April 29 2015
He made his name designing clothes but he’s returning to the dance of his youth and has composed an original dance piece…
WELL-KNOWN as a fashion designer, Saran Kohli believes fervently you should follow your dreams and passions – even if it means crossing into another genre altogether.
Having worked hard to secure a name for himself in the competitive fashion world, working for global brands such as Hugo Boss and Banana Republic, before setting up his own label – on Sunday (May 3), he presents his first work as a composer/choreographer.
He has not only created “Molecules of a Dream‘” but will perform it, alongside three other dancers, to one of the most discerning audiences possible, at the home of all British dance, Sadler’s Wells in London.
The piece, “Molecules of a Dream” will feature in the four-day Breakin’ Convention festival, a celebration of hip-hop and associated dance styles which starts this Friday (May 1). The term hip hop also comprises a wide category of dance and music inlcuding rap, b-Boying, graffiti and turn-table, with its roots in street music first coming out of New York in the 1970s.
The festival, of which Kohli is a big fan and has been attending for many years (Breakin’ Convention is 12 years old), is regarded as one of the international platforms for this style of dance production. There are many international acts participating.
While British (Asian) dance acts such as Signature and Flawless (from previous “Britain’s Got Talent” shows) have done well, and altered the widespread perception that Asians can’t dance, Kohli is going (much) further.
The acts in the Breakin’ Convention more usually tell a story and the dance and music form a distinctive narrative. For some who have never seen hip hop theatre style dance, it does resemble contemporary dance in telling more of a story, than being simply an expression of movement to music.
There is also another significant difference – the dancers in these largely perform to pop music and very recognisable sound tracks and this particular piece is better performed in a stage environment than on the street.
Kohli’s own composition begins with Queen’s classic “Bohemian Rhaspody” seguing to Jay Z track.
“This is hip hop theatre,” explained Kohli to www.asianculturevulture.com, taking time out from rehearsals. “The acts you see on ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ are very commercial but this is more about telling a story and the choreography on stage.”
Performing at Breakin’ Convention is a big deal and you can’t help but feel excited and slightly awed by Kohli’s achievement, more so when you only know of about his work in fashion.
“This is my first creative work as an emerging dance choreographer and what a platform to do it. When I saw my name on the posters it was very humbling, this is not something people from my background get an opportunity to be recognised in, and it makes my mum proud.”
The production is about a dream and certainly has a dream-like quality. In four and a half minutes, Kohli wants to tell you a very particular story.
“It incorporates everything about me as a person. It shows my influences, and it’s about interception, layers, it’s theatre, hip hop, animation, it’s all of those things combined.”
He will don a turban and his other dancers are Italian and British and one is female. He likes the diversity and the turban too he feels makes an important statement about identity.
“The imagery (of wearing the turban) is important, I want a lot of Sikh kids to look up to this. They’re always pigeonholed to do bhangra and they feel they don’t have a place to come and perform hip hop but if I can do it, I am saying you can.
“I am a Sikh and I am inspired by my grandfather; it’s a mood board on paper and I want to represent the Sikh community.
“My late grandfather always to used say ‘Banda Ban’ – it means being a gentleman and acting suavely and being a role model. He was an army man but he always loved dance and supported it.”
“We’re a diverse group, Andrea (Walker) and Luigi (Ambrosio) are from Italy, and Heidi (Clark) is from Hull and I am from East London, it’s a very good mix.”
He said there are very few Asians involved in hip hop dance.
“Playing at Breakin’ Convention is important – it’s saying: ‘This is who I am, and this is what I am here to do, if you accept me that will be a great thing because in an industry like this it’s very hard to be accepted coming from my background.
“It’s hard – because you can easily get stereotyped. When people see an Asian dancer, they think bhangra or Bollywood and I get a lot of that – ‘you must be really good at Bollywood dancing’ – sure I can, but I chose to be uncomfortable here because I need to evolve and like any artist grow and develop and never be complacent.”
He has also designed all the clothes himself for “Molecules of a Dream”.
“It’s a very slick, suited look and very dapper and the elements are all very me.”
It’s perhaps not quite the chameleon-like transformation it may look like on paper, for Saran Kohli the clothes designer – he danced for many years and had his own hip-hop dance group, Snach from 2002-2007.
It enjoyed considerable success, performing internationally in India and New York, but Kohli was the youngest and founding member when he was just 18, and after graduating from the London College of Fashion he found his dance colleagues had followed their own paths.
He continued to take an interest and became involved in music videos through clients who came to him for styling and fashion advice, but his ambition to choreograph and tell stories through music and dance lived on.
Determined not to lose touch and maintain his passion for dance, he went to New York to study dance as an aspiring composer/choreographer.
He won a place at the prestigious Broadway Dance Center and initially signed on for just a three-month course, but he ended up staying seven, returning to London in March 2014.
“It’s a world renowned platform for professionals working in another field to study dance there.
“They wanted me to stay a year because they saw my development – but I maxed it to seven months.
“I was learning ballet, I’ve never had any formal dance training. I was working with a lot of other talented dancers and sharing knowledge. It was a disciplined environment.
“Being part of such a set-up was a dream (come true), it was an intensive dance course which allowed me to work on my choreography skills and my abilities as a dancer and performer.”
His piece, “Molecules of Dream” was first conceived and developed as a student exercise at the Broadway Dance Center and later back in Britain he pitched it Jonzi D, who is the artistic director of Breakin’ Convention.
“I am a big fan and he is someone I look up to and he was taken aback but he loved the fact that I came from another creative industry.”
He found out he had been chosen while on a fashion work trip to Mumbai and when he returned to London, he sought out new dancers for “Molecules of a Dream”. The original dancers were students from the Broadway Dance Center.
The new quartet have already performed at the Olivier Awards and were part of the live outside entertainment as guests arrived, but playing at Breakin’ Convention is a bit like playing in a football Champions League final. The eyes of the hip hop world will be on Saran Kolhi, fashion designer and now very much, hip hop choreographer and performer.
“There is a good ‘Mr and Mrs’ going on right now and they’re both getting along well.
“I am still pursuing my day job (in fashion) and I want to let my dancing do the talking rather than say I have all these plans for choreography. But in the long term I want to go into production and choreography.”
Main picture ‘Molecules of a Dream'(l-r): Saran Kohli; Heidi Clark, Luigi Ambrosio; Andrea Walker
*Saran Kohli, ‘Molecules of a Dream’, Breakin’ Convention Festival, Sunday, May 3, scheduled, 6pm-7.15pm main stage, Sadler’s Wells, Rosebery Avenue, Islington London EC1R 4TN Ticket Office: 0844 412 4300
For more information and listing details on Breakin’ Convention http://breakinconvention.com/