Wilkie Branson

Photo: Viola Berlanda

If you’ve been looking at my Facebook wall recently you’d be forgiven for thinking I’ve been leading the international jet-set life of a choreographer. On there, you’d see I’ve been in Turin, presenting White Caps in one of northern Italy’s finest gilded, red-velvet-clad theatres. Double billing at the Torino Danza Festival with Angelin Preljocaj, we gave 1500 Italians an insight into how Bboying has managed to evolve onto the stage in the less than typical hiphop surrounds of England’s West Country.

Out of four ad-hoc hand-me-down suitcases, we’ve been touring the show for almost two years now. We’ve taken it into Europe a few times, up and down the UK and even over to Canada for an outing last Spring. The people we’ve met and the places we’ve played couldn’t have been more diverse – the only thing that doesn’t seem to change very much is the vagabond nature of our adventures.

We haven’t got much of a set (it has to go in our luggage). For that matter, we haven’t got much to wear, either (that has to fit into our hand luggage, too), but nonetheless we find ourselves cursing Mediterranean cobbled plazas as we drag it all around Turin at the crack of dawn, trying to find the theatre with nothing more than the guidance of a less than adequate tourist map. Eventually, chance finds us down a back alley in front of the stage’s loading bay.

“Yes, just pull your van in there, up to the doors,” our Italian friend says. No need. We can’t afford a van – we’ve just got four suitcases, packed to within an inch of the airline’s excess weight surcharge limits.

There’s only the three of us: Nic (he puts things up, takes them down and controls everything logistical and technical), and then there’s myself and Joel (we dance on the stage). We all chip in here and there where we can; I cut up bits of gel for the lights, Joel sorts out the costumes whilst Nic battles through the language barrier to try to find some compromise over Preljocaj’s set and lights, which are already firmly in place, potentially shrouding our artistic vision like an early morning towel on a sun lounger. No sign of his dancers though…

Show set up, and the White Caps make-up ordeal begins. For two and a half hours we painstakingly airbrush ourselves with what is, retrospectively, possibly the most impractical fake tattoo-based costume choice to be found in the dance world. Bound to it by the film sections of the show, we toil away in the depths of the theatre, finally emerging like fed-up tribal butterflies. The airbrush marathon leaves the air around our end of the theatre heavy with the smell of chemicals and paint. At the other end of the theatre we can smell Preljocaj’s dancers have arrived. The scent of burning oils and aromatherapy is wafting up the corridor. I think they have installed a makeshift dancer relaxation center turn spa in their dressing room.

Eventually the show goes up and we get down to the business of letting Italy see just what a different route breakdance can take when it has been filtered by the vision of a West Country geography graduate. As we take our curtain call, I can see just how much all these people have enjoyed seeing the show. For a moment, standing on the stage there, I do feel like an international jet-set choreographer – at least, until the curtain comes down and we begin packing our suitcases again…

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About Wilkie Branson

Wilkie Branson is an interdisciplinary artist and, as co-director of the project based Champloo Dance Company, an associate company at the Bristol Old Vic. Self taught in both dance and film, which form the main focus of his work, the roots of his practice are in BBoying. Wilkie’s dance style has developed into a unique fusion, with expression, accessibility and integrity at it’s heart. His most recent works, White Caps and Stronger are currently touring internationally in Europe, North America and Asia. Awarded the Arts Foundation Choreographic Fellowship in 2012, Wilkie is also a member of the Sadler’s Wells Summer University. Photo: Chris Nash Upcoming shows: White Caps - York Theatre Royal / Varmints - Sally Cookson & Wilkie Branson / BOING! review - The Independent

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