Cue: Jaw Harp / Kalimba jam with Kristjan Kannukene
Hello and welcome to TL Life: Crosscurrent. I’m your host, Will Howarth. If you were wondering what those unusual sounds you just heard were, and if you’ve been on tenter-hooks to hear more of the enigmatic chanting in the teaser from the previous episode, then fret not.
All your curiosities will be satisfied.
We’ll be hearing from the mysterious originator of those noises, along with a word or two from Christian Union leader Ragnhild Rivertz. But to start us off, let me take you to the Laban cafe where I met Isaac St. John Griffiths and Emi Matsushita for a discussion about some of the more difficult issues surrounding hip hop and contemporary dance.
Laban Café Discussion (Part One)
IG: I’m Isaac St. John Griffiths. I’m a 2nd year here at Laban. I was born in Cardiff in Wales. From a very young age, I wasn’t interested in what everyone was interested, especially in school. I spent more time in the playground whirling around and dancing by myself, so my Mum encouraged me to do ballet and then I just grew from there.
I went on to modern jazz and then I decided to focus on an element of my personal self which is actually my spiritual practice. I’m a Reiki practitioner following into both the teachings of Buddhism and the spiritual practice of Dervish Whirling.
Reiki is a spiritual healing practice. It’s basically part of the universe. It’s part of all of us. It’s a consistent energy. It was founded by the Reiki master Mikao Usui. He spent 25 days in meditation in an isolated cave in the mountain and the only track of time he managed was to have 25 stones. So he would throw one stone once the day had passed. And after these 25 days of meditation, he found the core of Reiki and it’s been practised ever since then.
I practise it on myself or I might give treatments to others and it’s a real great restorative practice – not just physically but also mentally and emotionally. We have a lot of people come in who suffer from mental illness such as depression or anxiety and it’s a fantastic way to just release all of that because it’s also a mindset.
The Reiki principles are, ‘just for today, do not worry; just for today, do not anger; honour your teachers and your elders; show gratitude to every living thing.’
I think that is helping me stay positive while I’m at a university like this.
EM: My name is Emi Matsushita and I am currently an MFA Dance Science student here at Laban. I am originally from Japan. I lived there for the first five years of my life and then I moved to the US and so I was raised in New York, north of the city.
I didn’t start dancing until Middle School, so that was probably around 11 or 12 years old. I’ve really done all different kinds of styles – jazz, funk, poms, But then I was introduced to Hip Hop in college when I was about 18 years old and that changed my life because I realised that now dance could be something that was more in tune with self expression. It was more akin to freestyling and whatever you wanted to do with the moment, you could do it.
So that really changed my mindset about dance. It didn’t have to be choreographed all the time. It didn’t have to be a nice tidy package. Not everybody had to look the same as well. It kind of de-railed everything that I had experienced in dance prior to.
So my current research is in the Hip Hop field, specifically looking at the Hip Hop Dance Battle scene in London with an ethnographic approach so it’s not creating anything, it’s simply observing what is already happening. But I am thinking about doing – once I’ve gathered all my data – some sort of submission that will be a little bit more creative because I have that freedom, being an MFA student.
WH: Where can you go to see a Hip Hop dance battle?
EM: Well, you have to have somebody who knows what’s going on in the battle scene. So I’ve been in London for about 2 years now and I’ve been going to battles from the beginning, really just keeping an ear to the ground and seeing different posts about upcoming battle events – mostly on Facebook, I would say. There is this one page that just started. It’s called Dance Cypher.
WH: I’m wondering if Hip Hop dancers are interested in the kind of study that happens here at Laban, or if the idea of studying dance is somewhat alien to them.
EM: It seems to me like the worlds are pretty separate.
IG: You have to be diverse. It’s not so much about, “right, I want to dedicate the rest of my life to doing everything,” it’s just having the guts to say, “no, I’ve never done that before but I’ll learn it by the time you’ve finished with me.”
EM: I think the fact that contemporary choreographers are now looking for really well-rounded dancers and multiple styles is interesting commentary on the fact that the street styles in particular are becoming a lot more popular. The more and more that it comes into the spotlight, there is this muddling and melding of different styles coming together.
Really, a lot of street styles have their own history, their own evolution, like for Waacking and Voguing. Those are very similar styles but they all have their different histories and they have the different scenes which they came from. But nowadays you’ll see this melding together of all of them under the Hip Hop umbrella, even though Hip Hop has its different own scene.
And so everybody’s becoming more knowledgable about these scenes and it’s becoming more popular but to the ‘OG’ pioneers, they’re like, “these kids aren’t doing it right. They have no technique! What are they doing?”
So, as new school dancers, it is a funny line that we have to walk. You have to be true to the old school styles and techniques, but then all of a sudden, we’re asked to do all the different styles in one go.
IG: Does it get to you if it is melded or alienated from what it was originally?
EM: I’m in the middle where I see the debate of being more purist and keeping those styles as accurate as possible to their original roots. The more and more it gets transferred and mixed with other styles that it’s going to be coming into nothing. But then, for me as an artist, I love mixing styles.
WH: You’re probably aware that at the moment, Trinity Laban has its Venus Blazing season which, it seems to me, is more about the music side of things than the dance side of things, the concept being that female composers in the music world are under-represented and so we’re programming all the concerts so that at least half of the composers represented are female. I wonder, is there the same problem in gender representation in dance?
IG: It’s always been easy for me to get into somewhere because they’ve never had enough boys. And I’ve had discussions with dance friends of mine who are girls and the thing that they say a lot is that, “I find that if I go to an audition, we can really be quite vindictive with who they pick, for the girls.” That still happens in the ballet world which is really sad. If they don’t have the right look, or if their body’s not right, it’s just like, “you, you, go!” and they haven’t even seen them dance yet, which is brutal and I don’t agree with that.
WH: Do you think that’s something that will ever change?
IG: I think very slowly because we’re very good at recognising a problem but we’re not very good at solving it.
EM: On the flipside, in Hip Hop, there really is not a lot of representation from women, so this Venus Blazing campaign seems really appropriate to take into the Hip Hop / Street styles world. There has been a lot of – I hate use this word but – ‘macho-ness’ in the battle scene in particular.
EM: Yeah. So whenever you imagine a battle scene happening in a club or on the streets or something, even to this day, there’s a lot of male presence.
WH: And ‘battle’ is an inherently masculine word.
EM: Yes, exactly. The question is, “is that how it’s always going to be? Is it OK for it to change?” And slowly there’s a lot more females coming into the mix and females that are more comfortable being in the battle scene. But also the question is, “do the females that come into this scene have to rise up and be macho and male as well?”
WH: Would it be worthwhile using some slightly different terminology to describe it?
EM: Oh yes. ‘Exchange’. ‘Physical conversation exchange’?
WH: ‘Physical conversation’, I like.
Many thanks to Isaac and Emi. We’ll pick up again on that discussion a little later. But first, here’s Christian Union leader Raggie, to tell you about an upcoming Christmas Carol Service she’s organising.
Interview: Ragnhild Rivertz
RR: Hey, my name is Ragnhild Rivertz, Raggie for short. I play the violin. I’m in my 4th year now and this year I’m also leading the Christian Union. So the event we’re putting on is a Carol Service which will be on Monday 3rd December in the evening, time to be confirmed at King Charles Court. It’s completely free. It will include carol singing with a brass quartet. There will be a talk on the message of Christmas and we’ll have mulled wine and mince pies afterwards.
The reason we exist as a Christian Union is to share the hope that we have in Jesus and next year we’ll be putting on a week of events with the title ‘Hope’. We also meet on a weekly basis and from January we’re hoping to have two weekly meetings, one at Laban and one at Trinity.
But yeah, if you want to get involved, you can get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can message the Trinity Laban Christian Union on Facebook. Or why not come along to the Carol Service to see what we’re all about.
My hidden gem music recommendation is the music of fellow student Kristjan Kannukene.
Thank you Raggie for that invitation. Mulled wine is not to be missed. Speaking of Kristjan Kannukene, I had in fact met and interviewed him in Butlers cafe with my assortment of pick-up-and-play instruments only a few days before meeting Raggie. It was his jaw harp and plastic castanet playing we heard at the beginning of the podcast.
In the cafe, I had prepared some simple graphic scores to guide our improvisations. After glancing over these scores, Kristjan gleefully selected one that instructed the player to start quietly and become increasingly loud. He then treated me to this remarkable performance which I am delighted to share with you now.
Cue: Kristjan’s Chant
Impressed and somewhat dazed, I began to question Kristjan, eager to find out more about the young man who could produce such a sound.
Interview: Kristjan Kannukene
KK: My name is Kristjan Kannukene and I study viola and composition here for one year as an Erasmus. I grew up about 30km away from Tallinn in Estonia. There is my home, called Keila.
I’ve always wanted to be a guitarist, since I was 2 years old. Actually I was in 8th Grade. I was invited to play violin. Meanwhile, I really wanted to be a rock star.
WH: Who do you aspire to be like as a rock star?
KK: Zakk Wylde; Ozzie Osbourne. Most of all it’s Jimi Hendrix.
WH: What kind of music do you like listening to?
KK: A lot of early blues like this acoustic delta blues and also Chicago blues. I really love expressionists, especially Alban Berg’s Wozzeck because it had so much pain inside. I also had a lot of pain in my last year because my father died.
But yeah. I’m really into contemporary classical music and everything which is very intensive, has this power of rock music or blues, big big emotion, and also shamanism and primitive music.
WH: Are you interested in the idea of using music and sonic art to enter trance states?
KK: Yeah, yeah. I’ve been trying to do that a lot and I’ve done it in front of lots of people. I have had some wild experiences on stage. But how to transform and to have the audience have the same experience, that is the question.
WH: Tell me about your 3-track album.
KK: It’s called 333. This number came to me in 2014 when it was a really difficult time in my life. It came so many times so I Googled it and found out what it means.
WH: And what does it mean?
KK: It is an ancient number. It says that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are with you and they’re inviting you. At the beginning of 2015, all the miracles started to happen. I went on this Estonian Idol show. Same time, my viola playing was getting good, because I didn’t practise at all before. So both directions were going so good and all the big gifts were coming to my life, that culminated here in Trinity like Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
I have been guided to God and this album is all about this. I wanted to have this blend of wild and sacred, like these two sides. Maybe they’re one.
The first song is Terror, which is actually about this terror attack in Brussels. So this is the very earthly and grounded song. Then the second piece, which means ‘Wolf’ in Estonian, but it’s called Hunt, is the shamanic trance song, where this wolf is looking for something else to eat than a rabbit, and he has this trance, and finally after this trance, he sees a goat to eat.
It leads to the final song which is a five-part Latin Mass with an ‘Our Father’s’ prayer in Estonian and the birds are singing this same prayer in morse code, like dots and dashes, they are singing it, the same words. So it was my expression of my grief and finding light.
Hidden Gem Listening Recommendations
WH: Do you have any hidden gem music recommendations for listeners of the podcast?
KK: This song is called, in Estonian, Rahva Õnnistegija, which means, ‘Saviour of the People’ and it is an old folk chorale of one little island in Northern Estonia (Suur-Pakri) which has interesting tonality to me – not very usual.
The second one is an Arab Orthodox Christian song. It is very interesting to me to hear this message in a microtonal Arab mode.
My name is Kristjan Kannukene and this is my piece, Terror.
Cue: Terror by Kristjan Kannukene
That was Terror by Kristjan Kannukene from his album 333. Thank you to Kristjan for sharing his music with us. If you’ve written a song or a piece you’d like to be included in the TL Life: Crosscurrent, get in touch with me at email@example.com .
We return now to the Laban Cafe to hear more from Isaac and Emi.
Laban Café Discussion (Part Two)
WH: A recent graduate whose name is Wilhelmina Ojanen, who was in Transitions last year, was interviewed by The Guardian. One of the things that she was talking about was that she feels that contemporary dance focusses a lot on technicality and complexity of movement and is almost a bit alienating. She is more interested in being able to convey an emotion, to make the audience feel something. I wonder what your response to that is; if you feel the same way or if you disagree with her.
EM: I definitely think that dance really is an expression of yourself and should be an outlet of whatever emotion you’re feeling or whatever you want to express.
IG: In my world of contemporary and in ballet, it’s very formal, it’s very polite. It’s all just a persona, really. Let’s say battles, I think the energy and the character, you get to really be you on stage, and I think that’s very human and that’s wonderful. In my world, I feel that I sometimes have to adopt another character and that isn’t always right. Sometimes I really want to be me on stage.
EM: It is difficult sometimes when you are trapped in technicalities. I think everybody is a mover, everybody is a dancer. We all can dance in some respect and so everything that we do with our physical body is an expression of who we are and I think that to lose that would be a disservice to dance in general.
IG: Sometimes the joy of it can be beaten out of you. Dance and the art form itself needs to be scene as an education. But then, the education board would demand requirements of it – the technicality and knowing of the history. It can make it a little bit cold and sometimes lifeless and I think, if you’ve worked so hard, just so you can finally put on a piece, no wonder that it comes across so professional and so intricate it almost kills it, because you’re trying so hard.
I think a lot of my dance comes from my emotions every day, that it should be more about the emotions if they have the ability to show their vulnerability. A really perfect example is a choreographer called Aakash Odedra. I immediately related to him because he focussed on his identity and also the fact that he has dyslexia. And I have dyslexia as well. For him to do an hour-long performance, just by himself, and also to create the stage design as well as the choreography and the music, is just phenomenal. It did, it really echoed from him to me. It was a real sense of vulnerability.
EM: As outside observers, it’s important to connect to dance. But at the same time, with the human experience, somebody could feel anger in a different way than somebody else. I mean, we all feel it, but the way that we express it will be different. So maybe also the movement towards more technicalities and fine-tuning of the art of dance is finding a level ground as to how everybody can interpret it and understand it.
IG: It might be a fair element as well that people from outside the world of dance will see it as something silly and over the top. I got a lot of that when I was at school, like, “oh, but you can’t achieve anything when you’re a dancer. Why don’t you get an education and work hard like everybody else?” To be told that was not exactly encouraging. Maybe it’s that element as well – that we are so desperate to make sure dance is shown the same level of respect as any other form.
WH: Have you been to see any shows recently that you would recommend?
EM: Recently I was in New York City for the Summer and so I had the opportunity to go to a battle event of Hip Hop and Street styles, but it was for women. It was called ‘Ladies of Hip Hop’. And so all of the participants, all of the people who organised the event, all of the DJs, all of the MCs, were all women. So it was really refreshing to see this change, really flipping the dynamic on its head with its lady focus.
IG: The last time I was in Wales, halfway through Summer, I was lucky enough to see a new piece they were developing with the new cast of NDC Wales. The piece is called Afterimage and it should be shown early January or February. I won’t spoil it, but it really messes with your head. It allowed me to start thinking of things in a really scientific way. What it did with the choreography and the bodies allowed me to think of the different dimensions that we live in. To see something so physical being almost torn like paper and put into different dimensions is a little freaky but it’s a really clever idea.
Hidden Gem Listening Recommendations
WH: I’ve been asking people for their hidden gem listening recommendations – the music you love to listen to that no-one else has come across.
IG: It’s on Spotify, it’s Mashrou’ Leila. He’s just someone great to listen to. His voice is almost quite rusty but then really fluid at the same time. For a dancer, if you just need a day of sweating out or pumping out any agression and you just need to improvise, he’s fantastic to listen to. And he’s not speaking in English, and I’ve chosen not to look at the English translation of it. It’s a mystery, and I think that’s what’s nice about it. It feels like a mystery in the song.
EM: When I was really young, living in Japan, I would listen to this band called Yellow Magic Orchestra, and I still listen to them to this day, mainly because it’s very nostalgic for me, but I also think that their music’s really catchy. A lot of electronic beats, kind of dancey, kind of retro. They use a lot of sound-bites from video games as well in some of their tracks. Kind of poppy, super-retro Japanese music.
Thank you Isaac St. John Griffiths and Emi Matsushita for their thoughts. You can find links to their hidden gem listening recommendations as well other media and a transcript of this podcast episode at tl-life.com .
Join me next time on TL Life: Crosscurrent when we’ll be hearing from double bass Junior Fellow Valentina Ciardelli about Frank Zappa.
VC: … Because I think he’s one of the few guys that can explain the 360 degree musical environment.
If you have a project, a piece or an idea you would like to share on the podcast, please do get in touch with me via my email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the Trinity Laban student body and do not necessarily represent those of the institution as a whole.