Interviews

5 Questions to Joseph Toonga about his new Just Us Hip Hop Apprentice Co. and more…

Joseph Toonga.<br />© The Other Richard. (Click image for larger version)
Joseph Toonga.
© The Other Richard. (Click image for larger version)

The inaugural performance of the Just Us Hip Hop Apprentice Co. is livestreamed from the main stage at DanceEast, on Friday 16 April.

justusdancetheatre.org
 

Q) You recently setup the Just Us Hip Hop Apprentice Co. – what makes it special and what’s the goal?

A) What makes the Apprentice Co. special is the fact that it is so different. The focus is on developing street dance and performers who are rooted in Hip Hop culture. In addition, we are addressing the lack of opportunities for Black & Ethnic Minority Dancers and those from low-income backgrounds to access solid training & upskilling.

The goal for us is to develop this programme into an annual one where performers stay for six months and can really experience the breadth of what it is like to be a freelancer in Hip Hop; performing and touring nationally and internationally and working with other notable artists. It is an investment that will lead to higher quality performers for Hip Hop makers.
 

How do you select the Apprentice dancers – what skills and attitude are you looking for?

To select the Apprentice Co, we had an audition with a panel. There was a selection of multiple artists who were performers, choreographers and musicians who helped us make the decisions.
 

Just Us Hip Hop Apprentice Co. - dancer Aisha Webber in the studio.<br />© Elliott Banks. (Click image for larger version)
Just Us Hip Hop Apprentice Co. – dancer Aisha Webber in the studio.
© Elliott Banks. (Click image for larger version)

In terms of the skills and attitudes we were looking for, it was a range. We saw applications from those who had experience in the underground and battling scene, those who already had previous training and also those who were simply raw talent. Most importantly, we wanted to work with dancers who were fully invested in the Hip Hop scene and had the drive to learn new ways to move their body, always staying open-minded.
 

Where, and when can we see the Apprentice company, and what are the future plans?

Our Apprentice Co. has a livestream performance taking place on Friday 16th April at 7pm, hosted by DanceEast. The show will feature works by myself, Kenrick ‘H20’ Sandy, Shannelle ‘Tali’ Fergus and Shawn Aimey. Tickets are available to purchase from Eventbrite.

In addition, hopefully (Covid guidelines permitting) the company will be able to perform live in the summer as it will be great for people to see them. Our future plans are to fundraise more, expand the programme and artists we use, attract more partners in and out of dance, and develop the programme to include more touring, outreach and participation.
 

Just Us Hip Hop Apprentice Co. - dancer Dilyon Graham in the studio.<br />© Elliott Banks. (Click image for larger version)
Just Us Hip Hop Apprentice Co. – dancer Dilyon Graham in the studio.
© Elliott Banks. (Click image for larger version)

When and where did you first realise that dance would be your life?

I couldn’t pinpoint an exact time or date, but I had such strong influences and people who believed in me when I was younger; they motivated me to keep going with what I was working on. People or groups such as skittles, Kofi Mingo, FM, Turbo, Bonnie Oddie and Boy Blue.
 

Apprentice company aside what other plans do you have, not least for your own company, Just Us Dance Theatre?

We have many other projects happening with Just Us! We are bringing back the Let’s Shine Mentorship Programme, we have the JUDT Bursary which allows us to support young emerging artists financially, both nationally and internationally. We are developing and fundraising for an outreach programme called Young, Black & Gifted which will be supporting young Brazilian dancers.
 

Joseph Toonga in Born To Manifest.© The Other Richard. (Click image for larger version)
Joseph Toonga in Born To Manifest.
© The Other Richard. (Click image for larger version)

For my personal works, I am about to rework my outdoor piece Born To Protest. It is the second instalment of my Born To Manifest series and it will be touring this summer from June to October. There will be a third instalment to the series coming in 2022, finishing the trilogy of work. But I can’t tell you anything about that just yet so keep an eye out!

Lastly, we are expanding our networks, collaborations and the companies we work with so it is a very exciting time for us here and I can’t wait for everyone to see what’s next.
 

Bonus Question: Tell us a joke… This joke comes from my oldest daughter, 5-year-old Catalana: What do you call a fish with no I? Fsh.
 
 

About the author

Bruce Marriott

Bruce Marriott is editor of DanceTabs

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