“The company attack the gruelling choreography with so much enthusiasm, that their talent seems to surpass their age profoundly.”
You shouldn’t pre judge a performance before it’s began, but regarding ZooNation’s Groove on Down the Road, I admit that I ashamedly did. ZooNation produce a rework of the famous musical The Wizard of Oz, and that is the exact reason why I did not think I would enjoy it. Growing up, I hated The Wizard of Oz but ZooNation’s Groove on Down the Road is a converter. With a dedicated cast with an outstanding ability for street dance and performing, ZooNation Youth Company cram vitality into a 75 minute show.
The performance opens to a classroom of children, one of which is Dorothy who during the production journeys to Oz with Toto, Tinman, Lion and Scarecrow. The production relies heavily on these five main characters and they all carry it perfectly. Not once do the cast slip from their character, and they each add their own distinctive style to their movement which is indicative to their role. The Tinman with his unlubricated joints employs a rigidity in his limbs, but once oiled, rolls and twists to a remarkable degree. Jaih Betote Dipito Akwa, who plays the Scarecrow without a brain, has an ungainly quality to his movement but even with this characteristic, Akwa excels within his role. His floor work and his flips are incredibly impressive, as he enhances his moves with unpredictable rotations and seems to change direction even though he’s airborne.
Throughout the performance, you almost forget how young the cast are. The entire company are aged from 10 – 19, but the company attack the gruelling choreography with so much enthusiasm, that their talent seems to surpass their age profoundly. The scenes including all members of the cast are some of the strongest moments, and highlight the ability that each cast member owns.
But it isn’t just the company that excel in Groove on Down the Road, the set is equally as admirable. Set designer Ben Stones creates a colourful and interchangeable set which extends up the staircase of the theatre. His attention to detail is commendable as the set is in direct accordance to the themes that Kate Prince, the Artistic Director of ZooNation Youth Company, mentions in the programme. It’s definitely worth picking up a programme prior to the performance. It includes activities for younger audience members, information on the cast and an interview with Prince.
ZooNation Groove On Down The Road is written and directed by Kate Prince and commissioned by Southbank Centre. The cast is made up entirely of young dancers from across the UK and showcases the exceptional talent of ZooNation’s next generation of dancers and it features one young boy who was so inspired by last year’s show at Southbank Centre that he auditioned and secured a role in this year’s production.
ZooNation Dance Company was founded by Kate Prince in 2002. They are the creators of the award-winning West End shows Into The Hoods (the first ever hip-hop dance show to open in the West End) and Some Like It Hip Hop, which played for three seasons at the Peacock Theatre, London, as well as touring some of the UKs largest theatres. ZooNation have also recently produced ZooNation: Unplugged, bringing together live music and dance at Sadler’s Wells. Kate is currently working on ZooNation’s new production, The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party opening at the Royal Opera House Linbury Studio this year.
In 2010 ZooNation became a Resident Company at Sadler’s Wells and Kate Prince became an Associate Artist. ZooNation Dance Company has performed at major events including the 2008 Beijing Olympic and Paralympic Handover Ceremonies, Nelson Mandela’s 90th Birthday Celebrations in Hyde Park and the 2011 Laurence Olivier Awards.
ZooNation also runs a ZooNation Youth Company (ZYC) with dancers aged from 10-19 years and an academy, ZooNation Academy of Dance (ZAD), where over 150 students aged from 4-21 years train weekly. The dancers for the youth company are selected, through an audition process, from the very best students at ZAD. They come from many different areas of the UK including London, Stoke, Manchester, Norwich, Oxford and Brighton.
ZooNation – Groove On Down The Road, Southbank Centre, London 7 August 2014
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Image: © Ed Miller