Botis Seva: ‘We need a massive shift in the dance work put on stage’

Published in the Observer on July 21, 2018

Choreographer Botis Seva was born in south London in 1991 and raised in Dagenham. After training with hip-hop dance company Avant Garde, he set up his own company, Far from the Norm, whose work blends hip-hop with experimental theatre and dance.

Seva has just been appointed guest artistic director of National Youth Dance Company. His short film Reach will be screened this summer in Channel 4’s Random Acts short film strand, while his new dance work, Reckonings, will be performed at Sadler’s Wells, London, 11-13 October.

Your film Reach is on TV soon. Tell us about that…
It just came about because of my son – he’s a year and four months old now. I wanted to make something about what I went through over the past year, as a father, and I wanted to be as vulnerable as possible. Everyone struggles through, and I think my struggle was trying to cope with the idea of being a dad. I still can’t understand it… I think it might be 10 or 11 years before I get it!

Do you feel your work is accepted by the more traditional dance world?
I don’t feel like it is. Some people can’t get their heads around what they’re watching. People might enjoy it, but I haven’t had that sense or feeling [that it’s accepted] yet.

Do you think more experimental work should be on in big-name venues?
There needs to be much more, especially within the hip-hop theatre world. Even Sadler’s Wells [where he shares the bill with Julie Cunningham and Alesandra Seutin] is very traditional in ballet and contemporary dance. But a lot of artists are pushing and showing hip-hop in a new light.

I think over the coming years there will be a massive shift in terms of the work that’s put on stage. And it’s definitely needed.

Your work often has a social or political message – how important is that?
It’s so, so important. It’s the root of what I make. My work always has to have a message you can take away. We don’t use words, but find the physical state for how you’re feeling. Like frustration at Trump coming down – how do you physicalise that? So you don’t have to say “Trump do this” – you’re just expressing it with your body.

What sort of change do you hope to make?
Just share, be nice, be OK with one another. There’s so much difficult stuff going on every day – just that bit of kindness on a packed train in London could save your life a little bit. And breaking down the whole racial divide. I grew up in Dagenham, and going back there now, racism is still there – sometimes I feel like it’s got worse.

You started dancing at school. Was it seen as a cool thing to do?
No, people were like: “Why are you dancing?” Before that I did quite a lot of grime music, and you go from grime music to dance and your friends are like: “What are you doing? Dance is not the thing.” There weren’t a lot of boys doing it, but for me it connected.

Do you start with music, or do you have an idea and seek sounds that will work with it?
I usually work with ideas, writings and drawings, and then I make a lot of the music myself – loops and samples and things.

One of your shows, House of Hooligans, has football as a backdrop. Do you see similarities between dancing and football?
There are a lot of similarities – the whole thing about community. In football, people really come together regardless of race, and that’s also within dance – the mass of people who come together and the energy that they put on stage is the same as people giving energy to football players.

How much training do you do to keep in shape?
I do as much as I can, because creating work is quite a lot of head work; I make myself go for a run. When I’m in my headspace, I miss the energy of performance.

Where next?