Monday, 12 August 2013

Grooving on down the road

ANYONE into hip hop is in for a treat this summer with an exhilarating new dance adventure for the whole family.

Following the success of hit shows Into The Hoods and Some Like It Hip Hop, the award-winning ZooNation Dance Company is back at the Southbank Centre with a re-working of the much loved story of The Wizard Of Oz.

Written and directed by ZooNation founder and award winning choreographer Kate Prince, Groove On Down The Road showcases the not inconsiderable talents of some of the company's young dancers aged between 10 and 19.

But whereas the original story was set on a farm in Kansas, Kate's version is brought bang up to date and is relocated in an urban classroom.

It is here where Dorothy's adventure begins and where her relationship with Toto, Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion develop.

And although they dance their way down the yellow brick road, it is not to Oz but through a fantastical urban world - and with a pair of ruby trainers in lieu of the ruby slippers.

But it was not a desire to re-work the original story that was at the forefront of Kate's mind when she decided to create the show.

"I have a group of four boys aged between 15 and 17 who are part of ZooNation and are the most spectacularly talented group of young men I have ever worked with," she enthuses as we chat ahead of the show's opening on Saturday.

"They are just incredible and I was looking for something to showcase their talents which meant I needed a story with four lead characters.

"I also had Portia who is one of the girls playing Dorothy and she's an amazing dancer too so I wanted to include her - and in the end it just made sense for the show to be based on The Wizard Of Oz."

So why the classroom?

"I set it in a classroom because I wanted to highlight the importance of including the arts in education," she explains.

"The importance of creativity and the arts within education is enormous - especially for those kids who feel alienated in some way - and they should have equal importance within the curriculum.

"The Scarecrow for example, who doesn't have a brain, is dyslexic but hugely intelligent in a different way that isn't appreciated within the education system.

"So, it's a chance to explore some of the issues kids face and how important the arts are to their self esteem and confidence," she adds.

"This has been proved through the work we are doing in ZooNation. By getting kids dancing it improves their self esteem and personalities and makes them feel they can achieve something. It has so many benefits."

As well as a great story, the show will feature a fabulous score with a mix of music by Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Justin Timberlake, and Jose Gonzalez.

"Telling the story through dance is fantastic and so the music is incredibly important obviously," says Kate.

"But there is a real range as the production will feature some incredible hip hop, body popping, street dance and contemporary movement from the cast.

"They are just phenomenal and I'm so proud of them - many have been at the company since they were very young, having been inspired by seeing some of our other productions which is fabulous," she adds.

"And they work so hard - some get up at 5am every Saturday and travel from all over the country just to come and train in our classes. They are truly inspiring."

And for the young cast to be part of such a show a dream come true.

"I'm so excited," says Portia Oti. The 11-year-old from Bexley will join Arizona Snow to share the role of Dorothy.

"I am really thrilled and it's a dream come true for me. To be on the Southbank stage will be amazing," adds Portia.

"It's a lovely family show to be in and I think the audience will love it because of the way Kate has created the characters - there is a lot of laughter especially when the Lion does his dance!"

And 17-year-old Michael Ureta agrees.

The teenager from Tooting plays the Tin Man and says the audience will be moved by the stories behind the characters.

"You get to see some of the troubles young people face," he says. "I'm the Tin Man who hasn't got a heart and it explores the reasons behind that.

"The audience will see he's a bully and how he learns to be friendly.

"I went to see Into The Hood when I was about 13 and loved it. It really inspired me to want to dance so I joined the company and went to their classes.

"I've been with the company for five years and love it - we learn different forms of dancing and it's hard work but great fun and for me to be in this show is just amazing - the best experience of my life!

"To share the stage with all my friends doing something we all love doing will be the best feeling!"

Groove On Down The Road is on at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre, from Saturday, August 10 until Sunday, September 1.

Tickets from £10. Visit or call the box office on 0844 847 9910.

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