Hi Sarah and Yuki, thanks for chatting to us today! You will be performing in Ipswich for the first time this week, so could you briefly tell us a bit about your career to date, and how that experience led to you meeting each other and creating SAY?
Sarah – I grew up in Dartford and trained mainly in ballet, jazz, tap, modern, and musical theatre. I then surprisingly ended up at Trinity Laban, studying on the degree programme for three years, and then joined Transitions. Because of my training prior to London, I maintained a love for really bold expression of dancing to music during my time at Laban, it was something that I missed quite a bit. When I graduated from Transitions I had a couple of dance jobs with dance companies, one was with Lila Dance which was amazing, they’re a dance theatre company and it was there I found my love for contemporary dance, it taught me what I wanted to do as a contemporary dancer at that time. I then auditioned for STOMP and have been with them for the past 5 years, until the pandemic hit. In between I’ve been back and forth doing choreography jobs, which led to me working with DanceEast CAT and Laban CAT. When the pandemic hit, it kept me here and I was able to pursue SAY with Yuki.
Yuki – I grew up in Tokyo, Japan and my initial training was in Hip-Hop, Ballroom and Latin. As Sarah said, the way we started dance is really connected to the music. The reason I started dancing was because I liked Hip-Hop and R’n’B music. At university I met a contemporary dance teacher who completely blew my mind about what dance and movement can be. I went on to complete the one-year programme at Trinity Laban and then joined Transitions. Since graduating, I’ve been working as a freelance dancer and choreographer. One of my first jobs was MOKO dance, a family show, and we rehearsed a lot at DanceEast. I’ve been working with Cathy Waller for a long time, I’ve worked for a company in Sweden, and then I started making my own work about 6 years ago.
A couple of years ago Sarah and I worked for Cathy Waller together and from there we were like ‘let’s bounce together’. After one rehearsal we stayed behind in the studio and put our favourite tracks on and made up a dance. We were like ‘this is fun’ and from there wondered if we could do this for real, as a project. So that’s how we started SAY.
Sarah – When we were with Cathy that was the first time we’d danced together. We’d crossed paths before that in so many other ways, but we hadn’t really spoken. We knew each other from just seeing each other. It feels like we’ve been on parallel journeys quietly next to each other for a while and it took us both dancing with Cathy to bring us together.
There is a big emphasis on music tracks and that this work brings the energy of music gigs to the dance world. Can you tell us about the creative process?
Yuki – In terms of process, we usually find tracks first, and for this project most of them are within the people we know, or friends of friends. We wanted to communicate with the artists about their process, what those songs were about, so we contacted them. If they were slightly outside of our community, we’ll message them on social media saying ‘can we have a chat, we love your songs’ or sometimes we’ll ask a friend who has that connection and ask them to speak to the artist, so social media played a big part in our process. We’d then get on a Zoom meeting with the artists, asking how they made tracks, which then inspired us to create dance. It was always music first, there was never a moment when we tried exploring a movement idea and then tried to find a track for it. Apart from one song, which is called Fruit, created by a duo from South Africa, all other songs pre-existed, and we chose them. With Tina and June, they actually made the track for us.
Sarah – I met Tina when I was on tour with STOMP and we said we should collaborate. When Yuki and I started dancing together I said I know this duo from South Africa, they’re amazing, maybe they want to do something, and they were up for it. They made this song for us and it was that moment where something just clicks. We played it in the studio and were like ‘this is the one’. That’s the first song we officially choreographed to in Choreodrome at The Place. There was something about knowing that these people had made this song for us to dance to which felt really special, and that kicked off the creative process for the album.
Is there a specific story/theme running thorugh the album?
Yuki – Throughout our training we lost a little bit of joy of just making up dance to songs that we love. It’s amazing in contemporary dance that you just intellectualise everything, each movement needs to have an intention, always thinking about what the message to audiences is, and having narrative. The core of this piece is just embracing the joy of dance and the amazing music.
I guess there’s a little bit of subtext, and that’s us really finding joy in these moments, revealing who we are as Sarah and Yuki on stage. Often dance pieces can be quite anonymous, you’re putting your body at the front, but we don’t know you, we wanted to show that we’re just humans, we’re Sarah and Yuki.
Sarah – The narrative is that we are basing it on a music album and for us there’s as much person in this show as an artist would put into their album. We have the moments of interlude where you find out about us, and then you have the moments of just another song where there’s no connection, it’s just a track, it has this type of energy because that’s what comes next. Like Yuki said, it’s about seeing us as people. We’re so obsessed with people. We’re constantly following each other on socials. Even in the dance community, that’s how people find class, who they want to train with or what companies they want to join, but then when you watch dance on stage, you don’t see that person. You know more about them from seeing them on social media than seeing them in a dance show. For us, this show is us showing this is the type of dance we love, this is our album. It’s 50 minutes of escapism for the audience to just enjoy young Sarah and Yuki, and hopefully think about the songs they danced to when they were young, or the songs they enjoyed on their first album.
How does working with music artists live change the dynamic of the performance?
Sarah – It’s a really euphoric experience when you’ve been dancing to someone’s voice and they’re then there in the space with you. We worked with MC Zani in the studio, and just knowing that we’ve danced to his track for a couple of years to having him in the space with us and doing it live, with us just moving is what it means for us to be inside the music.
What can audiences expect from the album?
Yuki – Vibes, absolute vibes. We want the audience to be bobbing, grooving, and having a good time. We don’t want them to feel like they just have to sit and watch something. We want this show to feel like a gig where you feel the music. During a gig, often artists talk and communicate with you. They use call and response and that relationship with the audience needs to happen so they feel involved. We want the audience to feel like they’re in the space together and that they’re listening to amazing music.
Sarah – I couldn’t agree more. I think that is the most important thing, that they feel like their energy is in a different place by the end of the show. We want them to leave feeling like they want to go home and put some tracks on.
We have recently announced that you are both Associate Artists with DanceEast until 2025. What does this collaboration mean for SAY, and your individual practices, going forwards?
Sarah – Although Yuki and I have been working in this industry for a little while, us as collaborators coming together is still pretty fresh, and although SAY and the album seems to be doing well, we only started dancing together at the end of 2019, so it’s not been long. It’s been so amazing that all the support we’ve had so far means we can really progress the album, but what is so amazing about this opportunity with DanceEast is that it will allow us to have time to find out exactly who SAY is, what we are together, what our ethos is, and what we want to offer to other dancers as two people. Not having the pressure of an outcome is a completely different ball game which is something we really need and are looking forward to.
Yuki – I completely agree with that. For us as freelancers, we go from project to project, place to place, which is amazing, but having a place to come back to and having a period of time with consistency to research what we are passionate about is a real privilege. Through having that consistency, we will be able to build our relationship with DanceEast, as well as the communities around Ipswich which is something that, as a freelancer, we don’t get to do that often.
Sarah – Especially as London feels so big, there’s so many artists and so many opportunities, but knowing that we have a bit of a base at DanceEast means we can really start to understand what’s going on in the area, who the music artists are, where the music venues are, and really put our focus into one zone. Even from our Choreodrome sharing, DanceEast have supported us and it’s so nice that we can continue this pathway when they were one of the first people to come on board and support our work and what we’re trying to achieve.