share it with other people, travel the world and meet different communities and then create my own work within this community. I'm in a real dialogue, culturally and conceptually, with other people making work and the other people who are part of this community. So in a way, Hip Hop has given me a way to connect with the Hip Hop community, but also, everyone else in the world. It's interesting now, because when I started, there was still some stigma where Hip Hop isn't a real art form, or Hip Hop didn't have the same respect. Now, I'm teaching at university level, I'm teaching Hip Hop, which is just the same thing I was doing rolling around on the floor. My parents would be like, it’s just rolling around the floor. So that feeling of value and feeling that I'm a part of something is a kindness.
IA: What is your strongest memory of dance?
SR: I have a few, but I think I have one that I think is worth sharing. I think it was the first time that Ink - as it was called back then - the show I was telling you about that I used to learn how to choreograph over a bunch of years. The first time we were given the opportunity to perform at South Bank - which is a highly prestigious venue - we did a show in the Clore Ballroom, this massive public space. There was a piece of the choreo where we used this giant bamboo stick to manipulate each other, there was this whole seven minute section where we use it to throw, lift and push each other around the stage. I say we, but in that section I was on the side and I'm watching Dan Phung, Vladimir Gruev and Andrei Roman - who are all super dope with breaking foundation. They've done different things now like Andrei is still a competitive B-boy, Dan does theatre stuff and he's currently in Message In A Bottle, the ZooNation show. Vlad is now in Hervé Koubi, this amazing circus dance spectacular company. But at the time we were very much less experienced, still cutting our teeth...and there's this bit where Vlad - before that seven minute section - has got a solo...and he kicks the bamboo off the stage. It drops behind the stage. I can see him in front of the audience look at me, like, “what do I do?” Then I see him turn back and decide not to get the frickin bamboo. I was like, “what are you doing!” I'm side stage thinking don't you dare try and start this next section without it. Don't do it. Don't do it. And I watched him slowly walk to the front, to the position that he has to get into for the rest of the people to start the seven minute section - with the bamboo that's no longer there - and he slowly lifts his hands to hold an invisible bamboo stick. Andrei and Dan are standing on either side of him looking at each other, like, where is the bamboo? What do we do now? Are we doing this? I guess we’re doing this...I'm watching their expressions saying this to each other, as they also reach slowly for the invisible bamboo, and I'm just...And then they proceeded to do seven minutes of what looked like Wushu and they go off...I was cursing and really pissed off, but nobody knew, nobody in the audience noticed it was wrong and when I was talking to people afterwards they're like, I really liked the Wushu section you did. I was like, 'what Wushu section? That bit? Ah, yeah, that's new...' But seeing their faces, all three of them, with Vlad looking so sheepish like he knew he screwed up and then Dan and Andrei staring at each other in silent conversation. I will never be able to wash that out of my mind! (laughs)