The art of collaboration – two choreographers, one project.

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Body Politic has been working with choreographers Derek Mok and Stephen Brown for just over 4 years. From our Breezeblocks project to our first theatrical piece ‘Reflections’ last year, their choreographic style has been embedded in our company. Yet it’s always growing and ever-changing, whilst still rooted in their unique showcasing of Hip Hop Dance. Something even more apparent in their creation of our new triple bill tackling mental health – Reflections returns alongside new pieces titled Father Figurine, and ID, Ego, and Superego (inspired by Freud’s model of the human psyche).

Collaborating is never easy. Creativity can manifest itself in dancers and choreographers in many ways; so, it’s always fascinating to meet (and learn from) those on the same wavelength that can complete each other’s sandwic-… senten-… sequences! That’s the one. Sequences!

Derek and Stephen, also amusingly known as Sterek, have had a dance-bromance going on since joining Body Politic, and very much so before that. A small-town-boy-meets-city-boy kind of bromance. And this oozes into their creative process. “The way we choreograph has been refined over the years,” Stephen says. “We’ve been choreographing together for, like 5 years, so it’s quite natural but it does take time.”

Their creative process is quite methodological. Creating movement born out of music. It’s always music first. “What usually happens is, we’d listen to the music a bunch of times together, and then speak to each other about things we’ve picked out in the music.” Stephen explains the process quite attentively. “Then we tackle those phrases of music sequentially. We might layer over a narrative, and cut it down to what we want to happen in each section of the music. But then when it really comes down to making movement it’s attacking those phrases sequentially of music and then applying movement.”

There’s a very equal air about the two. Divvying the roles and order of creating – be it individually then forming a merger, or together from the get go. “I think overall communication is key.” Derek chimes in. “Accepting criticism and a willingness to give criticism are important. And not to be afraid to do that.” It seems the two, or should I say Sterek, have also found harmony in the bickering – or lack thereof. We’re at a stage where one of us does something and it’ll be like ‘I don’t like that’ and that’s fine,” says Stephen. With no hint or linger of past arguments. What a wonderful bromance indeed.

I think that’s definitely a key part in collaborating and being able to make something good,” adds Derek. “I think, like Stephen said, very much of what we like to do is based on the music so we always start listening to that first, picking stuff out, and going from there.”

‘Stronger together’ would be their motto, if they had one. And adventurous. Sterek has a doe-eyed, curious, and playful approach to choreography. “This is my favourite part of choreographing with Derek,” says Stephen, with a blinding grin on his face. “Something about dancing with him makes me want to attempt a lot of crazy stuff. Stuff I wouldn’t do on my own. Like ‘let’s do a mad sequence’. Something that I can’t physically do but then we’d try it together and figure it out. Maybe chop down and edit it a bit, maybe not do it the way I envisioned it in the first place but probably better. Usually better. Always better.”

“I think I’ve noticed as well,” Derek says. “Collaborating with Stephen definitely pushes what I wouldn’t normally do and definitely pushes the boundary of creativity and the whole process.” Sterek is an admirable duo. Attacking music with a childlike anticipation, ecstatic to be able to hit every beat, melody, and rhythm; and calculating enough to skip certain layers for effect. The outcome holds a promise of being calm and dormant, yet raw and visceral. A poignantly accurate representation of mental health illnesses.

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