The choreographer making techno” ballet

Joshua Junker started breakdancing so he could do cool tricks with his pals. Now, he’s breathing fresh life into ballet at the Royal Opera House (cool tricks included).

You could say that Joshua Junker was tricked into starting ballet classes. As a kid growing up in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, he fancied himself as a breakdancer, choreographing routines with friends that revolved more around cool tricks” than they did precise turns and pointed feet.

I didn’t consciously discover choreography,” says the dancer. It was just fun, doing tricks and dancing to funky music.”

Things got a little bit more serious when he joined amateur dance crew Boys Action at eight years old. The teacher wanted to try and get boys into dancing through breakdancing and hip-hop elements,” Joshua says. After a few years, he told a couple of students to come [to extra classes] on Saturdays. We would do ballet training and he would say, It will help your breakdancing!’ That was a sneaky but interesting way of doing it.” Before long, he began formal training at the Royal Conservatoire The Hague in the Netherlands, eventually joining the Royal Ballet School at 16.

Fast forward nine years, and the 25-year-old is a first artist (meaning he can be chosen for featured roles and solos) at the Royal Ballet, regularly performing in classical ballets such as Swan Lake and The Nutcracker. But Joshua’s new show at the Royal Opera House in London is a little different – in fact, he doesn’t appear on stage at all. Last night, he made his main stage debut as a choreographer, premiering new work Never Known as part of the historic venue’s Festival of New Choreography. Set to All Melody, a piece of folky electronica by Nils Frahm and Vikingur Ólafsson, it’s a genre-merging approach to contemporary dance whose main focus is world building.

I’d been listening to All Melody for a while. It’s this mellow techno track with a bit of a warm, human touch to it, and that’s something that I haven’t heard before,” Joshua says. I kind of took that contrast between technology and human touch as a concept, and thought about how we as a civilisation are entering this new era with constant technological innovations that impact the way we live and relate to each other.”

That fundamental contrast between technology and humanity comes through in the choreography, influenced by Joshua’s background in both ballet and breakdance. In technical terms, the piece is a mix between contemporary dance and hip-hop elements, with a base of classical technique,” he says. There’s a mix between fluid and more natural, coordinated movements against sharp and unexpected movements.” One moment, the dancers are moving in unison, like cogs in a machine; the next, they’re sweeping and swirling across the stage, as if being blown by a gust of wind.

Never Known is one of four new pieces being premiered during the Royal Opera House’s New Works show over the next week. Audiences will get to watch each piece in one night, with Joshua’s choreography performed alongside works by fellow choreographers Gemma Bond, Jessica Lang and Mthuthuzeli November. It’s one of many events that are taking place during the Festival of New Choreography, a series that gives new talent a chance to show off their innovative choreo chops.

Hence the involvement of Joshua, who by industry standards has shown a flair for choreography at a relatively young age. Dancers typically are a little older before they try their hand at choreographing full pieces, focusing instead on their dancing careers. I didn’t want to take it seriously for a long time, because I just found it fun,” he says. At the Royal Ballet School, I did a choreography competition, and here at the Royal Ballet we have Draft Works, where they give dancers the opportunity to create for colleagues, but it’s kind of like a side thing.”

After taking part in Draft Works every year since he officially joined The Royal Ballet in 2017, other companies eventually got wind of Joshua’s budding talent and began hitting him up for collaborations. The director of Dutch National Ballet saw me there and said, Maybe you can work with us sometime.’ Then it suddenly became this more serious thing.”

But Joshua doesn’t want to lose his childlike” approach to choreography as his star rises. Neither does he want to lose focus from his main passion: performing. I’m definitely keeping dancing as a priority, but also want to keep building my choreographic skills,” he says. As a performer, you’re mainly performing other people’s pieces, which can be really fun, but I enjoy creating my own world.”

And ultimately, that’s what Joshua wants audiences to get from Never Known: to be transported to another place for an evening, absorbed in the music and movement, as they enter his world through dance. And whatever that world is,” he says, is up to the viewer.”

The Festival of New Choreography runs until 25th February and New Works is showing at the Royal Opera House until the 21st. Bag yourself a ticket here.

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