INTERVIEW | ‘MIXTAPE’ CHOREOGRAPHERS DANNIELLE ‘RHIMES’ LECOINTE AND BRADLEY CHARLES SPEAK TO US ABOUT 20 YEARS OF ZOONATION

 

Some Like It Hip Hop, Into the Hoods, The Mad Hat­ters Tea Party and Mes­sage In A Bottle, are just some of the icon­ic shows that will be revis­ited in Mix­tape, an explos­ive even­ing sweep­ing through 20 years of ground-break­ing storytelling by Kate Prince and ZooNation.

Since 2002 ZooN­a­tion has inspired the next gen­er­a­tion of theatre­go­ers and theatre makers with its extraordin­ary work inspired by the music and cul­ture of hip hop.

Mix­tape presents excerpts of past shows reworked with a twist, pay­ing trib­ute to the dan­cers, per­formers, cre­at­ive teams and audi­ences along the way, Co-dir­ec­ted by Dan­ni­elle ‘Rhimes’ Lecointe and Brad­ley Charles, with Music­al Dir­ect­or DJ Walde, Design­er Ben Stones and Light­ing Design­er Charlie Mor­gan Jones, plus live vocal­ists and spe­cial guest per­formers from the past and present.

We catch up with Dan­ni­elle Lecointe and Brad­ley Charles to find out more.

How does it feel to be cel­eb­rat­ing 20 years of ZooNation?

Dan­ni­elle ‘Rhimes’ Lecointe: It feels a bit sur­real. Look­ing over our 17 years of being in the com­pany we’re incred­ibly grate­ful, excited and just hon­oured to wear the badge. We’ve accom­plished some pretty amaz­ing things, from per­form­ing for Nel­son Man­dela to bring­ing ZooN­a­tion’s Into The Hoods to the West End, it’s been quite the ride! We’re look­ing for­ward to cel­eb­rat­ing everything the com­pany has achieved. It’s going to be a party!

Brad­ley Charles: I feel humbled to be able to cel­eb­rate the accu­mu­la­tion of work that so many hands have helped cre­ate. Espe­cially hav­ing joined the com­pany as a very young per­former, I’ve been lucky to have seen its massive peri­ods of growth. 20 Years is a huge achieve­ment and it’s like walk­ing back home, see­ing some of the faces I have shared the stage with. It’s very humbling.

Tell us about ‘Mix­tape’ — how was it cur­at­ing such a spe­cial show, and how did you keep the leg­acy of ZooN­a­tion alive through it?

Dan­ni­elle ‘Rhimes’ Lecointe: ZooN­a­tion is a fam­ily of artists com­mit­ted to storytelling and high impact dance, so we’ve kept the focus on exactly that. Fam­ily is an inter­est­ing dynam­ic. You under­stand the tapestry of your fam­ily, and the nuances. I think once we had the under­stand­ing of this really being a cel­eb­ra­tion of our work and leg­acy, the cur­a­tion became a really nat­ur­al process.

Brad­ley Charles: The show is a cel­eb­ra­tion. It cel­eb­rates the growth of Kate’s first idea to form a group, through to devel­op­ing the tal­ents of the next gen­er­a­tion of dan­cers com­ing through the com­pany. Rhimes and myself dili­gently went through our cata­logue of work to choose what we felt rep­res­en­ted key moments in ZooN­a­tion’s his­tory. The leg­acy is in the stor­ies we tell and the char­ac­ters we bring to life. We tell mean­ing­ful stor­ies and research sub­ject mat­ters to share per­spect­ives, so our shows are not just ‘a great night out’, they are hope­fully thought pro­vok­ing too.

What was it like doing the cho­reo­graphy? How involved are you in the storytelling element?

Dan­ni­elle ‘Rhimes’ Lecointe: This show is an amal­gam­a­tion of work cre­ated from the last 20 years. It has some spe­cial pieces of cho­reo­graphy from a mul­ti­tude of artists includ­ing ourselves. It’s extremely nos­tal­gic, which is beau­ti­ful. Although we’re not telling one whole story due to the amount of shows we’re pack­ing in, instead we’re keep­ing the essence of the indi­vidu­al stor­ies at the fore­front. It’s what we do.

Brad­ley Charles: The cho­reo­graphy can be chal­len­ging because of the sheer amount of people who have con­trib­uted to it over the years. Each per­son cho­reo­graphs very dif­fer­ently, which has nat­ur­ally changed and evolved. I believe I have been involved in the most amount of ZooN­a­tion shows! So, it’s been use­ful hav­ing that first-hand exper­i­ence in the retell­ing of the stor­ies and shar­ing the essence of the pieces with the Mix­tape com­pany. As co-dir­ect­ors and ori­gin­al com­pany mem­bers, Rhimes and I are heav­ily involved in the indi­vidu­al nar­rat­ives, but also reima­gin­ing the num­bers to cre­ate a show that feels fresh and new.

What are your thoughts on the evol­u­tion of Hip-Hop theatre over the years? Do you think that there are more oppor­tun­it­ies and spaces now?

Dan­ni­elle ‘Rhimes’ Lecointe: Going back through our archive you can def­in­itely see the evol­u­tion of move­ment, with so much of storytelling being the move­ment, there has been a shift. People are exper­i­ment­ing more than ever and allow­ing that vul­ner­ab­il­ity to shape new ways to tell stor­ies. That can only be awe­some. There are so many more oppor­tun­it­ies now, it’s always astounding.

Brad­ley Charles: I am glad to see more expres­sions of Hip Hop theatre, and the inclu­sion of people that have stud­ied and been in the industry, occupy­ing spaces in the theatre world. I believe Hip Hop cre­at­ives have many stor­ies to tell and con­trib­ute to theatre, that audi­ences can relate to and appreciate.

I believe that oppor­tun­it­ies are still lim­ited for Hip Hop artists in some areas due to sys­tem­ic view­points. How­ever, I believe in our worth and would love to con­tin­ue con­ver­sa­tions to bet­ter these view­points, as well as devel­op the over­all theatre exper­i­ence and chal­lenge who theatre really is for.

Theatre is typ­ic­ally seen as a high­brow activ­ity, how does ZooN­a­tion break those stig­mas, and make dance theatre more accessible?

Dan­ni­elle ‘Rhimes’ Lecointe: One thing our Founder, Kate Prince, has always wanted to do is bring in audi­ences that would nev­er nor­mally go to the theatre. It’s a mis­sion that con­tin­ues to inform the work we make to this day. ZooN­a­tion cre­ates work that people can relate to, in ways that bring hope, joy, and that are thought pro­vok­ing. People are attrac­ted to this because they can see themselves.

Brad­ley Charles: We approach theatre as storytelling. We are all storytellers in life. You come home and someone asks how your day was, you are telling a story. ZooN­a­tion aim to cre­ate work that speaks to every­one in a sim­il­ar way. The lan­guage we use is dance, but how we pack­age it is the thing that sep­ar­ates us. We’re able to work with young people, who can instantly con­nect with a young­er audi­ence, but find ways to make it relat­able to the older gen­er­a­tions too. For example, in our show Into The Hoods we had a scene set in a care home where the eld­erly res­id­ents broke out into a break-dan­cing battle!

What kind of music can we expect to hear in Mixtape?

Dan­ni­elle ‘Rhimes’ Lecointe: You can expect a very eclect­ic mix of music. Some we have used in shows like Into the Hoods, Mes­sage In A Bottle and The Mad Hat­ter­’s Tea Party — tracks that have become icon­ic and we wouldn’t be without! As well as some of our own ori­gin­al music from shows like Some Like It Hip Hop. You may even hear some newly pro­duced music!

Brad­ley Charles: We’ve used known/popular music in the show, but we also have an amaz­ing Music Dir­ect­or, D.J. Walde, who has cre­ated ori­gin­al music for a large amount of our work. You will hear an eclect­ic mix of hard hit­ting, lyr­ic­al music, with songs that have been writ­ten to high­light our stor­ies and characters.

What are your per­son­al favour­ite moments in the show? (No spoil­ers please!)

Dan­ni­elle ‘Rhimes’ Lecointe: Hav­ing such an incred­ible com­pany bring­ing this once in a life­time show together…it’s very dif­fi­cult to pick out one num­ber. But one thing we know for sure is, when you come and watch the show, you’ll def­in­itely leave with a favourite!

Brad­ley Charles: I enjoy Hat­ter­’s House from The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. It was a piece I first per­formed in the Round House (Cam­den) in 2016 and it still gives me the buzz now when I see it.

 

Mix­tape — Cel­eb­rat­ing 20 years of ZooN­a­tion: The Kate Prince Company
5–8 Octo­ber 2022, Sadler’s Wells (Angel, London)

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Rishma Dhaliwal

Edit­or / PR Con­sult­ant at No Bounds
Rishma Dhali­w­al has extens­ive exper­i­ence study­ing and work­ing in the music and media industry. Hav­ing writ­ten a thes­is on how Hip Hop acts as a social move­ment, she has spent years research­ing and con­nect­ing with artists who use the art form as a tool for bring­ing a voice to the voice­less. Cur­rently work­ing in TV, Rishma brings her PR and media know­ledge to I am Hip Hop and oth­er pro­jects by No Bounds.

About Rishma Dhaliwal

Rishma Dhaliwal has extensive experience studying and working in the music and media industry. Having written a thesis on how Hip Hop acts as a social movement, she has spent years researching and connecting with artists who use the art form as a tool for bringing a voice to the voiceless. Currently working in TV, Rishma brings her PR and media knowledge to I am Hip Hop and other projects by No Bounds.