Ivan Blackstock

Director and choreographer Ivan Blackstock is a rising star on the hip-hop dance scene. He talks to Katy Salter about baked beans and rice snacks, Clerkenwell’s best tattoo parlour and life on tour…

What kind of role has Sadler’s Wells played in your career?
A massive, massive part. It’s been incredible how much they’ve supported me. My first time presenting work on a stage was in 2006 at Sadler’s with my company, BirdGang Dance Company. Since then we’ve worked with Sadler’s at Glastonbury and in the past two years or so I’ve been doing other projects there.

How important is it that an institution like Sadler’s Wells is supporting young talent?
It’s definitely important. I think it’s more important for hip-hop artists as we don’t have any schools to go to; we don’t have any vocational colleges that support hip-hop dance. The dance form needs a lot of help and push for people to understand it.

What’s it like performing there?
Amazing. I always get scared at Sadler’s Wells because I respect the venue and its history so much. If I’m not nervous, there’s something wrong!

Is there such a thing as a typical day for you?
I get to rehearsals for about 9.30am and get my mind into the game, then we usually have a warm up from 10-11.30am. Then it all depends how I structure my rehearsal, or if I’m working with someone, how they structure their rehearsal. So sometimes we’ll be working on, say, a solo until lunchtime. You have lunch and go to the canteen and meet other artists working in the building. Then we come back, put it all together and see what you’ve done since the morning. That’s how a show builds really.

Do you follow a strict diet?
I have a crazy fast metabolism, so I’m always having protein and carbohydrates. I need a lot of carbs. You’ll always see me chomping on a bit of rice or a piece of steak in our little five-minute breaks.
‘I need a lot of carbs. You’ll always see me chomping on a bit of rice’

Do you enjoy traveling for work?
Yes. My first ever big job, when I was 19, was as a backing dancer for the Pet Shop Boys’ world tour. I was lucky to travel and experience new things.

Where’s the most interesting place dance has taken you?
I really like Japan. The culture, their mentality towards work. I admire the Japanese way of determination and focus. I was out there recently for a few weeks. It was a great experience. We saw martial arts fights, temples, dance studios. I love seeing the underground [dance] stuff when I travel – it’s always raw and different
each place you go. With their focus, in Japan, they’ve taken hip-hop dance to another level. It’s very clean, very precise.

What do you miss about London when you’re away?
Little things, like baked beans and hot chocolate. Even though I feel sometimes in London people can be a bit reserved, they’re also open and it’s very diverse compared with some places. Londoners are very open with race and sexuality, with art.

When you come back to this area where do you go first?
Exmouth Market. I love the little bars. I love tattoos and there’s an amazing tattoo parlour called The Family Business. They’ve got world-class tattoo artists there. Plus, my old college, Urdang Academy, is right there [at The Old Finsbury Town Hall]. So that area I’ve always loved and it’s just down the road from where I work with Sadler’s Wells.

Where do you get ideas from for your choreography?
They can come from anything. Sometimes I’ll be walking down the street and someone might trip on a piece of rock and I’ll say, “You alright mate?”. They’ll say “thank you” and the way they do it could inspire me. I watch movies a lot and I’ll be like, “The way she’s wearing that dress could be interpreted in a different way – imaging if that dress moved”. I’m always writing ideas down on my phone.

What does 2014 have in store for you?
I’ll be back on tour with [hip-hop choreographer] Jonzi D with the Lyrikal Fearta national tour, then in February I’ll be doing a show called Blaze at the Peacock Theatre, also with Sadler’s Wells. Then there’s the Breakin’ Convention tour, that takes me up until June and then hopefully I’ll be working with the Young Vic in October.

Ivan will be performing in “Blaze” at The Peacock Theatre from 18 Feb – 8 March, and on the “Breakin’ Convention” tour at Sadler’s Wells from 3 – 5 May.