It is a tribute to ZooNation and its indefatigable creator, Kate Prince, that the brand seems to have been around for much longer than a decade. It isn’t that the company has had a host of hit shows, but its two huge successes – Into the Hoods and Some Like it Hip Hop – have a polished maturity that seems inappropriate for a 10-year-old. This event celebrated much more than a choreographic brand but was a phenomenon of much deeper social significance, as partly evidenced by 200+ people of all ages sharing the stage. Performances included work by ZYC (ZooNation Youth Company) and ZAD (ZooNation Academy of Dance) as well as past and present members of the professional ensemble.
Hip hop is rapidly becoming the dominant dance discipline of the 21st century. Something that emerged as raw and explosive from US street culture is now established, codified and taught all around the world. In decades to come it isn’t fanciful to suggest that Kate Prince may be seen as the Ninette de Valois or Marie Rambert of this era, establishing a new British School of Dance – much as de Valois established the origins of a British School of Ballet – and in the same fundamental way, by attaching a dance company to a real school.
As if to affirm this significance, ZYC and ZAD occupied a significant part of the two-and-a-half hour show – or even more considering that they were performing in the foyers before it started and during the interval – with pieces that ranged from a cute but basic routine for the Under 8’s and beginners to some serious moves for the Intermediate 3 and Advanced groups. I suspect that there are a few future cast members in these classes as well as at least one who is already firmly established, in the form of Annie Edwards who reprised an extract of her memorable Fairy Gee from Into the Hoods.
My knock-out favourite works from the younger generation were Details in the Fabric, choreographed by Kate Prince and Carrie-Anne Ingrouille and first performed at Breakin’ Convention in 2009, providing a show-stopping double whammy when coupled with the Teardrop finale to Into the Hoods that concluded the first act; and Skybound (by Prince and Teneisha Bonner) which was the company’s contribution to this year’s Breakin’ Convention and which opened the second half.
We were reminded of the slick brilliance in the company’s two theatrical works, especially Into the Hoods, which is already much missed. There were enough cast members present to show the opening intros for the principal characters in the tower block of the Ruff Endz Estate, including Bonner, Sacha Chang and Rowen Hawkings as, respectively, Spinderella L’il Red and Basement Jaxx. The small snippets of choreography from the show brought back many fond memories. And the incredible harmonies and movement rhythms that Prince creates for the explosive Teardrop finale show, beyond any doubt, that she is a maestro of complex mass choreography, probably the most difficult part of the art. In its own way the Teardrop ensemble is every bit as impressive as a well-drilled corps de ballet. Prince is also a supreme showman (show-mistress?) with the knack of pacing her work through to uplifting finales with quick-fire encores as we are reminded by the “sunshine, my sunshine” ending to Some Like it Hip Hop, which bought this happy celebration to a close. I even spotted the choreographer slip from out of the wings and into the line-up for the last few minutes of her group choreography. I think Kate had earned the right to join in with her own party spirit!
It was, however, not quite the end because Prince and her General Manager, Chantal Spiteri, took the opportunity of the Sadler’s Wells stage and a full audience to hand out awards to her academy students, thus enhancing the celebratory feel of the evening, even if it meant that the get-out, late on a Sunday night, only just managed to beat the arrival of three enormous articulated lorries brimful with the set for Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty.
Building a company and a school from scratch in ten years is a massive achievement and it was touching that Kate acknowledged the huge contribution that her parents have made over the years. I’m sure that they are immensely proud.