Interview: Ivan Blackstock

Monday 11 March 2013 by Carmel Smith

Ivan Blackstock. Photo: Miha Matevzic

Dancer/choreographer Ivan Blackstock is well known in the hip hop world as the Artistic Director of Birdgang Dance Company, but he’d prefer not to categorise his work, which ranges from touring as a backing dancer with the Pet Shop Boys and Cher Lloyd, competing on the battle circuit, to performing as part of the contemporary dance platform Resolution! at The Place. This week he’s presenting the third evening in the Wild Card series – a new initiative at Sadler’s Wells which aims to bring fresh ideas to the stage by giving young creators a platform to share the work they admire…

For Wild Card you’ve got the Lilian Baylis Studio Theatre (and surrounds) to present your own programme – are you enjoying it? And what have you got planned?
Yes I’m thoroughly enjoying it, it has been a very exciting experience to finally have a platform to share my choreographic voice. I have been working for six weeks for this project and it has been very challenging to work with over 70 dancers on five works. My most humbling experience had to be working with the Company of Elders [Sadler’s Wells over 60s performance group] – as they are much younger than they seem.

I have curated a show that has various flavours to tickle many taste buds; from spoken word to live music, contemporary dance and site specific work. I have invited my company BirdGang to create and present new work as part of the evening. I wanted to share our unique approach and style Aahehop as part of the night.

What’s Aahehop?
BirdGang is a company set up by four creatives, who are the Artistic Directors. Myself, Simeon Qsyea, Ukweli Roach and Kendra Horsburgh. ‘Aahehop’ is basically about expressing yourself without boundaries. We listen to the music and reinterpret. We try and not limit ourselves to a certain style although we are from a hip hop background. We try to explore new ways of interpreting the music and from this outcome people have said we have created something unique.

You’ve got really wide ranging performing experience – where/in which style do you feel most ‘at home’?
I feel most at home when I don’t have to pigeon hole myself into a style. Dance for me is all about expression. When I feel I am boxed into working in a specific style I don’t feel creative. I draw my style from animation, sculpture, art, movies and people. Different characters are important to me and so when I’m making work I try to find dancers that fit the roles or type of work I am looking to create.

You’ll also be showing your piece Reverie, which got a great reception at The Place earlier this year – and at Breakin’ Convention last year. It looks very theatrical – where have you picked up those skills/influences?
I picked up those skills from learning to be open and knowing that I am always a student as I am trying to push myself and my personal boundaries and practice. I think I subconsciously am inspired by most things but when I consciously think about something it comes out differently than how I absorbed it. I’m inspired by many theatrical and physical movement shows, but I try to think like a kid really. I feel a child’s imagination is untamed and I think when you get into secondary school they tame you to think in a certain way. I try to keep that child-like imagination.

Tell us about working with The Company of Elders – how are you finding working with older dancers?
Amazing. It helps to think in a different way of creating work. It pushes me to think about creating movement for people who have limitations. The first rehearsal was very interesting as I realised they had a lot more energy, flying around, I wanted to use that energy and show that they aren’t old and frail but that they have energy and that they are just as lively as the adolescents that I make work with.

Are you performing at Breakin’ Convention this year?
Yes for Breakin’ Convention I’m doing an installation piece on young people with Ukweli Roach and Birdgang has been commissioned to make a new work for the UK night of the festival.

And what else have you got coming up this year?
I have two more performances with my dancers this month. We are performing my new work METH at Cultural Explosion at Rich Mix (29 & 30 March). And then there’s Riot Offspring at Sadler’s Wells, as part of the String of Rites season celebrating the 100th anniversary of the premiere of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring.. It has five interesting choreographers including myself as part of this project com all around Europe. We are working with community based dancers to make a new work for the Sadler’s Wells main stage.

Wild Card, Lilian Baylis Studio, Sadler’s Wells, 14 & 15 March
Pre show starts 7pm. Tickets £15

Photo: Miha Matevzic

Watch Ivan being interviewed at Breakin’ Convention 2012

and watch Reverie below…

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