Dance Stories: Brady Kitchingham and up-and-coming dance company 'The Blackguard'
Brady Kitchingham is one to watch. Passionate, motivated and dedicated to his art form, he broke all the rules with the creation of his company, The Blackguard, in 2016. Their debut show "Passion May Yet Be Fatal", merged styles to create a genre entirely of its own, developed from Brady's own personal story. From a once a week dancer at a local studio, to a cast member on a cruise ship, to a member of the hilarious and popular Phly Crew, Brady's career has seen remarkable progression. It is now however, through his own original work, that he is truly coming into his own. We talked to Brady about the journey he experienced in starting a company from scratch and creating a show for the first time.
E: How did dancing become a part of your life?
B: I began as a one-jazz-class-a-week dancer at a suburban studio and then I decided to move to a studio that was really training dancers into being forward thinking, almost professionals in a way. When I left there I was a little bit naïve so I didn’t end up going to any full time courses, but before I knew it I was working for Royal Caribbean Cruises. I came home and started working with a new group of friends I met at a music video shoot, and we became Phly Crew, a comedy/hip hop crew. We always say that if Monty Python were to have a hip hop crew, that would be us (everyone always loves that one)! And of course doing gig work here and there eventually inspired me to create my own original work as well. The branding of my company, 'The Blackguard', is inherently really, really different from everything else that’s happening.
E: So you were inspired to create your own work, but where did the ideas for The Blackguard really come from?
B: In high school I loved punk rock music. And because I grew up in Western Sydney and I was the kid that went to dance class, I got bullied quite a bit. So punk rock became the thing that made me feel strong, under everything else, if I was being pushed around. Punk rock and dance became my strengths, my saving grace, and as I’ve matured the two have mixed up. I remember being really transfixed with the mosh pit style of dancing; what people do at these heavy rock shows where they throw their limbs around and run at each other and get in each others personal space. I remember thinking the movement they were demonstrating was in a way far more honest and expressive than what I was seeing in the dance world, behind all the conventions of choreography and tilt-your-leg and pirouettes and all that stuff. I’ve always wanted to mix the punk rock and the foundational styles of hip hop I've learnt and so in a way it’s really transformed the way I prefer to speak to the world.
E: So how would you describe this dance style that you focus on in The Blackguard?
B: I would say the style of movement that The Blackguard aims to pursue and is still trying to develop, is "Thrash". It has foundations in hip hop and krump repertoire and the ferocious punk rock dancing. So a fusion of urban and krump and mosh pit dancing basically.
E: And how did the actual process of setting up a company go for you?
B: I went in really blind, I just had so much motivation behind me that I was willing to run at the wall as many times as I needed to in order to break through it, no matter how bloody I was going to get. So I pooled all my resources together and all my friends who knew anything about putting on a show. I had a great resource in Neale Whittaker from a managerial side, he was my assistant on the project and helped with everything. In terms of sourcing the cast, I basically head hunted them on Instagram and at different dance gigs. One of the company members, Jervis Livelo, performed this hard hitting solo at a Pioneers Crew event and I watched from side stage to see someone being as ferocious as I want to be, and I thought there’s fire here, there’s something I could make from all of this. I scoured Instagram, I pulled people in from Phly Crew, and I got some fantastic students that I had taught. It was a really instinctual casting process for me – I was picking up people from situations that didn’t even know they had made an impression on me – it just goes to show when someone is watching you or saw you a year ago at some event, you never know when they'll be like “Do you want a job?”.
E: That is so true! And what was the concept of the show "Passion May Yet Be Fatal"?
B: The concept of the show was semi-autobiographical, it kind of followed my journey with a couple of the heavier break ups that I’ve had in my life. I was trying to fulfil the creativity within myself by attaching myself to other people, and then figuring out that wasn’t the answer, and then realising that I had to leave these two separate relationships that taught me about who I am. And at the end of all that I realised what I was trying to find was myself, and the Blackguard became a vehicle for that. That was the path the show took as well, it dealt with themes of rejection, themes of not belonging, and then eventually self-discovery, right when you’re on the precipice of being torn apart.
E: So it was a really personal experience for you?
Incredibly personal, and the way I choreographed the show was really personal as well, I listened to every song so many times, and every step – I don’t know if people necessarily believe me - but every single step in the show had a purpose and a meaning behind it. And it wasn’t a particularly long process, it was more instinctual – I almost had to listen to the song and put myself through the feelings I was trying to talk about. Then the movement would stem from my emotion and the ricochet effect of what happens when the song hits my feelings, and finding that friction point that lends itself to creative expression.
E: What was the most challenging part of the process for you?
B: The whole thing, it’s such a weird answer, but the whole thing! The hardest part was staying true to it and seeing it all the way through. There was a point where we had to move the date of the show because I wasn’t going to hit the deadline, and that was a big learning experience for me. There were many nights where I was just curled up crying because I had rehearsals the next day and I wouldn’t know what I was doing, and just wondering to myself is this what I should be doing and are people going to show up? Those were really big things because I was so vulnerable in revealing myself and my passion and my creativity to the dance industry, and I felt so intensely that if people weren’t going to show up or if they were going to reject this, it was really going to hurt me. And I’m extremely lucky that they did show up and it was such a fantastic show, because I don’t know what I would have done if they didn’t. I’ve learnt that it's the only way that people will care about what you’re doing – if you put yourself out there in that dangerous place.
E: How was the show received and what was the rewarding part of that for you?
B: The really rewarding part for me was when I went into the foyer and spoke to people after that last show. People were saying it made them cry and I had one of my good friends, Jeremy Santos, sob in my arms because he was so surprised by it. Peoples' amazing words, they just expressed that it touched them on a deep and personal level, and I’m eternally grateful for that. You know, it could have been sold out and people just said "yeah, that was a good show" and I would have felt like it was the biggest failure in the world. The way it turned out was the way it needed to, having people express their emotion – I was like oh my gosh, I didn’t know I had that storytelling capability within me. And I guess the stars sort of aligned in that way.
E: Thats amazing. So what are your plans for The Blackguard's next show?
B: The plan is definitely more shows to come, I have so many ideas in the vault. The next show is going to be far more meticulously created, and be more intense – that might frighten people who saw the last show because it was already pretty intense! But there’s a lot more that I’m going to mess with in this style, more depth, a storyline that has a basis in reality, the show is going to be deeper, more mature, the songs are going to be just as heavy and dealing with some dangerous themes. Which is how I like to approach art, in many ways dance has become a really safe art form where people are afraid to express their ideas in case the audience are scared. But I want to scare my audience and make them think, I want to say the hard things and have their hearts in their throat during the show. So I think the next show will be closer to that goal.
E: Are there any companies that you aspire to be like?
B: There are no companies that I want The Blackguard to be like. Which is a bold answer, not because I devalue anyone’s art, I just know that their art isn’t mine, and I’m strong in having my own. In a way, I don’t want to work in the same waters. I want to be in my own waters, and enjoy their shows when I go and watch them, and live in that. But I want to step further into myself with The Blackguard and I have a suspicion that that means stepping further from everyone else, and that’s OK.
E: Staying true to yourself is so important! Would you say that there are any people in particular who inspire you?
I couldn’t put it down to one. Definitely James Barry, the creative behind Phly Crew, Neale Whittaker and the way he pursues his creative abilities. My girlfriend Erin also really inspires me, she was my rock for this project and when my body and brain gave out she would pick me up and slap me twice (not literally!) and push me forward when I needed it. I also need to just mention how much I appreciate my photographer Alison Laird. She's done a lot of great work for me and I owe her so much for how she helped me with this whole process.
E: Is there a final message that you would like to put out there about the dance industry?
B: I openly would like to invite people to go and see as many shows as they can and support people who are up and comers within the industry. You never know when that person will be able to give you the opportunities you dreamed of having, purely because you supported them and bought their company's t-shirt and showed up to their class. It’s making sure that you’re aware that this community is like a plant that will wither if you don't water it. I think what The Blackguard is doing will become more mainstream, and I think people will be surprised, I am really confident about that. I’d love an audience that’s 60% Joe Blow that loves rock music and 40% dancers so that we’re showcasing art to people who don’t usually experience dance for themselves.
E: Thank you Brady for taking the time to talk to us!
Interview by Emily Newton-Smith