A conversation between our Creative Producer, Emily Bull, and our commissioned artist for the summer show at Creative Youth Network, Deepraj Singh.

“Deeps, give me a ‘potted history of Deepraj Singh’”

“Well, I grew up in Whitehall, Easton with my Mum, Dad and 2 older sisters. I feel like my family have played a real influential role in my life, especially my sisters. In fact, I describe my family as ‘me, my dad and my three mums.’ *Laughs*. We weren't exactly a ‘well off’ household, there was a time where I had to share bunk beds with my sisters in a shared room, but it made us a really tight knit family. We’re all really vocal and communicative. In fact, I think it’s this that gives me such expression in my dance today – I found my own creative outlet for expressing myself. When I was 13 we moved to Redland closer to my school, Cotham.

My Grandparents played a really big role in my life and upbringing. My Grandad, who I never met, from his mums side, was creative. My mum thinks I get my creativity from him. He came to Bristol and made the first continental spice shop outside of London. The shop is still there today opposite the Sikh temple. He also brought the first Sikh holy book to Bristol. My Grandparents really brought the community together through their choices of having the shop and holy book. My Mum has memories of people queuing in the family home to read the holy book. Grandad noticed there was a need for people to connect after the service, so hired a space to bring the community together and made Bristol’s first Bollywood film cinema. He was a pioneer and forward thinker, thinking about the community and how to build it and strengthen it. He knew that the arts was the way to do this.  Grandad died when mum was 7 and my Grandma passed away two years ago. Both of them had celebrations of their deaths in their shop with the community they helped build.”

“What is the role dance has played in your life?”

“I’ve always been interested in the arts. Dance allows people to authentically connect. It’s played an important role in helping my ability to communicate and connect.”

“How did you get into dance?”

I started off by doing capoeira for 5 years. In fact, that came about because my Mum’s shifts at work finished after I finished school. She was allowed a break to come and pick me up but then needed to get back, so she dropped me off at a capoeira sessions until she’d finished work. I was lucky enough to have dance in school so then got involved in classes there. From there I went onto Kinesis Youth Dance Company and later onto Swindon Youth Dance. I loved the way that you could be in a room with lots of other people, and be doing exactly the same movements as those on the other side of the room. Without speaking, just moving, you’d be doing the same thing and communicating. You’d have a connection as you’re doing the same thing. It was like our bodies were communicating.

I was on the Swindon Urban Programme and realised I wanted to go to dance school and switched to their contemporary programme and did a year with them. I applied to London School of Contemporary Dance and was unsuccessful. It made me go back and do another year with Swindon Contemporary Youth Dance and reapplied to London Contemporary. I think they remembered me and liked that I’d gone away, learnt more, developed and kept at it. I was successful with my second application and then went and studied in London before coming back to Bristol. Since then I’ve been developing as a professional dancer and choreographer with help from Creative Youth Network. Last year, I toured in The Throth and performed in The Edge.

 “Are there any moments or things that you’ve been part of that really inspired you?”

It was at school that I learnt dance is a culture. We had visiting dance companies come in and work with us, including Kompany Malakhi, who I worked with on a Hip Hop School project.

“The first dance project that I got involved with was at the Kuumba Project celebrating their 40th birthday. Katy Noakes (Freelance Dance Producer) got me involved! In the piece we created work about identities and gave ourselves names, characters and made our own backing tracks to perform to.

When I was in school I remember seeing a film of ‘Rush’ by Imran Khan. Seeing someone of my ethnicity hooked me and made me think that I could do this. There was a sense of pride there because there was someone on the screen who looked similar to me. The piece was also beautiful and inspiring and it used his cultural background alongside contemporary dance.

It’s all coming back to me…. One really big point for me was whilst I was in Year 6, I got to perform on the Hippodrome stage to a full audience as part of the Stages Festival. It was huge and life changing. Being able to perform in that amazing venue was a massive deal and changed me. I knew then that I wanted to be on stage. In fact, I worked with Kwesi Johnson from Kompany Malakhi on this piece, which was about Brunel. It was later on, when I joined Kinesis that I met someone who had also been in the piece I made with Kwesi for Stages - Liam Wallace - 3 years later went on from being on stage together we still had an amazing connection, which was still as strong because of being on the same process together.

“How did you come to working with Creative Youth Network?”

At 21 (4 years ago) I’d just finished at London Contemporary and came back to Bristol. Katy Noakes suggested contacting The Station and in doing so I met Nick Young, the Creative Director. Nick was a quirky one *laughs*, and mentioned the alumni that had been set up to support emerging young artists from programmes delivered by Creative Youth Network. He suggested I join it. He also said he was looking for a choreographer for their first in-house production that he was directing. From there I went onto choreographing ‘Cinderella’. It was great because I was able to get Liam involved too, who’d just graduated from Northern School of Contemporary Dance. Whilst on the alumni I got asked to join the Artistic Sub-Committee to Creative Youth Network’s trustees and then went onto being asked to become a Trustee to the organisation. I continued to work with them as a dancer and supported their shows ‘A Thousand Dreadful Things’ and ‘Rights To move’. After ‘Rights To Move’ I went onto working with choreographer Gary Clarke and toured India and the UK in the show ‘The Troth’. In between tours I continued attending Alumni Shared Lunches at Creative Youth Network. It was then, accompanied with the knowledge from the shows I’d done, that I suggested to Nick and Emily that the alumni take on bigger, more responsible roles in producing the in-house productions at Creative Youth Network. Having spoke to other alumni members and young artists from the Artistic Sub-Committee it was agreed that we’d look at ways of taking on more professional roles at the organisation. Around this time I was setting up dance workshops for pro’ dancers with Jack Sergison from the alumni and Emily asked me to join the cast for their 2019 show, The Edge, as a paid member of the cast. After opening night of The Edge, both Emily and Nick turned to me and said “so how about it, fancy making our summer show 2019 and being our first commissioned artist?”. I instantly said “yes!”.

“What does the commission mean to you?”

“It’s a big. I really wanted to prove to myself that I could do something like this - generating ideas and being in a leadership role. These are things that I’ve struggled with before, so this commission has been invaluable for me to learn how to lead, lead with others, communicate, value myself, the work and other’s contributions. It’s been invaluable in learning and refining my style of choreography and seeing if it works. Given the circumstances, where we’ve need to push for recruitment and deliver outreach, through the process I think I’ve become a better leader. It’s really nice to have the trust from both sides - organisation to artist, artist to organisation and I’m looking forward to learning even more during the remaining rehearsals, show itself and life after the show. This process has made me realise that I want Rooted to go forward and I’d like to apply for future funding to help tour and develop it further – I’d like to take the skeleton of the production into schools and work with students and young people, including dance schools and colleges. The commission from Creative Youth Network has shown me that I can do this, it’s given me confidence to think what else I could achieve, whilst refining my vision of choreography and trusting myself more.”

“Tell us about Rooted and where the idea of it came from?”

“After I was asked by Emily and Nick to make the summer show, I started to think about the content and what’s important to me. I kept coming back to the story of my Grandparents, how they arrived in Bristol as one of the first families from India and want onto creating a community around them. The seed of the project came from a personal place. The feelings I kept coming back to is that of ‘belonging’. I also knew that Emily and Nick wanted me to use their developed model of practice when creating new work, and ensuring that it was relevant, accessible and engaging for young people. Wherever possible I knew I needed to share the stories and opinions of those who otherwise won’t get heard. Emily had mentioned that youth in isolation was a big issue and one of the highest referral reasons into Creative Youth Network’s Youth Services team throughout Bristol. Some of the stories I heard were shocking – one young person they were working with hadn’t left their home for years. We felt that by developing a piece about isolation and belonging could be really powerful, and Rooted was born.”

“Has Deeps ever been affected by Isolation?”

“Yes, I have been. When I was at school I was someone who was never really in a group. I was on the surface, but never really part of the core social groups. I never really had a clique. I would float between different social groups and got along with most people. It did leave me feeling quite lonely at times. I guess you could say that dance gave me a belonging and a way of expressing myself. Meeting Liam when I was 10 years old at Stages and then meeting up with him again when we were teenagers was my first really, deep rooted friendship. It was dance that gave us that connection, and we continue to be good friends now. “

“What are your thoughts on dance in Bristol, having been a young person grow up here and are now based here as a Dancer and Choreographer?”

“The opportunities that were on offer to me as a child and young person don’t exist anymore. For example, Cotham School no longer include Dance in the curriculum, and Katy Noake’s once role in the council to support dance in the city doesn’t exist any longer. That with the arts coming out of the curriculum I really worry for how we’re going to provide young people with access to opportunities that inspire and provide the opportunities I had. That’s why I love being a Trustee at Creative Youth Network – we provide so much, and especially for those in areas where they wouldn’t otherwise have support or programmes. We also need to make dance more accessible. We need to make the standard of the work being made and shown here something to rival London. Through making dance accessible and allowing people to appreciate it, especially those who aren’t from a dance background, we can raise the bar for making work and the programme of work being shown here. I also think we need to provide more opportunities for the dance professionals within the city.

“Finally Deeps, what are your thoughts on how the arts can play a civic role in society?”

“That’s a biggy and I’m not quite sure what it means, but for me, the big issue is making sure young people have access to creativity, especially as it’s coming out of the curriculum - that’s what inspired me and became my passion. We also need to address the issues of barriers into the industry. By doing so I believe it will create civic change as there will be equality. Governments need to trust artists to get the messages across, to make change in great scale and trust that people will make changes themselves when given the access and option to do so. I believe the arts have the power to raise voices and share stories, such as loneliness and isolation, to inspire and change lives. Who knows where I’d be today without dance.”

You can find out more about Rooted and book tickets here.