Thursday, 21 April 2016


Photo by Ellen Pengelly

After seeing House of Absolute perform their work at the Open Art Surgery earlier this year, I made it a priority to find out more about their work. I was overjoyed at their piece which made me feel proud to be a woman and I wanted to find out more about this dance collective who specialise in dance forms such as: Waacking, Contemporary, Ballet, Hip-Hop, House, locking, Hustle and Popping.

I talked to founder Julia Cheng about the company and what has fuelled her journey to this point. 

What is it about Waacking that you love?

I got into Waacking because my contemporary teacher at the time encouraged me to do it. I went to New York to learn, and was keen to find out more about the roots of the dance style and was lucky enough to be taught by a teacher there called Tyrone Proctor. I find it a very empowering dance style in which you get to be yourself. Waacking isn't just about the arms but its really about internal movements and the realness of yourself coming out. It's about embracing all sides of yourself and letting the different parts of your character and personality break through. You have to be really honest in the dance, because when you're not it can really show. That's what I love about it. 

How would you describe the ethos of House Of Absolute?

If I could describe what we are about, essentially it is to be the best that you can be, and to work really hard for it. I always encourage the girls to work and to be their best in the moment. We all have different styles and different backgrounds, and I try to encourage the culture of learning from each other and to keep evolving. The more we learn from each other, the better we can be. We can have a wider dance vocabulary and be stronger together. I try and share the idea in our workshops that you need to bring out your inner King and Queen, to dance to music that moves your soul and to always dance with love.

I love it! That's a great mission statement for how we should live our lives really isn't it?

Exactly! Life is reflected in movement and movement is reflected in life. It's also about Womanhood, pushing each other and having a stronger voice together. It's also about using that to be able to stand on your own too. We have a wide range of ages in our group, and I want the girls to embrace being a woman, it's about not apologising for it. Not apologising for being vulnerable, emotional, sensitive or for being who you are.

What was your experience like at Open Art Surgery in March this year?

The experience was a challenge for us. We were lucky in that we were given our own space and time to develop our work by the other artists, but nothing comes without struggle. We had some problems with the mic on day two, and started to create the work on day three, but the whole process was important and reflecting back I can see that the challenges made the process what it was. It was great to hear the responses from the audience. My intention is to connect to the audience in some way, it's not always one set message but more a series of ideas that I explore. If someone connects with the piece in any way, it's a positive thing. One lady who was an artist described our work as a painting. I loved hearing that from a different artist who wasn't a mover and whose movement language was different to ours.

I understand you now have a younger member of the group. What are your thoughts on inspiring younger people into dance?

I've been mentoring and teaching for the last ten years now and I've worked on a lot of big projects with young people from different backgrounds. I've been able to see how movement has been an avenue for people to be able to express themselves, to express the things they're going through, and to channel it or speak about it without having to necessarily use words. Yes, I could teach choreography or a routine but the essence of the person in their soul is how they improvise naturally to something through spontaneity in that moment. So performance is important, but choreography is something we can take time to learn, and young people can be very good at creating, expressing and opening up that side of themselves. 

What does it mean for you to perform at Breakin' Convention this year?

It's always been on my horizon. I'm happy that Waacking is being included on the platform, although it's quite experimental. After having the space to rehearse it at Open Art Surgery, it gave us a good few days to start making a scene and developing the work, and it was great to be invited back to spread the word of House Of Absolute. It's always been a platform that I have been excited about, I love that's it's theatrical rather than just a showcase, and it has always been an experimental platform that has helped bring the essence of hip hop culture.

Who is your dance hero?

I've never really had a dance hero but I have people that inspire me. My mentor Stuart Thomas who took me on as a contemporary student at the age of 23 is one of those people. His career went against the conventions and his story is quite spectacular in how he has completed his journey in dance. He passed on his method of teaching to his students and he taught me a lot. He's a very generous person, he's very artistically giving without expecting anything back and that has been a great quality to learn.

Even other people who aren't dancers have inspired me, like Aung San Suu Kyi and her story of her incarceration and the strength she showed as a woman. Also Bruce Lee! I grew up watching him and reading books about him. He's someone who has changed the way that Chinese people were looked upon. To have respect and be seen as the equal when you're the minority is a great thing, and I learned a lot about celebrating your difference and your story through these people.

What future projects have you got coming up?
There will definitely be some development of 'Warrior Queens' which is our performance piece at Breakin' Convention. This has been inspired in a modern context by House Of Absolute's ethos, but also comes from a previous idea I worked on around the story of Mulan and how she disguises herself as a man to take on battles but has a strong female energy too. There's a strong element of fighting for yourself, for other people, and taking on that fighting spirit that you can't ignore. So in a modern context I've taken that myth and the ethics of the piece is imprinted in that and who we are. 

I've been commissioned to create a film with Chinese Arts Space that will be shown at the Southbank, I've got some other projects with filmmakers and I've been collaborating with some artists in France. I'm going to be choreographing a piece for Motus Festival in Milton Keynes which will be a collaborative piece with other artists too so there's lots to look forward to!

Look out for Julia Cheng and her dance collective House of Absolute at Breakin' Convention 16' on Saturday 30th April in the Lilian Baylis Studio.


Breakin' Convention Saturday 30th April Schedule

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