Nafisah Baba – interview

Message In A Bottle, Sadler’s Wells
Interview by: Lolade D Ajala
Published: Wednesday, 8th January 2020, 5:35am

Sadler’s Wells and Universal Music have collaborated to bring new Sting inspired production, Message In A Bottle, to the Peacock Theatre next month.  

Afridiziak caught up with Nafisah Baba in a telephone interview to share her journey in the rehearsals, as well as what to expect in this much anticipated production. 

Lolade Ajala: Can you give Afridiziak readers some background of your journey as a dancer?

Nafisah Baba: I started off dancing at a local dance school when I was about 3 or 4. Then I joined West London School of Dance when I was 9 or 10. While I was there, dance became more of a passion. From there I trained at Tring Park School. [dancing at the same time] I was an associate with Ballet Black on the weekends. Once I graduated, I decided to delve more into the contemporary world, and I joined a postgraduate [dance] company. If I’m honest, that phase was instrumental to my career. During that time I won BBC Young Dancer and went on to work with Phoenix Dance Theatre. And I’ve been dancing [professionally] since.

LA: Wow, you’ve never stopped dancing!

NB: No, never stopped, no… Only when I sleep!

LA: How long have you been involved with ZooNation?

NB: I have been a part of the last two rehearsal periods. We started workshopping for Message In A Bottle two years ago, brainstorming ideas and a few of the numbers. The following year it became “Okay, this could possibly be happening”, but we weren’t sure. Then when Sting came in to watch and gave [it] the green light and thumbs up, it was like “Ok, cool, this is happening now!”

LA: How exciting and great to be a part of something from the beginning to its maturity

NB: Definitely. This is my third year of being involved with ZooNation and it sounds so crazy to say. It’s come around so quickly. We’ve always joked “we’ll see you next year”, and now it’s come and its wow, it’s finally happening. And to see the similarities and differences in how the story has changed from the beginning… it’s definitely helped being in that process. I feel like I am my character, if that makes sense.

LA: Yes… Sounds like you’re enjoying your journey

NB: Absolutely I couldn’t ask for more from her [Kate Prince]. The show features dancers from the ZooNation Dance Company, so some people have worked with Kate for a lot longer than I have. It’s amazing to work with her and the people she brings into the room as well, so I feel quite blessed and lucky.

There are references and themes about the Refugee Crisis, about love, about heartbreak, and death and everything in between. The important thing is that it remains uplifting. It’s very raw and there’s no sugar coating.

LA: What is Message in a Bottle about?

NB:  It’s about a village that’s filled with celebration, love, warmth and everything they know. Then suddenly that village is under siege and under attack and… I don’t want to give too much away. I guess survival instinct kicks in and… Well I can say this; three siblings are thrown into a completely different world, into new adventures. So, there are references and themes about the Refugee Crisis, about love, about heartbreak, and death and everything in between. The important thing is that it remains uplifting. It’s very raw and there’s no sugar coating. You can’t help but feel, even if you come with not many expectations for example, or thinking it’s not gonna move me… I think it will move many people.

LA: You’ve kind of answered my next question- What are you learning about yourself through the rehearsal process?

NB: I think the main one is learning a lot from having the different styles around me. It’s completely inspiring to be honest.  I have a lot of appreciation and admiration for all the styles of Hip-Hop and Contemporary [dance]. So, to be in a room with it and to have this sort of atmosphere where it’s not competitive like “Oh look at what I can do!”, [but instead] “It’s cool that you can do that; teach me. How can I do it?”. And the support from everybody in the room is just magic.

I’ve never felt less than who I am because of the people in the room, and I think that’s so important [in] this process so I’m learning about all of that and all this appreciation. It’s never a dull day… And also [learning] to be kind and patient with myself and to focus on how I am processing things because this isn’t necessarily my style. I am contemporary and classically trained, so I’m learning a lot about how to process movements.  Also [learning] to push at the same time and to find that balance which is quite difficult.

Nafisah Baba Message In A Bottle  (c) Helen Maybanks
Nafisah Baba Message In A Bottle (c) Helen Maybanks

LA: Is there a defining moment or event in your career that is important to you?

NB: The first biggest one was the winning BBC Young Dancer in 2017. I think it’s only just settled in, that it happened, but it’s taken me a long time to process it. Kate was actually a judge in the final and that’s how we got into contact. Since then whenever I work with her it has been a defining moment. Every time I work with her it redefines the competition and what’s happened because I have to look around and think “Wow I’m here because of that competition”.  And everything that’s happened has come from that [competition] and that’s definitely the biggest one. Everything else has become a secondary definitive moment.

LA: Who needs to see the show, and why?

NB: My answer to that would be “anyone who wants to feel”. I know it sounds very cheesy, but I’ve never been in a production where you’re almost two weeks in and already I can feel the emotion of the character as if it’s happening to myself. It’s mostly due to the workshops we’ve been doing and the depth of the conversation, but also because we’ve watched a lot of videos to research beforehand, so we all came to rehearsal having watched, for example, The White Helmet Story about the heroic gentlemen and ladies in Syria.

So already we’ve come with some context. Nothing’s been sugarcoated, there is no need to sugar coat it, and I think because of that it’s able to cause an impact for the people watching and the people in it as well. It’s just a true honest journey. And of course, if you enjoy dance, then come along.  But if you want to see a mixture of styles, want to be moved… And also, to feel uplifted.

NEED TO KNOW: Catch Nafisah Baba in Message In A Bottle from 6 Feb – 21 Mar 2020 | See listing | BOOK TICKETS