Words Kirk Truman
Photography Etienne Gilfillan
“We formed a collective in order to reach our fullest potential and keep our craft fresh.”
In the private gardens of the Bedford Estates, a strikingly beautiful young girl steps forward. She slips into a heavy REMADE Schneetarn Anorak by English fashion designer, Christopher Raeburn. First, she begins to shimmy from side to side, then to flex her body, the fabric following her limbs in their every move. Her face wears an elusive smile as she begins to dance. She is immersed in her passion: her name is Valerie Ebuwa.
I’ll come clean: dance is something of a riddle to me, simply because I can’t do it to save my life. Which only increases my admiration for the profound commitment and sheer passion for performance that this group of young artists share. Valerie and her team of urban contemporary dancers captivate me, so I’m fascinated to learn more about the origins of their Eclectics dance and performance group and hear about their relationship with the Bloomsbury area.
Valerie tells me that Eclectics was something she and her colleagues had always foreseen. The group is made up of a trio of close friends who met during dance training at Bloomsbury’s The Place, a powerhouse for dance development that leads the way in training, creation and performance. Though they all received frequent individual offers of work from a variety of different events and agencies, their shared interests in dance, music, and fashion led them to take their passion to the next level by becoming a group. “Having a variety of multidisciplinary skills, we formed a collective that performs, choreographs and teaches in order to reach our fullest potential and keep our craft fresh,” explains Valerie, “and having many different backgrounds within the group we often teach each other too – so it’s a constant, ever-growing collective.” The group comprises London-born Valerie Ebuwa and Ryan Munroe, and Claire Shaw from Wales. Together, they manage bookings, events, rehearsals and choreography, collaborating with a mix of independent businesses, venues and brands, including some international names such as Nike.
As individuals, the members of Eclectics naturally have their own personal ambitions, but as a collective their aim is to promote contemporary dance to new audiences who may not know much about this particular world; it’s a way to both inform and inspire others. “The contemporary dance world has a niche, elitist audience – usually contemporary dancers, their friends and families. It’s our aim to educate people about what exactly contemporary dance is whilst also changing the face of contemporary dance. Not too long ago, dance degrees could only be obtained by those whose families could support vocational training. As a result, contemporary dance companies have often been made up of people from similar backgrounds and ethnic origins,” says Valerie. “These people often do similar work because they have all been trained in the same way. Eclectics aims to have mixed ensembles of talented individuals from all backgrounds in order to change the perception of contemporary dance for good.”
The group spent three years in training at the London Contemporary Dance School (aka The Place), the UK’s number one school for contemporary dance. As the school is located on Bloomsbury’s Duke’s Road, the three then-students spent much of their time in and around the neighbourhood for the duration of the course. “Having spent three years here, we as a collective realised that Bloomsbury residents were still unaware of how the area plays such a huge role in the future of contemporary dance,” says Valerie. Once they’d graduated, they decided to make their keep their base in the area, choreographing site-specific works that would both educate people about contemporary dance and also pay homage to the area that had nurtured them and so many other UK dance artists.
When I asked Valerie to explain what makes Eclectics different from other contemporary dance groups, she emphasised just how multidisciplinary the collective is and how it lives up to the promise of its name. “We not only choreograph and train in contemporary dance, but we regularly perform hip hop, dancehall, samba, commercial, African and jazz choreographies. We integrate all of our different styles together, rather than just contemporary dance. We often travel to different countries to enhance our understanding of different dance styles and genres and also use other movement art forms such as yoga, capoeira, kung fu and other martial arts to enhance and inform our work,” she says. Eclectics also design all of their own sets, costumes and lighting: “So all the work comes from us.”
This is an exciting time for the group, who have plenty of plans for the future. “We are be looking to expand our connections with local residents and this year’s graduates of London Contemporary Dance School in order to keep the promotion of contemporary dance within the area alive and fresh. We hope to bring contemporary dance to the foreground in Bloomsbury, and get it out of its current somewhat backyard existence,” says Valerie. The group are also in talks for many more events, shows and residencies, as well as music video performances. As I watch Valerie, Ryan and Claire improvising together, I try and define what it is that makes their performance so captivating. It’s a matter of personality and spirit, of sheer love of dance, but of something else too. As they dance, jump and stretch, I notice that their eyes meet as they constantly observe and react to one another: and it’s clear that what makes Eclectics special is that they are three friends who share a close, courageous creative bond.