Recognition has been released as part of the audio series Written On The Waves brought to audiences by 45North and Ellie Keel productions.
Rachael Nanyonjo is a British choreographer, director, movement director, and lecturer who is based in London. Rachael has worked across the UK and internationally and includes movement directing west-end hit and second black British play to be on in London’s Westend Misty by Arinze Kene.
Nanyonjo graduated from Roehampton University with a BA Honors in Dance Studies and gained a Masters in choreography from Middlesex University. In 2012 she formed Kansaze Dance Theatre to create innovative contemporary dance physical theatre that responds to socio-cultural and political themes through collaborating with different art forms. She was also the movement director at The Old Vic in 2017.
Nanyonjo’s latest work Recognition which she both directed and co-created alongside Amanda Wilkin is based on the life and music of Afro-English composer and conductor Samuel Coleridge-Taylor.
Please introduce yourself?
My name is Rachael Nanyonjo, I was born in Uganda and moved to the UK when I was four years old. So, I describe myself as a Black British since this is the experience I have known for most of my life. I am also proudly from South London, Croydon – don’t @ me Croydon is in London. I began in this industry as a dancer having trained as one at The Brit School and University. Then I went on to develop as a choreographer/movement director and director.
Please share a word or sentence which best describes your life right now …
With the pandemic I have learnt to take each day as it comes.
How did you and Amanda Wilkin come to work on Recognition together?
I approached Amanda with the idea for this story. In 2019 I was commissioned by the Southbank Centre to create a short choreography to Samuel’s Military March composition. I began researching Samuel in preparation for the piece and was so shocked to find he was this black brilliant composer in the 19th century living in Croydon, England making such beautiful astounding work.
What upset me the most was that he was one of the greats of his time and history had erased his contributions. It felt all too familiar this sense of erasure that black people experience in the west. So I told my agent I wanted to make a work that celebrated his music and story. That was when she introduced me to Amanda who is also a client of hers she said Amanda would be the perfect collaborator for this piece. And she was right.
When Amanda and I met it was like ‘yup this is gonna happen.’ Anyone who can talk about Angela Davis and stan over Michelle Obama’s fashion I knew was my people. We met at the end of 2019 and started to plan and research what form this story could take. By the time the pandemic hit and we saw the Black Lives Matter uprisings, we knew that we had to make this piece since Samuel’s story reflected a lot of the institutional racism that black people in this country and around the world had been talking about. However, his story was also one of hope, beauty, and excellence; and Amanda and I wanted to make something that would bring hope after what has been one of the most challenging years.
How did you find your cast and What was it about Obioma Ugoala who plays Samuel and Shiloh Coke who plays Song?
Amanda and I put together a casting breakdown of what we were looking for in terms of ethnicity, paying age, experience, and also actors who were musical. Then, we thought about the actors we had seen performing that we felt could embody Song and Samuel. Obioma and Shiloh are such brilliant and intelligent actors who we had both seen perform and felt they could bring depth and nuance to the roles. So, when we sent them the script and heard they were interested; it was a no-brainer.
Both are musical Obioma most recently having appeared in Hamilton and Shiloh is a musical director who worked on MISTY (Trafalgar Studios & The Bush Theatre) and Small Island (The National Theatre). Therefore, instantly there was a shorthand with them when discussing the important role that music played in Samuel’s life and in this play. Samuel’s story if not played right can feel heavy and tragic, but Obioma was able to bring humour and vulnerability to the character without losing the sense of urgency. For Song’s character, Amanda and I spoke about her being from London, whip-smart, music being a key part of her identity, and someone who calls out injustice. All of these things Shiloh embodies as a person and was able to bring to that and more to the character of Song.
As a director, most of your work has been on stage which incorporates your skills as a choreographer and movement director how did you utilise these skills for the audio play?
As a choreographer/movement director one of the things I always think about is how can I best use this art form to help tell the story and understanding what the narrative is and the intentions of the work. This was a very helpful skill because when it came to direct the audio play I would ask myself how can we create the different worlds written through sound and music. Additionally, since we were working with two different eras in the play I would think about how best to root the characters in these places and make the different times clear – all of which are skills I have learned in theatre.
Working with Cassie Kinoshi (composer and music director) and Tom Foskett -Barnes (sound designer) was a dream because not only are they super talented but they were able to interpret how I wanted the music/sound to feel and function. But also, Amanda is such as poetic writer and to me poetry and music are synonymous. I wanted the writing to have a poetic/ melodic tone so that it would not clash with the music heard in the audio play.
How did you find the transition from working on stage to working on audio?
I really enjoyed the process of working on audio. I love podcasts and growing up my dad used to listen to the Radio 4 dramas so I knew this world from the point of view of being a listener. The thing I had to get used to was that things move much quicker in audio than on stage. So, I did not have as much time to agonise over decisions and notes and had to trust my gut and know that the prep work I had done was enough. In addition, there were new processes and terminology to learn but I had a great team around me who I could ask questions and not feel silly even if they were basic questions.
If the play was to be adapted for stage what elements would you add that you couldn’t with the audio version?
I would want to add a live orchestra playing his music and maybe bring to life some of the people in Samuel’s life who were mentioned in the play like his wife, Paul Lawrence Dunbar and Edward Elgar.
What do you hope for audiences listening to Recognition to take away with them?
I hope audiences go and seek out more of Samuel’s music and share it with their family and friends. I hope that his story instils a level of pride in them, that here was this amazing composer of mixed heritage who was prolific and contributed so much to the music industry and he was British. Samuel needs to held in the same regard that we hold Mozart. Lastly, I want this story to bring hope to all the black creatives out there to know we are not starting from scratch but there have been other greats before us who succeeded and we can do it.
Have you got any other projects on the horizon that you’re excited about?
Sadly, a lot of my work has been put on hold due to the pandemic. However, I am developing new ideas for the stage and we are hoping that the audio play is just the start for this project and we are looking at how it will work for the stage.
GETTING TO KNOW YOU …
- A book you have to have in your collection? – We should all be feminists by Chimamanda Nqozi Adichie
- A song/album that defines the soundtrack of your life to date? – Lucy Pearl’s self-titled album
- A film / TV show that you can watch/have watched repeatedly? – One fine day– starring Michelle Pfeiffer and George Clooney.
- The first stage production you saw and what it meant to you? – OMG I saw Fame at the Fairfield Halls when I was in primary school. I was blown away by all the dancing and singing. It was a real spectacle. But, I also knew I wanted to work in this industry when I started giving choreographic and directing notes on production to my sister on the way home on areas I felt they could improve on.
- What’s made you sad, mad, and glad this week? – I have been thinking a lot about how we are now a year into the pandemic and we are still in lockdown here in England. I just feel like it could have been handled so much better and I guess the anxiety of lockdown and thinking about how the pandemic has been handled just made me feel very sad this week. What’s made me glad is the start of spring and sunshine.
Recognition was released on 17th February and is available to stream to find out where visit forty-fivenorth