Sadler’s Wells associate artist Kate Prince on how she’s brought hip hop dance into the mainstream

Kate Prince. Photo by Ross Fergusson.

Kate Prince. Photo by Ross Fergusson. - Credit: Archant

As Some Like It Hip Hop opens its third run at the Peacock Theatre, Sadler’s Wells associate artist Kate Prince tells Caroline Bishop about choreographing a decade of success.

Kate Prince. Photo by Ross Fergusson.

Kate Prince. Photo by Ross Fergusson. - Credit: Archant

“I’ve never really been on a mission to change the face of hip hop,” says Kate Prince. “My sole motivating passion has always been that I love music and I love dance and I love stories.”

Kate Prince. Photo by Simon Prince.

Kate Prince. Photo by Simon Prince. - Credit: Archant

But by combining these passions into an artform she calls ‘hip hop dance theatre’, the choreographer and writer, 38, has indeed changed the face of hip hop in the 11 years since she founded her ZooNation, the resident dance company at Islington dance house Sadler’s Wells.

“I don’t like watching dance when it’s just dance,” says Kate. “If there’s no story, no emotion or theme, I do get a little bit bored. So out of personal choice, I’ve always wanted to tell a story. I started in musical theatre and I’ve always written stories and poems and I guess it’s just what I was interested in.”

It turns out, plenty of others are too – ZooNation’s first full-length show, Into the Hoods, became the most successful dance show ever staged in the West End. A hip hop take on Stephen Sondheim’s fairytale musical Into the Woods, it was commissioned by Sadler’s Wells, in Rosebery Avenue, in 2006. Its subsequent six months run in the West End in 2008 earned Kate an Olivier Award nomination for Best Choreographer.

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But it was her second show, Some Like it Hip Hop, that Prince saw as “the bigger challenge.” Influenced by the film Some Like it Hot and Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, it’s a quirky love story set in a dystopian world where women are relegated to second-class citizens.

Kate co-wrote it, directed it, co-choreographed it and penned the lyrics. “I put so much of myself into it, as did so many of the company,” she says. “It’s the difficult second album – you have success, how do you follow it up? And if your second one is no good it’s game over. So that was a lot of pressure.”

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After premiering in 2011, Some Like It Hip Hop returns this month to Sadler’s Wells’ West End home, the Peacock Theatre, for a third time. Kate was also back at Sadler’s Wells earlier this month to choreograph a new piece for the 10th edition of Breakin Convention, the annual street dance festival that ZooNation has been involved in since its inception in 2004.

Things have changed hugely for both Kate and the artform since then, and she credits a lot of that to Sadler’s Wells’ artistic director Alistair Spalding, who has been “so supportive” to ZooNation and a champion of street dance through Breakin Convention.

“The whole climate of hip hop dance theatre has changed phenomenally,” she said. “Hip hop used to be hoodies and trainers and hip hop music. Now you go and see a hip hop dance show and you might not hear a single bit of hip hop music – it might be classical, opera or jazz.”

Prince feels there are more opportunities for young people now too, and she has played her own part in that. Passionate about supporting emerging talent, she mentors young dancers through ZooNation’s Youth Company and in 2007 set up an Academy of Dance.

She’s also supportive of TV talent shows for promoting dance to young people. Britain’s Got Talent brought street dance groups Flawless and Diversity into the public eye, while So You Think You Can Dance? demonstrated the extent of dance talent in the UK. “I think it has given our art form exposure and has encouraged thousands of young people across the country to dance. I think that can only be a positive.”

Appropriately, Kate has been snapped up to choreograph new musical X Factor – It’s Time to Face the Musical! – which opens in the West End in spring 2014. The opportunities keep on coming: she’s creating a piece for ZooNation Youth Company at the Southbank Centre this summer, is choreographing a play for the Royal Shakespeare Company in June and is planning new ZooNation shows at Sadler’s Wells and the Royal Opera House. She’s also courting Hollywood, with two film ideas in the pipeline.

A decade after she founded ZooNation, hip hop dance theatre is firmly in the mainstream. “I couldn’t be happier,” she says. “I’ve never had a year like this in my life.”

Some Like It Hip Hop plays at the Peacock Theatre in Portugal Street, Holborn, until June 30.

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