Freestyle Hip Hop Workshop with Kendra “KRO” Horsburgh

27 April, 2021

When you’re training to be a dancer, it is so easy to get lost in perfecting technique and striving to make everything perfect. Whether in ballet, jazz or tap, all of these styles require a level of technique and ability that we can train for years and years to perfect. But when doing this we can sometimes forget about the other important parts of the art form. The storytelling. The expression. The performance. Sometimes we need a little reminder of these things, to not only make ourselves the best performers possible but to also keep our love for dance alive.

 

by Charley Morgan, ICTheatre Graduate

On Sunday 18th April, a group of our prospective students for our Hip Hop Artistry pathway got to be reminded of these things, in a Freestyle Hip Hop workshop with choreographer and performer Kendra. Not only has Kendra worked extensively as a choreographer in the industry, both for stage and television, she is also a co-founder and managing director of company BirdGang LTD.

The workshop focused on freestyle and improvisation within Hip Hop, and what tools you can use to access consistent freestyle performance. One of the first points discussed was ‘what is freestyle?’ And while everyone could agree that it is dancing freely within a style, the group also discussed the meaning of the word ‘style’. Because a person’s style is individual to each of us, and bringing this to your performance is crucial in being a unique performer.

“The artform – such as ballet, commercial, hip hop – is the genre, but only you can bring the style. Bring your unique infectious energy”.

With this thought in mind, Kendra put on some music and asked the group to use it as a stimulus to start freestyling.

From here they explored the different tools you can use to keep improvisation fresh and bring you back into the room when you start to let brain talk get in the way of the performance. This included techniques such as leading with a specific body part, telling a simple story through your actions, and creating different characters to explore through movement, all while staying attuned to the music. And each technique brought something different out of each of them – each dancer reacted to some tools better than others, and it was amazing to watch them come out of their shells as the workshop progressed. Not only were they dancing and performing, you could see them having fun while doing so, which is probably one of the most important things about being a dancer. Throughout the workshop, Kendra talked very openly about how she has learned to use these techniques, and how they’ve manifested into her career. She discussed creating your own AKA, and how this can help you access your performance style.

“Your AKA is like your performance alter ego; it’s still you, but a version of you that highlights your best skills and performance expression”.

Within her dance company BirdGang LTD, all of the dancers have a bird AKA, which they discovered together to highlight their expression. Together the company is a unit – or a flock – but they all have their separate personalities and strengths. Kendra told the group of her AKA, KRO – a wordplay on being crow-like. She told how at first she was offended when her dance teacher told her she was like a crow, but after researching their qualities, she realised she could relate a lot of them to her dance style and personality – loyal, caring, messengers, protective of their own, and entirely beautiful. Kendra talked with me after about how her dance performances and creations are her voice to the world, and she likes to use these pieces to touch on important topics – in the same way that a Crow is a messenger.

I got to speak to Kendra briefly afterwards about her career, and how her style developed through her life experiences. During her dance training, she connected with other dancers and started creating a language with them that they all understood; combining performance styles and meeting up to freestyle together. These were all big influences on her as she developed her style, and learnt that she had to be able to tell her own stories through dance. She discussed with me how the world is her stimulus; what she is feeling, the music she’s listening to, what’s going on in the world at the time.

All of these things feed into her performances and are what inspire her to create. One of her more recent performances ‘Nox’ is an excellent example of how these stimuli influence Kendra. Nox incorporated the use of VR technology within the performance to take the audience on a total 5D experience, before bringing them back to nothing except the dancers.

“I was so frustrated that not many young people, or diverse audiences, were visiting theatres. And I was like, How can I do that, bring a wider audience in? And fulfil my self-interest in technology at the same time?”

So she found a team willing to share these goals, and they started creating.

“We focused on a piece that was all about shadows, about a person being guided by their shadow. I didn’t want my audience left to their own devices, I wanted a narrative you can follow. So we created a 360 piece just for the headset. And then we realised it could be 5D. It could incorporate smells that bring people back to memories and could incorporate physical touch. And it grew from there”.

The piece aimed to take audience’s on a journey that pulled them away from their technology, and back to raw human connection and feeling.

“How do I use the tech, but then bring them into a space where they’re literally left with theatre and dance? No technology on you, nothing, just feeling the sweat and energy of the movement. That was my goal for the piece – to bring people back to reality”

Speaking about this work and Kendra’s experiences highlighted to me how she taught from such a genuine place and was able to create a comfortable and energised working environment for our prospective students. The Hip Hop Artistry course at ICTheatre places a focus on finding your self and developing yourself both personally and professionally, and this workshop with Kendra was the best example of this.

The last thing I asked Kendra was ‘If you could give your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be?’.

“Don’t be scared of not being a dancer. All I could think about was dancing all the time. But actually, life goes way beyond your dancing years. And because dance is the thing that formed me, I became too scared to let that go. I would battle myself for having other interests. But in reality, my other interests now feed my dancing. So I think at the beginning, don’t be scared to try anything and don’t feel like a failure. Not dancing is not failing”.

Interested in joining workshops like this one? Tap here to see what’s coming up – Join the #ICTheatreMovement!

© 2021 ICTheatre
Institute for Contemporary Theatre