Alexander Whitley and Lioness: the artists behind London Sketchbook

London Sketchbook combines grime music and ballet. Learn more about the innovative event taking place later this month...

Alexander Whitley and Lioness: the artists behind London Sketchbook

Hello! Could you first introduce yourself to the reader?

AW: I am Alexander Whitley. I trained at the Royal Ballet School and am now a choreographer and artistic director of Alexander Whitley Dance Company.

L: My name is Lioness and I’m A Grime Artist from South London. 

Describe “London Sketchbook” in 3 words. 

AW: Unique, boundary-breaking & gutsy! 

L: Super Sick Synergy! 

What is the premise of “London Sketchbook” and what inspired this work?

AW: The aim is to bring together two seemingly contrasting and, some may think, opposing art forms to create something completely new and powerful. I’m inspired by how passionately and articulately grime artists are reflecting the world around them, which is something I always strive to do in my work. I can’t wait to see what happens when Lioness and I get into the studio together.

L: London Sketchbook was inspired by a night out at a Grime Show followed by a morning meeting at the Royal Opera House. CEO Pete Bowker of Glug, who coined the idea, thought it would be amazing to merge the two worlds together and a year down the line - we’re here. 

You have chosen to combine grime music with ballet. Tell us more about the juxtaposition of art forms and why you made this decision. 

AW: I have always taken an interdisciplinary approach to my work and love how dance brings me into contact with so many other artists and art forms, like the mighty Lioness! Understandably people tend to connect ballet with classical music, but I have always been drawn towards the more experimental and innovative and get a real thrill from reaching out into new unexpected territories. 

I have also been lucky enough to work with an incredibly diverse range of musicians and composers such as Thomas Adès, Beatrice Dillon, Daniel Wohl and long-time collaborator Rival Consoles. 

L: Grime Ballet sounds like an oxymoron and I love anything that challenges what is seen to be ‘the norm’. Dance is a form of expression so there doesn’t have to be constraints on the music it is expressed to. Ballet and contemporary dance have their own stereotypes as does grime music. 

Hopefully, the fusion of the two will show that the perceived differences are really not so different at all. 

5. Why do you believe it’s important to unite urban grime with classical dance?

AW: I believe it’s important to bring both art forms to new audiences and celebrate creativity! Classical dance and urban grime traditionally attract a very different kind of crowd. I trained in ballet but ventured into contemporary dance during my performing career, experiencing lots of different styles of movement and learning about how dance can be integrated with other art forms. 

I think London Sketchbook will show how two forms of creativity that most people would consider worlds apart actually have a lot in common. By putting them together you reveal things that you might not have appreciated about them before. 

My productions are mostly shown in theatres, so this is also is a fantastic opportunity for me to present my work in a totally different context and I hope the performance will help to dispel prejudices or preconceived notions of what dance, grime music and the communities associated with them might be. 

L: I really respect any art form that is reflective of reality. It is our reality that London’s population comprises an array of cultures. I can’t think of a better way to represent our city to the world than to merge these two art forms together. I’m really excited to be working with the amazing Alexander Whitley who quite frequently experiments with different genres of music to display his choreography. 

94e65d745a189290e459466b3f1750a807790fc1.jpegWhat impact do you hope “London Sketchbook” will have on the audience?

AW: I hope it will keep them riveted but give them a truly fresh and unique experience. It’s a relatively short piece at only ten minutes long so I think it’s going to be a blast of energy and ideas, which will hopefully leave the audience wanting more. 

L: Long term, I hope it shows young and old that we do not need to be confined to one thing or another. Stereotypes are there to be broken. Short term, I just hope everyone has a wicked time experiencing something new! 

Lioness, tell us more about Overdraft.

The project is about me being in what I like to call my life’s overdraft. The good things that happen to me are credits into my account, the bad things are debits. In the 6 years I had  away from music, I did a lot of living and it’s an explanation to my supporters as to why I was away for so long. It is a very open story broken down into individual tracks and I can’t wait to share it. 

Alexander, tell us more about Strange Stranger.

Strange Stranger explores the notion of the 'data shadow’, the digital profile we develop through our routine interactions with technology. A performance by four dancers is set inside an interactive light installation equipped with motion sensors that track and respond to the movements of the dancers. 

After the performance we invite the public to explore how their movement causes changes and leaves traces within the installation. 

Have any particular artists inspired or influenced your artistic work?

AW: Pioneering choreographers like Merce Cunningham and William Forsythe have been big inspirations in terms of the techniques and approaches to staging dance they’ve developed. I worked closely with Wayne McGregor who obviously influenced as well as supported my development as a choreographer. 

I also get a lot of inspiration from other places. Musicians like Thom Yorke and Bjork who seem to always be challenging the limits of their art forms and inviting in collaborators from all directions have influenced the kind of work I aspire to make.    

L: I have always loved and respected Eminem’s storytelling ability. It has made me want to ensure that when I do the same, I am bringing the listener right into the situation with me.   

Did you face any major challenges during the project?

AW: We haven’t created London Sketchbook yet so I can only really speak about my experience of making Strange Stranger, which definitely had challenges. Working with technology always throws up issues as things never quite work as you expect them to, which slows the process down. The space in which the performers move is a lot more constrained than would normally be the case, but constraints are often useful in making you think more creatively! 

L: Not yet and I don’t think there will be any to be honest. I am just keen to get in the studio with Alex and the dancers and really bring the performance to life. 

Do you have any advice for young people interested in doing your kind of job?

AW: Take every opportunity you have to make something and don’t get too attached to the outcome of what you make. Practising as a choreographer isn’t easy as it tends to require a lot of resources just to get started, so there’s often a lot of pressure on the few opportunities you’re given. I always try and think about each piece I make as part of an ongoing process rather than a singular event.  

L: Always create how you see fit. Don’t box yourself in for you will be scoring an own goal! 

How can people find out more?

To find out more about London Sketchbook and book tickets go to the Glug website  

For more information about Alexander Whitley's work visit his own website.  

You can find out more about Lioness on her Instagram account


Sienna James

Sienna James Voice Team

Formerly Assistant Editor, Sienna now studies History of Art at the University of Cambridge and loves to write about the intersection of politics, history and visual art. Sienna is author of the Creative Education and Instaviews series.

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