Shirley Ahura talks to acclaimed dancer and choreographer, Joshua Nash, about identity, Hip Hop theatre and making a case for Krump in its rawest form.
Joshua Nash is a dance artist, choreographer and boundary breaker. Well-versed in the underground style of Krump, a style over which he remains endearingly protective, his own artistry can be seen to cross and re-cross the borderlines of hip hop dance, performance and physical theatre. His is an almost poetic worldview; his philosophy is one that strongly advises deviating as far from the norm as one can get. He possesses his own voice where others simply have one, using it to speak to people from all walks of life through the language of movement. His recent piece, Blacklist, which debuted at the 2019 Resolution Festival at The Place Theatre earlier this year, is a testament to this fact.
I caught up with Josh and talked everything from the creative process behind Blacklist to identity, the hip hop theatre movement, and making a case for Krump in its rawest form.
The first question is about identity. Who is Joshua ‘Vendetta’ Nash the artist?
Joshua Nash the artist…. I think he’s still tryna figure out who he is. I would say he is a Krump dancer who’s trying to shed a different light and break down boundaries within that style. I would say he’s determined in his goal as well.
What has your journey into the industry been like so far and who are your biggest inspirations?
It’s been hard I can’t even lie. I’ve had so many injuries that have held me back. Even now the dance I do is quite physical and it’s very demanding, so I still do get sprains in my ankle, wrists, even my back. But it’s been very rewarding as well. Along with those downs I’ve had really good ups, just in terms of the people I’ve met and been able to learn from, the places I’ve been able to go – all of it has helped me to grow. Both the downs and the ups have led me to this place, I think.
In terms of who, the company I’m with, Far From The Norm, the choreographer and Artistic Director Botis Seva – he is a really big inspiration for me. And then before Botis it was Lee Griffiths – she’s the one who introduced me to the theatre world and brought me in and nurtured me. She’s the one that really put me on this trajectory of performing arts. Both the work that they create and their mentalities – they have a really big vision and a clear goal. I try and take those little aspects they apply to their work, and put them into myself.
Also my friend Jordan, who was in Blacklist, is a big inspiration to me, just because we’re really similar. It’s a really good relationship we have, a friendship and a professional relationship. We’re always there to push each other. If Jordan does something I’m gonna try my damned best to do it as well. We’re both racing to the finish line but no one’s getting left behind.
I would say as well, Kendrick Lamar, in terms of the visuals, the concepts and stuff that he spits in his music. He speaks about the world and how it is today and I think that’s what my dance should be doing as well. It’s always good to create, you know like, new worlds and places you can escape to, but at the same time you have to face the facts of what is going on in the world. Kendrick does that brilliantly and I try and do that in my work as well.
How would you describe hip hop theatre?
I think it’s a thing of doing what you want and not trying to do what the contemporary dancers do, in order to fit the theatre. I think there’s a reason you’re called hip hop theatre, so keep it hip hop and keep it true to yourself.
Hip hop theatre is on, like, a second trimester… it’s still quite young and it’s growing to a new place where people are starting to be more true to themselves and not really giving a damn about what people think. I’m seeing a lot more of that from people’s work, and I respect that. You’re not trying to fit a mould; you’re trying to create a new one that people are gonna wanna use.
Your recent piece Blacklist debuted at The Resolution 2019 Festival at The Place Theatre – what was the creative journey behind the piece like?
The process was surprisingly OK – I think because of the relationship me and Jordan have, we’re able to bounce off each other. Even if I had creator’s block, Jordan was always there to help me out of it.
One thing is it’s really hard creating and being in the piece at the same time. You can’t see what you look like. You have to do it, go back, watch the video, and sometimes it’s like ‘ah that looks dead let’s cut that’. It was very insightful. It gave me a really good understanding of how I work, and what ideas work for me in terms of creating and learning movement. I also had some mentors come in – Kenrick Sandy and Kwesi Johnson – and they were both a very big help in the process.
Blacklist deals with themes of inner conflict, internal struggle and the coping mechanisms around that. Does this have any relation to the life of a dancer?
Definitely. There’s been times where I’ve been like ‘It’s time for me to hang up the towel’. It’s that battle within… it’s really a case of fighting yourself. You have the different sides of yourself that are telling you ‘don’t do that too much’ but if you don’t do that then you’re gonna fall behind, your performance is not gonna be on point. So then you’ve got another side of yourself telling you ‘no you need to go in, you need to go ham, you need to train’. In the same breath you love it, so you keep doing it. Blacklist does relate to dance a lot in that way.
Blacklist also delves into notions of brotherhood and unity. There are also scenes of intense isolation and solitude in the piece. Does performing as part of a duet differ from performing as a soloist?
Anytime you’re dancing with other people, it’s a really good experience because you know you’re not by yourself; you have other people to back you and you’re also backing them. Each person carries the other, pushes the other to give everything you’ve got. With me and Jordan in the duet, it’s like, if you do flop, the other person is there to catch you, or even mask it. Solos are hard, more so because it’s just you by yourself, especially in the process. You’re really stuck in your head you know… it’s just me, myself and I. I feel like there’s more self-punishment in the solo, for me anyway.
Much of the choreography and movement in Blacklist was heavily infused with and influenced by Krump. What does Krump mean, look and feel like to you?
Krump for me is my baby innit. The film Stomp the Yard really introduced me to the style, and I’ve been doing it ever since.
For me it is a really good form of therapy. I can get out any frustrations, any worry, doubt, but I can express happiness, joy, I can be ecstatic through my Krump. Obviously it does look very aggressive when you’re looking at it, but for me I see the intricacies. It’s beautiful to me.
It’s the most expressive style out there. Even though it’s quite young, I feel like it’s got so much room to grow, it’s got so much to say. Especially when it’s done ‘BUCK’, as we say. And that’s the thing – a person could have only started Krump two months ago, but the main thing for me is the feeling. No matter how crap your basics are, I’m gonna be with you 100% because I can see you’re really giving a part of yourself. It’s like your rawest self: you have your id, your superego and your conscious. Your id is your most animalistic self, it’s your wants and needs. ‘I want a drink, I’m gonna get a drink and no one can tell me nothing’. For me, that is Krump.
It’s like a little window into a person’s true self. That’s what really comes out. ‘This is who I would like to be, or who I want to be, or who I am and I can only express it through Krump.’
What, in your opinion, does Krump bring to the table as a style in and of itself? What can it offer to audiences experiencing it for the first time? Why is it important?
Just the way that it’s used – I think that it’s a really good reflection of the hidden bits of our society, the bits that people don’t really get to see, the behind the scenes of what’s really going on and what life people are living. I think Krump is a good representation of that as it was spawned from poverty and broken homes and gang culture. It’s all a result of that. So it’s good for people to see that rawness of the society we’re living in, otherwise it’s kind of forgotten about and nothing’s ever done about it.
A lot of people I think have their blinders on. ‘This is what I know so I’m not gonna look at anything else’. But this is something new that people are using to create work and express, so even if you don’t like it, have a look and you might find something in it. For me, ballet is boring, but I can appreciate the time and effort and the technique it takes to do what they can do. The same goes for Krump.
It’s important for the next generation coming up – it’s another door, another option. It allows people to grow, and the scene to grow. It also gives the audience a wider perspective on dance. For the Krump scene in general, it gives us the opportunity to teach people about the style. Not many people know a lot about it, or know what it’s about, so being able to take it on the stage allows people to ask questions like ‘what’s with the faces?’ ‘what does this hand gesture mean?’ ‘why do you stomp?’ There’s a whole conversation to be had.
How do you see the future of hip hop dance in theatre – as a fusion, as a genre, and as a movement?
I’m not sure you know. I think a lot of stuff done in hip hop theatre tends to be quite dark. A lot of venues think if you’re gonna bring a piece about death for example, ‘well no one’s gonna wanna see that’. But everyone experiences it, it’s relatable, so why wouldn’t people come and see it? It will probably take a brave venue that will commission something that’s really dark, but they just have to take a chance. And even the choreographers too, we just have to take a chance with what we create and really believe in it and not conform to what people want to see. Just go full speed. I think we are doing that already, really.
Joshua ‘Vendetta’ Nash will be performing his piece, Fig Leaf, with Jordan Douglas at this year’s Breakin’ Convention on 5th May, at the Lilian Bayliss Theatre, Sadler’s Wells. For tickets and more information, click here. For more information on Joshua and upcoming events, click here and here.
All photographs of Joshua Nash were taken by Jade Donna Marie. To contact Jade for future commissions or to view more of her work follow the links to her website and Instagram account. Lucy Writers would like to thank Jade Donna Marie and Joshua Nash for making this interview happen.