Monday, 21 March 2016

INTERVIEW Simeon Qsyea of BirdGang Dance

Kate Gould

pix in with Joe

THIS weekend and throughout the Easter holidays, the Southbank Centre will be celebrating everything Urban.
Between today (March 25) and April 10, visitors will get a chance to explore a concrete playground in the heart of London and find out how urban environments inspire people.
The whole site will be buzzing with activity and children and adults will be able to enjoy workshops, performances and lots of free events as well as celebrate the endlessly inventive culture born from this city's environment.
The events are part of Urban, a festival Southbank Centre normally runs during the summer but is being held this Easter for the first time.
Among the many highlights will be Mylittleboarders in the Clore Ballroom on April 2. Suitable for those aged between four and 10, this free session will be a chance for kids to learn and perfect their skateboarding.
Join Mylittleboarders' highly trained tutors to learn the basics of skateboarding along with skilful tricks to impress. Boards, ramps and pads will be provided.
Later on in the festival is Grass, which encourages youngsters to explore the world beneath their feet.
Suitable for those aged between two and five, this quirky dance show will feature worms, slugs, snails, spontaneous outbreaks of ant dancing and plenty of obscure insect-related facts.
It uses performance, puppetry and projection to inspire children to look closely at the world around them, to get mucky and play.
Elsewhere there will be breakdancing battles, Hip Hop Karaoke, performances by internationally renowned DJs and dancers and join a massive carnival-style party beside the Thames.
One of the undoubted high points is a residency by South London-based BirdGang Dance.
Headed up by Simeon Qsyea, the hip hop, body locking, and street dance company is offering the chance for young people to get involved in creating a short dance video.
It will also offer an opportunity to see the creative process unfold, join in warm ups and choreographic tasks and feature in the film itself.
As well as this, Simeon will be running a workshop on how to make a dance video using a mobile phone.
It is the first time BirdGang and Southbank Centre have collaborated in this way and Simeon says he's really excited about it.
"All the kids these days have mobile phones with really good cameras," he says. "They are always taking selfies, pictures and videos and sharing them on social media.
"However, no one is giving them advice or showing them how to video things properly and so I thought it would be a really good idea to see if I could teach them how to create a dance video on their mobiles.
"I want to show them that you can do this on your phone and you don't need expensive equipment to do it.
"I spoke to the Southbank Centre about it and they really liked the idea so here we are. It's going to be really exciting and I'm looking forward to seeing what comes out of it."
During the two hour workshop those taking part will get to know how to use angles, lights and props but Simeon says it will be the content that matters most.
"It's all about the content - if you don't have that people won't want to watch it," he says. "When we started BirdGang we didn't have any money so shooting videos and doing promos was one by trial and error. Something like this workshop would have been invaluable."
Although it's all about shooting a dance video, Simeon is keen to stress he's not teaching anyone to dance in this workshop and that it's purely about how to get the best angles, lighting and edits when filming the dancers.
But for those who want to do some dancing, the BirdGang crew will be taking up residency at the Royal Festival Hall's Clore Ballroom for three days to collaborate on a dance video.
The piece the group will be doing is a variation on White Girl Black Girl, a new dance that will be shown at the Young Vic later this year.
As well as featuring the professionals from BirdGang, Simeon hopes to attract non professional dancers to take part.
"The piece has an all female cast and focuses on various themes such as racism, sexism, religion, polities and sexuality," says Simeon.
"It's a show we put to the Young Vic and one which we are still working on ahead of presenting it on their stage later this year.
"I wanted to keep working on it and create a promo of what the theatre piece will be like.
"With this three day workshop we can have another creative outlook on it and the video we shoot on the third day will be based on the show. The cast will also be there so they will be part of it too. I'm really excited about it."
He says those who take part in the shoot should have a bit of previous dance experience but everyone can come along to the rehearsals to learn some moves and which he promises will be fun and lighthearted.
And he says even those who sit and watch will learn something from the workshops.
"Even if you want to just sit and watch it's an insight into the creative process at work, how we as a company go through the process of putting on a dance routine and the end result," he says.
To tie the two projects in together, those who took part in the video creating workshop will be invited back to shoot this dance video.
"For me it's important to give something back and try and inspire people," says Simeon. "When we started BirdGang in 2005 we never had this type of support, help and advice.
"But we worked hard and learned a lot along the way. We knew how to dance but didn't know how to maintain the company or go through the creative process.
Simeon set up BirdGang with friend Ivan Blackstock in 2005 after he finished at Lewisham College. The 32-year-old was soon joined by Ukweli Roach and Kendra J Horsburgh. Their blend of hip hop, street dance and Aahehop is used not just to entertain but also explore social issues and Simeon says they "learned on the job".
After about a year, they were spotted by Jonzi D, creator of annual hip hop and street dance festival Breakin' Convention at Sadlers Wells and were asked to do a spot there.
Since then they have performed all over the world, taught in colleges and have collaborated and performed with the likes of Alexandra Burke, Kylie, Mariah Carey and Will I Am and were made an associate company of the Young Vic in April last year.
"We have worked hard over the last 11 years but I feel we have so much more to offer which is why I'm very passionate about being able to give other young people opportunities like this," he says.
"It's all about sharing. My greatest teachers have been the ones who want to share and support other people and that's the BirdGang ethos."
And Simeon hopes this latest collaboration with the Southbank Centre will be the first of many.
"I hope this is the start of a great and special relationship with Southbank Centre," he says. "It's a great place to be and really exciting.
"Urban Festival is really magical, there is so much going on but it's not just about dance but a multitude of things which I hope people will come along to, have a look at and be inspired."

Urban takes place at Southbank Centre from Friday, March 25 until Sunday, April 10. Visit or call the box office on 020 7960 4200 for full listings.

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