ZooNation: Unplugged

Director Kate Prince, choreography ZooNation Dance Company
ZooNation Dance Company
Sadler’s Wells

ZooNation: Unplugged

Founded in 2002 by Kate Prince, ZooNation Dance Company brought hip hop in from the cold into the theatre and into the professional dance sphere. Since 2006, there has been a youth company too, and it is these talented young people, with a scattering of members (Tommy Franzen, Andry Oporia, Duwane Taylor, Shaun Smith, Oli Langford) from the parent company amongst them, who display their moves for two nights only.

As we wait for the show to start, DJ Walde, musical director of the show, is mixing at the desk centre stage. First song is by Daft Punk—"Harder Better Faster Stronger"—my companion tells me it is her nine-year-old’s favourite song. So that’s why so many youngsters are having a late night school night.

And this is very much an end-of-term show for family and friends, a fun night that buzzes with energy, good humour and raw talent. A Fame stage musical of freestyle, breakdancing, krumping, popping and locking, choreographed by the whole company.

The next song on deck is from Gorillaz, followed by some sampling, and then a cheeky little boy walks on and ostentatiously unplugs the electricity. And a live acoustic band takes over: DJ Walde, Josh Cohen, Matt Smith, Carlos Olmos, terrific singers Vula Malinga and Elliotte Williams N’Dure.

Inspired by MTV: Unplugged apparently, ZooNation: Unplugged taps into music from the last fifty years to give narrative and structure to a mix of new and old choreography, some borrowed from former shows such as Some Like it Hip Hop, Into the Hoods, Groove on Down the Road: solos, duets, trios, pas de six, and a large ensemble.

Songs from Michael and Janet Jackson, Lauryn Hill, James Brown, Chaka Khan, Prince, Sting, Stevie Wonder, Bruno Mars (I may have missed a few) almost turn the evening into an interactive show.

The concept seems to be a high school prom where hearts are broken, love is betrayed, where girls take on the boys, both strutting their stuff, where classroom nerds can shine too. With a tiny bit of adult content for good measure.

Guests—singer songwriter Tom Baxter performing his "Skybound"; amazing street dancer Turbo doing an ‘improvised piece to music he has never heard before’—add a sense of special occasion.

But it’s the kids who are special tonight. When the stage is full of dancers giving it their all, it is truly a joy to behold. Actions speak louder than words. Democratic, inclusive, all shapes and sizes—no discrimination, no body fascism here—the line of beauty is challenged.

Pride shows, personalities shine through, the audience joins in, cheers, claps to the beat, and at the end gives them a standing ovation, which elicits a Bob Marley encore—"Don’t worry about a thing… (Three Little Birds)".

Reviewer: Vera Liber