Dance / Creative Youth Network

Interview: Deepraj Singh

By emily bull, Thursday Jul 18, 2019

Making its debut at The Station from July 25-27, Rooted is a contemporary dance theatre production packed with emotive imagery and rich textured movement, bringing together unheard stories from those living in isolation.

Performed by passionate young dancers using visceral group choreography Rooted examines what it means to feel alone.

The show is directed and choreographed by Bristol-born emerging dance artist Deepraj Singh, who has created the show as the first commissioned artist for Creative Youth Network, themselves based at The Station.

CYN’s creative Producer Emily Bull talked with Deepraj about the show.

Tell us about a bit about yourself, Deepraj.
Well, I grew up in Whitehall, Easton with my Mum, Dad and two older sisters. I feel like my family have played a real influential role in my life, especially my sisters. In fact, I describe my family as ‘me, my dad and my three mums.

My grandparents played a really big role in my life and upbringing. My grandad on my mum’s side, whom I never met, came to Bristol and set up the first continental spice shop outside London. The shop is still there today, opposite the Sikh temple. He also brought the first Sikh holy book to Bristol.

My grandparents really brought the community together through these actions. My mum has memories of people queuing in the family home to read the holy book.

Grandad noticed the need for people to connect after the service, so he hired a space and made Bristol’s first Bollywood film cinema. He was a pioneer and forward thinker, thinking about his community and how to strengthen it, and he knew that the arts was the way to do this.

Bristol-raised dancer Deepraj Singh has created the show as Creative Youth Network’s first commissioned artist

And how did you get into dance?
I started off doing capoeira for five years. From there I went onto Kinesis Youth Dance Company and later onto Swindon Youth Dance. I loved the way that you could be in a room with lots of other people, and be doing exactly the same movements as those on the other side of the room. Without speaking, just moving, you’d be doing the same thing and communicating.

I was on the Swindon Urban Programme and realised I wanted to go to dance school and switched to their contemporary programme and did a year with them. I applied to London School of Contemporary Dance and was unsuccessful. It made me go back and do another year with Swindon Contemporary Youth Dance, before reapplying to London Contemporary. I think they remembered me and liked that I’d gone away, learnt more, developed and kept at it.

I was successful with my second application and then went and studied in London before coming back to Bristol. Since then I’ve been developing as a professional dancer and choreographer with help from Creative Youth Network. Last year, I toured in The Throth and performed in The Edge.

Are there any things that you’ve been part of that really inspired you?
It was at school that I learnt dance is a culture. We had visiting dance companies come in and work with us, including Kompany Malakhi, who I worked with on a hip hop project.

The first dance project that I got involved with was at the Kuumba Project, celebrating their 40th birthday. We created work about identities and gave ourselves names, characters and made our own backing tracks to perform to.

When I was in Year 6, I got to perform on the Hippodrome stage as part of the Stages Festival. It was huge, life-changing. Being able to perform in that amazing venue was a massive deal and changed me. I knew then that I wanted to be on stage.

How did you come to work with Creative Youth Network?
At 21, four years ago, I’d just finished at London Contemporary and came back to Bristol. Katy Noakes [Bristol City Council’s fomer dance officer] suggested contacting The Station and in doing so I met Nick Young, the Creative Director. Nick mentioned the alumni programme that had been set up to support emerging young artists from programmes delivered by Creative Youth Network. He suggested I join it. He also said he was looking for a choreographer for their first in-house production that he was directing.

While on the alumni programme I got asked to join the artistic sub-committee to Creative Youth Network’s trustees and then went onto being asked to become a trustee to the organisation. I continued to work with them as a dancer and supported their shows A Thousand Dreadful Things and Rights to Move.

Around this time I was setting up dance workshops for professional dancers with Jack Sergison from the alumni and Emily asked me to join the cast for their 2019 show, The Edge, as a paid member of the cast. After opening night of The Edge, both Emily and Nick turned to me and asked me, “Fancy making our 2019 summer show and being our first commissioned artist?”. I instantly said “yes!”.

What does the commission mean to you?
It’s a big deal. I really wanted to prove to myself that I could do something like this – generating ideas and taking a leadership role. These are things that I’ve struggled with before, so this commission has been invaluable for me to learn how to lead, lead with others, communicate, value myself, the work and other’s contributions.

The commission from Creative Youth Network has shown me that I can do this, it’s given me confidence to think what else I could achieve, whilst refining my vision of choreography and trusting myself more.

Tell us a little about Rooted.
While thinking about making this show I kept coming back to the story of my grandparents, how they arrived in Bristol as one of the first families from India and created a community around them. The feeling I kept coming back to is that of ‘belonging’.

Deepraj Singh’s ‘Rooted’ brings together unheard stories from those living in isolation

Wherever possible I knew I needed to share the stories and opinions of those who otherwise won’t get heard. Emily had mentioned that youth in isolation was a big issue and one of the highest referral reasons into Creative Youth Network’s Youth Services team throughout Bristol.

Some of the stories I heard were shocking – one young person they were working with hadn’t left their home for years. We felt that by developing a piece about isolation and belonging could be really powerful, and hence Rooted was born.

What are your thoughts on dance in Bristol, both during your childhood and now working here?
The opportunities available to me as a child don’t all exist anymore. For example, Cotham School, which I attended, no longer includes dance in the curriculum, and Katy Noakes’ former role on the Council, to support dance in the city, doesn’t exist any longer. Add to these the arts being phased out of the curriculum, and I worry how we’re going to provide young people with opportunities to experience the arts.

That’s why I love being a trustee at Creative Youth Network – we provide so much, and especially for those in areas where they wouldn’t otherwise have support or programmes.

We also need to make dance more accessible. We need to make and show work here that can rival London. I also think we need to provide more opportunities for the dance professionals within the city.

What role can the arts play in society?
For me, the big issue is making sure that young people have access to creativity, especially as it’s coming out of the curriculum. We also need to address the issues of barriers into the industry.

Governments need to trust artists to get the messages across, to make change in great scale and trust that people will make changes themselves when given the access and option to do so. I believe the arts have the power to raise voices and share stories, such as loneliness and isolation, to inspire and change lives. Without dance, who knows where I’d be today.

Rooted is at The Station from July 25-27. For more info and to book tickets, visit www.creativeyouthnetwork.org.uk/rooted

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