SESSION, which returns to The Station this month after a triumphant first visit last summer, is a fiery, open-air dance and live music event, back in Bristol as part of a 2019 UK tour.
Produced by Mayfest programmers MAYK, and recently the toast of the Brighton Festival, SESSION is unquestionably a battle cry and a love song, celebrating community, youth, belonging and sisterhood. The high-energy show is led by an ensemble of inner-city girls aged between 7 and 19, many of whom had not performed professionally before, and is performed alongside a live Afrobeat band.
The young BAME dancers have been nurtured by choreographer Odilia Egyiawan (who has worked with Beyoncé, Major Lazer, Pineapple Studios and Nike), Steppaz artistic director Abena Noel, and Still House artistic director Dan Canham (National Theatre, Kneehigh, DV8, Punchdrunk).
The idea for the show came about during a LIFT residency with Dan Canham in Tottenham back in 2015, where Dan was asked to come up with a piece that represented the area.
Cast dancer Christal Innerarity, 15, is born and raised in Tottenham. The only dancer in her family, she says that “dancing with Steppaz has helped me as a person. It’s improved my confidence. Even doing this interview is a new thing for me, as I used to stutter. All I want to do now is dance – it helps me with stress and helps me focus. I definitely want to go on to be a professional dancer, or run a school. I don’t know what I would have done otherwise”.
North London can be a difficult place to navigate for a teen these days. Prospects are limited and self-protection is fundamental. “The main issues are knife and gun crime,” Christal continues. “When a local girl was shot, everyone in Tottenham was distraught. You didn’t see kids outside so much, after youth club or during the summer holidays, after that.
“But Tottenham needs representation and some good press – it’s had so many downs, more of its positive side should be represented for. Tottenham represents me at my strongest – when you deal with people dying in your community, you have to keep a positive mindset. Steppaz stops me from going out and doing the wrong thing. It keeps me focused.”
Christal confirms that the creative team have hit the brief of representing Tottenham “because everyone who contributed is part of that community – we bring it with us”. The accompanying band, Empire Sounds, are Steppaz’s studio neighbours in Tottenham, and bring their own flair to the performance.
“Empire Sounds are really good, we can trust them,” Christal continues. “Without them we wouldn’t have Session, and without us they wouldn’t have it either. They are like our older brothers, they give us advice, we work well together and it makes the show better. They’re not just the band, we’re connected. I trust the drummer Mike to get the counts rights and to deliver – they go full out for us and we go full out for them.”
Christal’s favourite part of the performance is where the piece takes a more serious turn. “A dancer parades around the space, it’s dead silent, and the drummer hits a drum to coincide with a move, meant to get the audience’s attention. The track Zugo then kicks in.”
Session took a year to create, with the creative team allowing the dancers to feed into the choreography and costumes. Based on Dan’s previous experience of collaborative creation, the creative team provided the young troupe with the resources, support and a framework – but allowed the performers to take ownership across the creation process, even encouraging one member to write their own lyrics to sing live with Empire Sounds.
The dance to the track SGYU near the end of the piece, performed with the younger dancers, was co-choreographed by the troupe. “We did bonding exercises and diagrams which all fed into the choreography,” Christal recalls. “I’ve learned a lot.” The result pushes way beyond what some areas of society might expect from a group of inner-city youths.
Christal adds, “I feel that people should know that SESSION is for all ages – and that it comes from the heart. People should watch it because everyone who has seen it, so far, has come away with a new experience. There’s so many parts to it, it gives you time to reflect”.
SESSION returns to The Station from Aug 7-11 (no performance Sat 10). Running time 60 mins. All ages. For more info, visit www.creativeyouthnetwork.org.uk/Event/session
Read more: Review: SESSION, The Station