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5 minutes with: Kate Prince - 'ZooNation is contemporary dance, but we don't look like Rambert'

The artistic director of ZooNation on returning to her show The Mad Hatter's Tea Party and why it is difficult to define her company

Kate Prince
© Dan Wooller for WhatsOnStage

With The Mad Hatter's Tea Party we've turned what was a small, intimate studio show into a spectacle. The essence of it is the same, but the show was in traverse [at the Linbury Studio at the Royal Opera House] and now it is on a thrust stage at the Roundhouse. We originally played to an audience of 400 and this year it will be 1400. The show is about 70 per cent dance, but there's a script and a band. We've done five new numbers and a lot more story and the narrator is an actual actor onstage, rather than a recorded voice.

I had a huge desire to bring the show back. When it ran over Christmas in 2014, I felt like it was an unfinished piece of work and there was potential to make it a lot better than it was. Since it ran, I've had a daughter and when we get ready in the mornings we go up to the attic and put my computer on and we often play The Mad Hatter's Tea Party. She likes it because she likes the dancing, but every time I've watched it I've thought about what I would like to do with it if I got the chance [to revisit it].

Rehearsals for The Mad Hatter's Tea Party

The show is not actually the Alice in Wonderland story. It has all the characters from it – the Cheshire Cat, Alice, the March Hare, Tweedledee and Tweedledum, but it's actually about the taboos of mental health. It's about who those characters might be if they existed in modern society. We put them in a therapy-type situation to see what a therapist might do with them. It's about what is and isn't considered ‘normal' and what the word normal means.

When I founded ZooNation 14 years ago, I was working in the musical theatre world but I wasn't really enjoying it. I had choreographed a major musical in the West End but I felt that the musicals I enjoyed were few and far between. I was doing music videos and things like Top of the Pops and I started wondering if I couldn't combine the two things. Our shows often have a full narrative and they feel like a musical, but it's just not a traditional musical.

There's no such thing as Hip Hop dance. Hip Hop is a culture and within that culture there are four strands: DJing, MCing, graffiti and B-boying. Within our show there is some B-boying but there's also waacking, popping, locking, contemporary dance, lindy hop - there's all sorts of different dance styles. It's difficult to define the company, because you end up being pigeon-holed. We are a dance company, but the writing and creating of the music is just as important. You'd probably call it a contemporary dance company, but we don't look anything like Rambert.

The Mad Hatter's Tea Party runs at the Roundhouse from 30 December to 22 January.

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