Swiss performance wear brand On have their finger on the creative pulse. To celebrate the brand’s unique approach to artistry and athleticism, we rallied together four rising superstars from four different disciplines who are all driving towards success. Leading the charge is London musician Nilüfer Yanya, whose artistic upbringing has given her a distinct approach to storytelling.
Enlisting the expertise of photographer Danika Magdelena, dynamic filmmaker Will Dohrn and movement director Yagamoto, the crew went on location in West London to capture a day in Yanya’s shoes.
For Yagamoto, the last 18 months have been progressive. “You know, in the midst of all the chaos I’ve managed to keep a cool head,” he says, smoothly. In no time at all, the London-based movement director, model and actor has gone from pulling pints at his local in Hackney to devising choreography for music videos, editorials and starring in fashion films for some of the biggest brands in the game.
Building a reputation both behind and in front of the lens, Yaga – born Abdourahman Njie – is on set for the second day of filming with director Will Dohrn and singer-songwriter talent Nilüfer Yanya. Helping the musician get in the creative zone, there’s more to life as a movement director than you might expect.
“Yesterday I was having to talk to the talent, getting her in the frame of mind to walk with conviction,” he says. “That’s more to do with psychology, breathing and trying to gain their trust. My preparation is very spiritual.” Working together on small nuances helps to create the energy and magic seen on screen, and it’s why the 26-year-old is so in demand.
Each Yagamoto production has its own unique stamp. Bold, diverse and confident. Though the movement world is still infinitely small, there is a growing pool of directors and dancers out there making their mark. “I realised I can really monopolise this because it’s super niche. And I didn’t know how much people needed it,” he says. But Yaga doesn’t look to anyone for inspiration. “I only look to myself.”
Admittedly not keen on following rigorous choreography, he thrives on working under pressure and improvising in the moment. “If it has to be disciplined and structured, then I’ll do a moodboard with all these different references and a storyboard with picture references for each act, but only if it’s imperative,” he adds.
Shooting to success on the set of Belgian rap artist Lous and the Yakuza’s debut video Dilemme at the end of 2019, Yaga’s high-powered moves have since caught the eyes of millions. “When it came out everyone was just so plugged into it,” he says. “It was just something really fresh. And I felt really lucky to be a part of that success.” That video helped validate his choreography career. “At first, when I started to get invited to shoots, I was like ‘OK, yeah, yeah, yeah.’ Initially, I didn’t really take that title seriously.”
But it doesn’t take a genius to see how passionate Yagamoto is about his craft. Even when he’s off the clock, he will often recharge his creativity on the dance floor. “I’ll be in my friend’s kitchen spinning around for five hours,” he says. “And it’s such a norm for my friends to see me doing that. If I’m not dancing, they’re like, ‘You alright, mate?’”
Everything he has pursued creatively until this point has led to his exciting and unpredictable career. Attending college in Southend, Essex, he studied acting, improvisation and physical theatre. Using his experience as a foundation and with his naturally statuesque good looks, it wasn’t long before the renaissance man was scouted for modelling work.
“When I was in front of a camera, it took a while for me to understand my body chemistry and the best ways for me to present myself,” he says. “But as soon as I brought a bit more personality into my poses, people took a lot of interest.” Quickly hired for cameos and videos, then to share his knowledge with musicians and creatives, Yaga began to feel at home. “I think through modelling for three years and knowing how it feels to be in front of the camera or behind the camera, it just made complete sense to help guide people into conveying different emotions, showing them different techniques and ways of getting into character.”
It’s Yagamoto’s background and Gambian-Senegalese heritage that remains the driver of his success and determination. “Growing up in a lower working-class family, with six sisters and one brother, we all had a hand-to-mouth situation in my household,” he says. “I don’t come from anything I can fall back on, so I’m just surviving by myself. You either survive or you don’t.”
Moving to the Gambia for a year at the age of 16 and seeing people living in real poverty gave him further perspective and newfound motivation. Now the only way is up. “That year transformed me,” he continues. “I look at both scenarios and both living situations and I’ve been able to accustom myself. I know what I’m capable of and where I should be. It just takes a certain degree of self-belief.”
Watch the Nilüfer Yanya film and read an on-set interview with director Will Dohrn here
Associate Creative Director – Daniel Harris
Head of Production – Rosanna Gouldman
Producer – Natalie Steiner
Project Manager – Rachael Bigelow
Cutdown Editor – Millie Gray
Interviewer – India van Spall
BTS Photographer – Sulay Kelly
Stylist – Gary David Moore
Styling assistant – Leonor Carvalho
Makeup & Hair – Jessica Summer
Photographer – Danika Magdelena
Director – Will Dohrn
Executive Producer – Aaron Z. Wilson
Producer – James Lowrey
Cinematographer – Jack Exton
Steadicam Operator – Beau Pritchard-James
Movement Director – Yagamoto
Gaffer – Tobias Imay
Production Designer – Dora Miller
1st AD – Jack Green
Edit – Will Dohrn
Grade – Connor Coolbear at ETC