Dancer swaps London for ARC to premiere his first full length production

A Middlesbrough-born choreographer and dancer has moved from the dizzy heights of London back to Teesside to showcase his first full length theatre-dance production here at ARC, and wants to share his knowledge and experience with other dancers in Teesside.

Nathan Johnston, 26, grew up in Grove Hill and had big dreams of becoming a dancer as a youngster. After attending Middlesbrough College and Janice Wilson’s School of dance, he headed to the big smoke to train at London Contemporary Dance School.

But the former Hall Garth student soon realised he needed to learn a lot more about the dance style to be taken seriously as a contemporary dancer.

He said: “I remember first moving to London and really not knowing that much about contemporary dance and feeling very left out and sometimes stupid for not knowing certain things or people within the industry. Since that time I have always had the aim of coming back to my hometown to share the knowledge I have gained and really push contemporary dance within the area.”

Since graduating from dance school and after years of London life as a dancer, teacher and choreographer, Nathan is now premiering his first full length show, Sleight Of Hands, in the theatre on Wednesday 4 May. 

The show is heavily influenced by Nathan’s love for the cinema and the intensity you feel when you are gripped by a fast moving action thriller.

The production mixes illusion, film and magic with contemporary dance and a gripping plot, which enters into a dark world of conmen and tricksters, and is filled with intrigue, suspense and high energy dance and movement.

Nathan said: “Sleight of Hands started as an idea because of my love for cinema. I feel that no matter your age, gender, or education, most people love going to the cinema and experiencing that excitement you get from a great film. I really wanted to create something that echoed that feeling, in a sense to create a real-life film in the form of cinematic dance-theatre work. To inspire the plot of the work I worked alongside director Josh Baker-Mendoza to pin down some films that really entertained and captivated us, we ended up with something that resembles a cross between Sin City and Now You See Me. I also worked with a magician to add the element of magic and sleight of hand into the work. It has noir style voice-overs and a dark plot twist, and some magic – it’s our very own Dance Thriller! 

“We started this journey with a funded research and development period provided by SQx Danza (London) in Canada 2014. We then received Arts Council funding last year to further R&D the show in Middlesbrough, whereby we performed a 35min version in both Middlesbrough and London. We have now received further Arts Council funding with support from ARC to create a full-length show, which we pitched to venues around the North-East.”

As a teenager, Nathan attended dance classes at ARC, and he spoke about his excitement at returning here as an adult with his very own piece of work for audiences to enjoy: “It was such an honour to have ARC support this work in the way that they have. I have performed at the venue as a teenager and to come back with my own show and put it on such an amazing stage is something I didn’t think would happen. Teesside is my home and I want contemporary dance to be able to flourish within the area and to show that everyone can enjoy it, not just those with prior dance experience.”

Speaking about what happens next ,Nathan said: “I really want to continue to work around the area and push my ideas of what contemporary dance can be, and to provide opportunities for young people to develop in this field where possible. We will be hoping to tour Sleight of Hands again next year for a longer period covering a wider area of North England.”

Sleight of Hands starts at 7pm on Wednesday 4 May and will be priced as Pay What You Decide.