17 Oct 2017

Q&A: Back To Ours choreographer Andrea Walker

We chat to the man behind jaw-dropping hip-hop theatre show SKIN.

The next Back To Ours festival is fast approaching, and we’re getting super excited about the spectacles in store, from breath-taking acrobatics to raucous gigs and a very special secret performance. One show that we’re particularly excited about, however, is SKIN: a magical fusion of hip-hop, dance and theatre by the award-winning 201 Dance Company.

Telling the story of an intimate journey of gender transition to discover a body that feels like home, SKIN will be performed at Winifred Holtby Academy on 31 Oct and 1 Nov.

Crafting the choreography is the uber-talented Andrea Walker, founder of 201 Dance Company and dancer for the likes of Lady Gaga, Coldplay, Aggro Santos and Ebony Bones.

Here, Andrea tells us about some of the themes behind SKIN and what makes the show so special.

SKIN at Back To Ours. Photo © Chris Nash c/o 201 Dance Company

Q: What does 201 Dance Company do differently to other companies out there at the moment?

A: When I founded the company and set out to create our first production Smother, I wanted to use hip-hop to present an intimate yet dysfunctional relationship between two young men – one very much inspired by personal events of mine.

To present an LGBTQ story using hip-hop theatre was something quite new that caught the media’s attention and interested people from the offset. LGBTQ themes are not usually tackled through urban dance, so it’s a boundary I purposely set out to break.

As a choreographer and director, I like to tell stories that expose issues in an accessible way. Hip-hop makes this possible, and I believe LGBTQ stories now need to be told more than ever.

 

Q: What was the inspiration behind SKIN and what themes can we expect to see?

A: After the success of Smother, I wanted to continue to tell LGBTQ stories that matter, so SKIN follows a trans boy’s journey to acceptance. We see his battles with anxiety, family and ideologies imposed by today’s society.

We’ve worked very closely with our dramaturg Kit Redstone on the show, and it’s become something very emotional that anyone who has ever felt out of place will be able to relate to.

If you didn’t think hip-hop could make you cry, you might be in for a surprise.

Q: How do you translate serious and emotional themes into an exciting dance piece?

A: Before I became a choreographer, my background was in film production, and that has been massively influential in the way I create. With my work, I almost want the audience to forget they’re watching a dance show, forget the characters are dancers and just follow the story – almost exactly like they are watching a film unfold.

Narrative is key to me, so when I create movement, none of it can be gratuitous. Everything needs to push the story forward. Dance is so incredible expressive, and today I continue to be amazed at what can be said with movement rather than words, especially with such emotional themes.

Q: What qualities did you look for in your SKIN dance crew and what makes them so special?

A: When choosing my dancers, I mainly look for stamina, strength and a lot of individuality. I like to use dancers who can bring something new to the table and who have a way of moving that is very specific to themselves, but it’s also important that they can adapt to the company’s unique movement stamp.

There’s a good mix of dancers in the crew – some have impressive commercial credits, dancing on Britain’s Got Talent, MTV and for big brands, whilst others are recent graduates with a ridiculous amount of energy and passion. I find that incredibly inspiring.

 

Q: Finally, why should people come to SKIN?

A: SKIN follows an individual’s journey of belonging and acceptance that so many of us will find familiar. The show is a real rollercoaster of emotions, with some powerful choreography and genuine performances. If you didn’t think hip-hop could make you cry, you might be in for a surprise.

 

SKIN will take place at Winifred Holtby Academy from 31 Oct to 1 Nov as part of Back To Ours. Tickets are available now from £2.50 to £5.

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