Entertainment & Arts

Some Like It Hip Hop gives a twist to a movie classic

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Media captionTommy Franzen in rehearsals for Some Like It Hip Hop

Dance company ZooNation is about to stage its first first full-length production since the award-winning West End show Into the Hoods.

Some Like It Hip Hop at London's Peacock Theatre features cross-dressing, mistaken identity and revolution in a comical tale inspired by Billy Wilder's much-loved film Some Like It Hot.

ZooNation founder Kate Prince talks about the show and her company's ethos.

How did your dance company ZooNation come about?

I founded ZooNation in 2002 a few years after I moved from Edinburgh to London. I had already run a theatre company called ZooTC for several years which produced amateur musicals and plays. Once I moved to London, my love of hip-hop dance erupted and I wanted to form a dance company for hip-hop dancers.

Image caption Kate Prince was lead choreographer for the Beijing Olympics and Paralympics handover ceremonies

Hip-hop dance doesn't usually have a narrative but this will be the second time you are telling a story through dance. Do you find it exciting?

I am motivated by storytelling first and foremost, above everything else. Having a good story is like setting the foundations for a house. If the structure isn't there, then there is nothing for you to build on.

How did you come to base Some Like It Hip Hop on the classic movie Some Like It Hot?

Some Like It Hot was my favourite movie when I was a kid. Whereas Some Like It Hot tells the story of two men who find themselves in a predicament, and cross-dress to get themselves out of the predicament, ours is a story of two women who dress as men, similarly to get themselves out of trouble.

It takes place in a world where books are banned and women are subservient to men. It is a comical tale of love, mistaken identity and revolution. It is also inspired by Shakespeare's Twelfth Night and TV's Mad Men.

Into the Hoods was a clever interpretation of Sondheim's Into the Woods. How did you begin to put the work together?

From the moment I had the idea for Into the Hoods, it all just seemed to make sense and it actually fell into place relatively easily. I applied for a place on Hothouse at The Place where I took the company and we developed the narrative over two weeks of intensive workshops.

Image caption Tommy Franzen stars in Some Like It Hip Hop

We then took the idea to Sadler's Wells who commissioned us for two nights at the Peacock Theatre. When we first performed Into the Hoods in 2006 it ran at just one hour. By the time it opened in the West End two years later, it had several more runs in London and Edinburgh and had developed into a full-length production with an interval. Since then it has had two revivals at the South Bank.

What are the different styles of hip-hop?

Hip-hop dance is a term that covers all the different styles within the genre; Breakdance, Popping, Locking, House, Wacking and Nu Skool are just some of them. There are so many different terminologies and flavours within hip-hop dance.

Do you think dance acts such as Flawless have inspired young people to take up this form of dance?

I am a big fan of Flawless. Bounce and Neo were both in Into the Hoods. I have actually worked with Neo since he was 15. I have seen Flawless literally grow into men. They are so respectful and polite and are excellent ambassadors of hip-hop dance. I think they have definitely inspired young people to take up hip-hop dance.

ZooNation's trademark style is hip-hop combined with comedy and physical theatre. Is it difficult to find dancers who tick all the boxes?

The simple answer to this is yes. Being in ZooNation is very demanding. They need to be able to dance to a high level in all styles of hip-hop dance, and also to be good actors. I have often had to turn down some dancers in auditions who may have brought an incredibly high level of skill but put them in a scene and ask them to convey a story and they fall apart. Being a storyteller is the most important thing to me in a dancer, and then they have to be able to back that up with physical skill as well.

What is the music like in Some Like It Hip Hop?

The music is an entirely original soundtrack written by DJ Walde, Josh Cohen and myself. It is difficult for me to comment on it as I am so involved, but I'm going to out on a limb and saying it's awesome. Our set designer, Ben Stones, who normally does straight theatre, messaged me the other day to say he normally doesn't like musicals and he knows nothing about hip-hop, but he can't stop humming the tunes, so we must be doing something right. The music in the show is a mixture of hip-hop, soul, funk, gospel and several other genres also.

Tommy Franzen, Lizzie Gough and Teneisha Bonner are all talented young dancers in the production. Are they enjoying it?

As I keep telling them, Tommy, Lizzie and Teneisha are all 'on fire' at the moment. It is such a pleasure to be working with people who are at the top of their game and totally in their element. They work tirelessly and never complain. I can't wait for people to see them in these roles - they are phenomenal.

Image caption Lizzie Gough (centre) and Teneisha Bonner (right) join Franzen in the show

You were lead choreographer for the Beijing Olympics and Paralympics handover ceremonies. Was that daunting?

I think with any job, the daunting part is getting the job in the first place, the interview process, pitching your ideas etc. Once you have the job, you just get on and do it to the best of your ability. The only thing I found daunting about the process was the moment I stood in the tunnel of the Bird's Nest stadium about to walk out and perform.

What do you think about the UK dance industry at the moment?

In terms of talent, the UK is over-flowing. There are so many dancers and choreographers in the UK who are producing beautiful and inspiring work. In terms of the way the dance industry works, we are in trouble. Dancers in the commercial industry are not protected under a union. It seems agents compete with each other by putting their fees lower and lower in order to secure clients. As a result, the standard fee for a dancer for a video or TV performance has dropped remarkably in the last eight years.

When you were growing up, which dancer did you admire the most?

It has to be Janet Jackson. She was the person who inspired me and pulled me into this genre of dance. The first time I saw her live with her Velvet Rope tour in 1999 I was blown away. Many years later I was taking a class in New York with her choreographer Gil, and she came in and watched. After class she waited and spoke to us. I think our entire exchange of conversation was - Janet: 'Where are you from?' Me: 'London.' Regardless of brevity, hands down best conversation of my life!

What are you planning next?

Next year is our 10th birthday as a company, so we will be planning a series of events to celebrate throughout the year. We also have our annual Christmas show with the ZooNation Academy coming up and plans to tour Some Like It Hip Hop next year.

Kate Prince was talking to BBC News reporter Claudia Redmond. Some Like It Hip Hop is at the Peacock Theatre in London until 19 November.

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