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Interview: Cabaret’s choreographer Julia Cheng makes her West End debut

Image credit: Photo of Julia Cheng by Camilla Greenwell

Julia Cheng is the choreographer for the new production of Cabaret starring Eddie Redmayne and Jessie Buckley which opens on 15 November 2021. This'll be Julia's West End debut.

Julia has an extensive practice that has seen her work presented in a variety of national and international spaces. Her work spans the UK's biggest Hip Hop Festival, Breakin’ Convention, BBC Young Dancer, and her company House of Absolute is resident with the Philharmonia Orchestra. She's clearly a force to be reckoned with!

Run-Riot were thrilled to chat with Julia in-between her Cabaret rehearsals to hear more about the show and her other ventures.

Natifah White: Hello Julia! It’s really nice to meet you and talk to you about all of your exciting projects! First of all, how has it been to work on the exciting production Cabaret starring Eddie Redmayne, Jessie Buckley and the rest of the cast and crew?
Julia Cheng: Nourishing, inspiring and full of tons-of-love. Being able to create with this creative team, artists and a production crew that care so much about the work and each other, has been a daily joy. It’s been lots of hard work as expected… I’m a grafter so my mind set is super focused. The daily challenges and the beautiful people remind me to just be myself.
Natifah: Along with the idea of Identity, what other themes or messages run throughout Cabaret?

Julia: Cabaret has so many layers to it. For me, inside and outside oppression, loss, love, acceptance, cultural eradication, truth, belonging, otherness, sexual revolution, gender nonconformity... etc. etc. many many things. I am intrigued to see what is conjured up inside the minds and feelings of audiences today and what resonates with them.

Natifah: From your viewpoint, how is Cabaret still relevant in today’s society?

Julia: By looking at the notion of choice, silence and action/ inaction. For me, Cabaret facilitates a space to confront and empathise flawed imperfections of human dysfunction, with rawness and a hug at the same time.

Natifah: What drew you to wanting to work on Cabaret?

Julia: I knew I wanted in from the first conversation with director Rebecca Frecknall when she shared her vision which aligned with my perspective of the work and my values as a person.
Natifah: For those who might not be familiar with House of Absolute, could you summarise the collective in a few words?

Julia: Bold. Uncategorised. Spirited. Cos for me visuals speak louder, I’d really recommend your readers check out our website houseofabsolute.com.
Natifah: Since House of Absolute was announced as Philharmonia’s Artist in Residence, could you share with us one way this unique collaboration has not only informed your collective practice/s but also your collective understanding of classical music?  

Julia: This residency has shown me that our company/collective has so much to offer and inform arts organisations and institutions. Sharing our processes and multiple approaches to making creative work and performance, has been something that Philharmonia and House of Absolute have been having open dialogue about. Communication is so imperative when bridging two different artistic worlds and communities together. We have a better understanding of the structures and systems revolving classical music and have been able to exchange with musicians from a wider range of classical western instrumentation.

Natifah: For you, what are some of the foundations that make up your artistic practice?

Julia: Well, this is a biggie. I come from a club culture and underground scene whereby many aspects of Hip Hop are fundamental to my artistic foundation.
I draw from Punking/Waacking, Hip Hop, House, Popping (as well as theatre, contemporary dance etc). Multiple styles of dance influence me and although I would not claim to have mastered all of these specific forms; the music, the feelings and the stories that embed each foundation enables me to channel connection within my body, music and intention to creative processes.
Natifah: In the last few years, there has been a surge in different Professional Development Programmes tailored towards supporting the UK hip hop dance community. As a Breakin’ Convention’ mentor, what excites you most about the current UK hip hop dance landscape?

Julia: The potential of increased access and opportunities as well as a loud call for normalisation of diverse programming.
Natifah: Alongside your inspiring projects, you are also going to be involved with BBC Young Dancer next year which will be the first since the pandemic. Is there anything you could share with us about what this show has in store?
Julia: You’ll have to keep your eyes peeled…but all I can say is that these artists did so good to even apply after such a crazy pandemic. They inspired me to shake up my own stagnation.

Julia Cheng is the founder and artistic director of House of Absolute. She is also the choreographer for Cabaret, opening on 15 November 2021.

15 Nov 2021 - 6 March 2022
Kit Kat Club (Playhouse Theatre)


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