Interview with Choreographer & Movement Director Sundeep Saini on As You Like It

Choreographer & Movement Director Sundeep Saini talks about her vision on choreographing the second Public Acts production, As You Like It and what she is most looking forward to working on. This musical adaption of William Shakespeare’s classic play will be performed by over 100 community members, professional actors and performance groups from across London. Following triumphant performances of Pericles at the National Theatre in summer 2018, this is the second Public Acts production and will take over the Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch stage from 24 – 27 August. Public Acts is a nationwide initiative to create extraordinary acts of theatre and community. Tell me a bit about your dance background. What first got you into dance? When did you decide you wanted to do it professionally? I came to dance quite late; I started Disco Dancing when I was about 7 years old and went to a local Saturday Theatre school. It wasn’t until I was doing Joseph at the London Palladium with my school choir that I started to take it seriously after the Musical Director, Mike Dixon, came up to me and said he thought I was great. That was high praise for a 10 year old! I had never worn a pair of ballet shoes and didn’t know what a time step was (it’s a tap step!) but I danced at every opportunity from then on and choreographed for shows throughout secondary school. I studied Dance, Drama and Theatre Studies at University; I wanted a fully rounded understanding of theatre but it was the dance sessions (mostly contemporary) that were always the ones I most looked forward to. I choreographed and danced in as many productions as I could fit in between studying. I went to live in NYC for a year and took hundreds of classes and lived and breathed theatre and commercial dance. I always thought I wanted to be a dancer but the desire to have my own creative voice far outweighed my ambition to be on the stage. So I followed a career into choreography and movement direction. Which projects have been your favourite to work on over the course of your career? I have been fortunate to work on some very varied projects and a few that always stick in my mind are: Working as a dancer in India on Bollywood movies with a group of dancers that were bought over from the UK. My family originates in North India and it was wonderful that my career allowed me to see areas of India I hadn’t previously visited. It wasn’t an easy job, there were long hours in sometimes difficult conditions - due to heat and different working regulations, coupled with a language barrier and being a long way from home. I was there for 6 months and learnt a lot about the Indian film industry, choreographing dance for camera (which I knew very little about) and about myself. In complete contrast I recently got to choreograph a new musical, Grandma Saves the Day, at the New Wolsey Theatre Ipswich. It combined two things I love: actor musicianship and 80’s music, it was a joy to work on! How did you get involved with Public Acts? I first heard about Public Acts when Douglas Rintoul, Artistic Director at the Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch, approached me and asked if I would be interested in joining the team for As You Like It. I talked to people who had worked on Pericles last year and saw archive footage of the show and was blown away by the execution of the production and the scale of community involvement. After a conversation with Emily Lim, Public Acts Director for the National Theatre I knew it would be an incredibly exciting and rewarding project to be a part of. What preparation have you undertaken for this project? I have immersed myself in the script and music. Our production of As You Like It is a musical adaptation which has a wonderful score by Shaina Taub. I have spent a long time becoming familiar with its intricacies before starting to think about the choreography that will complement the narrative and highlight the complex characters Shakespeare has written us. Most importantly, I have spent time with all 9 of the community partners, getting to know the participants who form our company. The production is about them more than anything else and so spending time with the community company has been vital prior to starting to create a movement vocabulary for them. Can you tell me more about your vision for As You Like It?  At its heart As You Like It is a celebration of Love and it is this that I hope to carry through the movement vocabulary of the piece. What are you most looking forward to working on As You Like It? Alongside the final production itself, I can’t wait to see the development of our company members throughout the rehearsal process. What have you enjoyed most about working on this community theatre project so far? Getting to know the community participants who are all such wonderful individuals has been incredibly rewarding. Have you worked on such a large-scale production before? Choreographing over 120 people must be quite a challenge! No! I have worked with 60/70 people on youth community projects but this is definitely the largest production I have done and I am thrilled that the National Theatre and the Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch are entrusting it to me. There certainly will be challenges working with a company of over 120 people and the success of the choreography lies in being very prepared and knowing the show inside and out before rehearsals commence. I am also very lucky to have a team of incredible dance captains who have experience working on large scale projects and I will be taking their advice at every turn. Why should people come and see As You Like It? Our production is a wonderful adaptation with an original score of exciting music. It is a great opportunity to see a work of Shakespeare delivered on such a large scale and to support our talented community participants. Have you worked with the Queens Theatre Hornchurch or the National Theatre before? If so, on which productions?  This is my first time working with the National Theatre and I am thrilled to have been asked to be part of the project. I have worked on two shows previously at the Queen’s Theatre, Beauty and the Beast and Jack and the Beanstalk. As You Like It runs from 24 – 27 August at the Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch. For more information about As You Like It, Public Acts and to book tickets click here.

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