Season 2 Episode 3 Zino Ainsley
Zino: Think about that?
Evy: I can…
Webster: All right.
Evy: I'm gonna have again like, welcome, to where?
Webster: Wow. There's no wine this time, so I think we're okay.
Evy: I didn't have wine last time.
Evy: You had wine, though.
Webster: Towards the end, I did.
Zino: Oh, there was a party last time.
Webster: Well, we're trying to record a podcast and there was wine involved. It just took a while to get things going
Evy: No, but I was just like…I forgot what I have to say.
Evy: Hello, and welcome to "Word Up Podcast." I'm Evy.
Webster: And I'm Webster.
Evy: And today, we're here with the underground artist of Amsterdam, Zino. Hi.
Zino: Hi there. Thank you for having me.
Evy: How are you today?
Zino: I'm feeling good today. I have a, finally, a day off after a long production period.
Evy: Yeah. You had a quite a run with your documentary and a lot of shows. Right?
Zino: Yeah. Basically, I'm an underground artist in Amsterdam, started as a dancer, and now I'm running this theater collective. It's called, "Fractal Dance Collective." We are Amsterdam-based inter-disciplinary movement, so what we do is we compose music for theater. We make videography, documentaries, and theater experiences.
Webster: That's quite a mixed bag of creative elements.
Zino: Exactly. Yes.
Webster: How does that come together?
Zino: Well, that actually goes way back. Like, when I was a kid, I started as a guitarist. That was my number one passion, and before I knew, I was a music teacher. I found out I didn't like that so much as just practicing or performing for somebody. So I decided to stop my career as a music teacher and went into dancing. I kept evolving and find other friends. Yeah. Basically, we danced on the street, and we put all those disciplines together. Before we know, we were an entrepreneurship on the street that evolved into the professional world, actually.
Evy: How big is your collective?
Zino: We are with four people. A nonprofit organization. Yeah.
Evy: Yeah. Okay.
Webster: Nice. What was the move to the streets then as opposed to, I don't know…a lot of people like dancing competitions and you know, they do the stage stuff and theater as you mentioned. Why the streets? What drew you to that?
Zino: Well, in particular, I think it was a crew, an Amsterdam-based crew that took me to the street. I was so fascinating about the lifestyle to have that freedom and space to keep developing and make your money on the street. But at the same time, I didn't realize it was entrepreneurship because what we were doing there is creating a product and selling it to the people. The people might like it. They might not like it, so it's all up to you. If you have a good marketing strategy on the street and the people like it, they pay. And, before we know, yeah, it became more serious. And of course, the urban dance culture is a very street-based culture, it comes from the U.S.A. It started on the street. In Europe, it's much different. People go to studios. They go to competitions. You see the difference in styles as well. The street style is much more based on control because you don't mix lights on concrete or spins on concrete. You don't do that. You don't wanna get your head burst open on the concrete.
Webster: Yeah, it's dangerous, right?
Webster: What sort of styles are you guys working with when you're performing on the streets?
Zino: Mainly breakdance, but when we got involved in theater, we realized that breaking is for us. It's our fundament. It's our power; it's our core. In theater, there are much more different styles that really can tell a story. Breakdance is more about complexities and how far you can push the limit, the physical limits. So we try to experiment, create our own style, and research the different styles like contemporary or modern dance and make that bridge, which is very rare. Because, breaking is really like masculine. Modern Dance can be really soft and feminine. So this is for us really our goal like, "Okay, we want to make a really nice contrast there on stage to show the soft side, the human side and then at the same time also that animalistic explosive side."
Evy: Your documentary is called "From the Streets to the Seats?"
Zino: Yes. Yes.
Webster: The trailer looks, dope as F. It looks so good.
Zino: Thank you. Thank you. I have to give a shout out to my man, Constantin. He's also a dancer in our collective but also the videographer, and he's working, he's been working on this documentary with a documentary maker from Swiss. His name is Flow. He works with a lot of German rap artists, and their skills together, it's next level, so I'm really blessed to work with those souls. Yeah.
Evy: What inspired you to actually make the documentary itself?
Zino: Well, all the work that we do, that we research, comes from a personal experience. We try to emphasize that so other people can identify themselves within those stories. I think, for now, this is our main focus.
Webster: I like it a lot. I wanted to know about the story of the documentary. It seems super gritty. Me, coming from London, like, I know the grit, you know, you see it in London, it's very obvious to me. But when you're in Amsterdam, it's hard for me to like to see it. It's like this pretty cute town with canals and, you know, people riding on bicycles and stuff. Tell us a little bit about the underground scene here in the Netherlands or Amsterdam in particular?
Zino: Yeah. Well, what I can tell about the underground scene is that it's very small. There's a big commercial scene because, for example, names like Red Bull, they are involved in the community, a worldwide community. I think everywhere in the world where is a big city like London or New York, there are hitters. And hitters, that's basically what our piece is called, that's about dancers that wants to make a living that decide not to be in that commercial community, but choose to develop within the raw, the raw underground circle. So everywhere, where are tourists, there are hitters.
Webster: Right, right. Make sense. I like it. It must be interesting actually developing your work. I don't know, maybe tell me if I'm wrong, but you're developing your work with the audience in front of you. Did you ever get any points where you were like, "Man, this isn't working. These guys aren't feeling our vibe." What's that process of developing your style, like, live in front of people?
Zino: Well, are you talking about an audience on the street or an audience in a theater? Because that's completely different.
Webster: I meant on the streets.
Zino: On the street. Yeah.
Zino: So you can imagine that if you dance, and you do it really good and you have a good energy, people might like it. People might drop a coin, but it goes deeper than that. I think it's more about how can you build a good show where it's, for example, comedy involves, you make the people smile, and it becomes more interactive. For example, we take a hostage from the audience. We put them in the middle so the people around won't leave. You make the attention like from the beginning till the end.
Webster: That's pretty cool.
Evy: And scary.
Webster: Scary. Yeah.
Zino: Yeah, yeah. And as final, then somebody flips over the hostage. Compared to theater, it's different. Like, you do a good marketing, people buy a ticket, and if you make a bad show, people will stay there till the end because they paid for it. If you do that on the street, you make a bad show, people walk away, and you end up without groceries.
Webster: Yeah. That's interesting because, in theater, I guess you sell them before you arrive. They must know your name or seen the poster or whatever it is. What sort of marketing materials do you guys create around that for theater? Because it's, you know, you don't expect to see sort of urban performance in theaters. I don't, anyway. I don't know, think about it.
Zino: Yeah, well, I can tell a little bit about it, because it's not my side. Everything we do in daily life is dedicated towards dancing. So every step that we make, and every move that we do, we document it, and we make a nice marketing side out of it, videography or using people from our network. Yeah.
Evy: How was the transition from the streets to the theater?
Zino: I came with this idea, actually, six years ago. We were performing on the street also in the winter. Every time we perform, you put this mask on, so the people will like it. You become this entertainer, but the human side is not present anymore. It's really about you becoming a product. This was for me interesting enough to research like, "Oh, how can we put that contrast from the performing side towards the human side in theater?" Because that's, in my opinion, what theater is about. Showing the human side and the vulnerability of the human and all the facets of it.
Evy: How was it to dance for Obama?
Webster: I wanted to ask about this.
Zino: We saw that. Well, we did not have the chance to see him sitting or whatsoever. But, guys, how much people were there in the audience? Like 5,000 people?
Webster: So you don't really know what's going on, you do the show, and when he claps, loves it. We hope he loves it.
Zino: It's like this rock star movie, you know, like, you see this rock star, and before he comes on stage, everything slows down, goes in slow motion. It's really like that. It's like, "Okay, I have to go on stage now," and then you run on stage, and you see this huge crowd. Then you get this moment of realization, "Okay, now what's gonna happen?" You have to switch on to dance.
Evy: Do you feel like your mindset doesn't change if you perform to, I don't know, like in the street for 50 people or 5,000 or 50,000?
Zino: At that moment?
Zino: Yeah, of course, it changes. Yeah. Yeah. It's about the controlling your body is different. For example, I can stand on one arm very easily, but when I do that in front of 5,000 people, it's not that easy anymore. You feel everything.
Evy: The pressure of the people.
Webster: Yeah, I can imagine.
Zino: The pressure. Yeah, yeah.
Webster: And the adrenaline, you know. It must be a lot.
Zino: Big time.
Evy: And the lights because it's also like the blinding lights, in a way, I guess.
Zino: Yeah, that's a thing on its own. Yeah.
Evy: And you have that in the theater also, right? Because you don't really see the audience, do you?
Zino: Well, we really appreciate to work with a good light technician, a light designer that knows how the perspective of a dancer on stage, because sometimes we experience that we do a move, and they put the stroboscope light on it. Yeah. The chance is big that you fall.
Evy: Yeah. Wow.
Webster: I wanna know about your team. How did you guys get together? How did you build your relationship? Because I imagine you spend a lot of time working together as well. You know, how does that come about that you trust these people to be your core, core squad?
Zino: Yeah. Also, this comes from the street. Like, my team is the most dedicated persons I know towards the genre I'm diving in and also the most loyal persons. You can imagine, if you are for five year every day on the street and also in the winter, you build a certain connection with each other. You know the ins and outs.
Evy: Yeah. It's your family.
Zino: Yes. Yes. We also thought about if we want to include a new member, he has to prove himself.
Webster: Big time.
Evy: And you're saying, "He has," so you're not open for girls?
Webster: You have to try. Evy, are you volunteering right now?
Zino: Of course, I'm not discriminating. No.
Evy: It's just a question, I mean.
Zino: Yeah. Like, what we do is mostly based on our hands, and on strength and control. So if a girl is capable to do that, then, of course, we are open to collaborate for sure.
Webster: That's quite interesting. I'd never thought about that. But do guys and girls in the same genre of performance dance differently because of the different physicality of your bodies? Is that something you realize?
Webster: Okay. Okay. So absolutely. Right?
Zino: Yeah. But I have to say, I get inspired by many, many girls in the modern dance scene or contemporary dance scene because they trust more their feelings. And guys are I think a bit more rational in a way of moving. Yeah. It's more, more structured. If we want to do something, it's like, "Okay, we do this 10,000 times, and then it is there." The approach of a female dancer would come more internal. Yeah.
Webster: Interesting. I heard about mixed martial artists who do ballet to get better at movement. So they do ballet so that they can, you know, bend a little better, or they're just a bit more fluid with their movements as opposed to being like, super rigid. Do you guys do anything that's a little bit, you know, out of the ordinary to like, get into the rhythm? Anything at all?
Zino: Yeah. We stretch a lot. That's for sure.
Webster: That's good.
Zino: And then we have, Robert, my companion, he's doing kickboxing. I think I can also see that in his style of dancing that he's, he has a very strong core.
Zino: I wish I also did some kickboxing, but unfortunately, I did not. I'm not that strong in my core. Therefore, I'm more flexible.
Webster: Right. Pros and cons, I guess.
Evy: Speaking of ballet, I've heard you started working for the National Ballet?
Zino: The National Opera.
Evy: Opera. Yeah.
Zino: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. Recently I did a project with the Cygnus Gymnasium in Amsterdam. It's a school, and they made an opera, and the director of the National Opera was there. He liked the collaboration, so he asked me for a main production.
Zino: It is gonna start in January and premiere in March. It's called "Ritratto."
Evy: Okay. That's so exciting.
Webster: That's exciting, man.
Zino: Pretty much. Yeah, yeah. You can imagine that when I started dancing, I was practicing in front of the opera on the street, on the concrete, and now it's my time to step in and become a choreographer there.
Evy: How does it feel?
Zino: Weird. Strange, weird, but I'm also very excited about it to be in a team of such professionals from a different discipline. Yeah. I'm just really excited about it.
Evy: All right.
Webster: What would you say to young and up-and-coming, I guess, students of performance who wanna get into the underground scene? Is that for everybody? What are the pros and cons? What's your journey been so far if you had to look back and tell someone, you know?
Zino: I think it's also related to my generation that when I started, there were not so many opportunities as it has developed now. Like I mentioned before, you have big competitions like Red Bull and Monster, whatever. You can make a decent living if you really go for it. It just needs the right guidance, and therefore, I also see the styles become pretty much similar. When I started, it was different. Everybody developed his own style. It was not in that focus as specific as a gymnastic training, for example, or a gymnastic mentality, like we have to do that 10,000 times. You create your own style, and you want to be unique. You want to be original.
Webster: Right. I imagine the sort of media and YouTube thing kind of plays into that, you know. A lot of people starting out now watch YouTube before they like talk to someone or like go to dance school. Do you think that's influencing how people are dancing as well or starting out in terms of style?
Zino: Yeah, yeah, yeah, of course. Back then, it was more a social thing also, like you want to come up for, represent your city, for example, and then you come there you learn to know people. Now it's not anymore about that. It's you see, "Okay, this is the trophy we can win, and this is the money. We're gonna aim for that, you know. We want to have that endorsement." And it's different. Yeah. But I don't wanna talk bad about it. I'm not talking bad about that.
Webster: No. It's just different times, I guess.
Zino: Different times.
Webster: Yeah. Yeah.
Evy: Usually, we have on our podcast mostly poets or writers, and I'm looking at dancers also as storytelling with your body. How would you define like, what stories are you trying to tell through your dance?
Zino: Oh. What stories I try to tell.
Evy: Because you mentioned like you want to express also the human experience and vulnerability, authenticity. But like, is there a specific story or do you just create?
Zino: There's this one thing and there's that obsession of becoming better every time, you know. You try to do new stuff you never did before. You want to create new stuff that nobody did before, but of course everybody did it already. There are more than a billion people on this planet. Yeah. What I try to tell is basically to be myself, and this is very difficult. If you start from a fundament, you have a vocabulary of moves and ways to move within that. I think in the first 10 years, it's about knowing that vocabulary, and after that is about letting it go and to see how you can flow from one to another to there, to there and to let go of that fundament.
Evy: Is there some things that you're still like, things that you haven't reached yet that you're still striving for?
Zino: Yeah, yeah, yeah, many things actually. Yeah.
Evy: Such as? Just an example if we will get it.
Zino: Well, there is this move. It's called "F leg." My companions are like masters in this move, and I really suck at it. Yeah.
Evy: What does it take to get there? Like, the practice or the perseverance? I don't know.
Zino: I don't know. I practice it every day, but I just won't get it. I think it's related to talents, maybe? No, no. But of course, I think the physical aspect of the human body. Just like I mentioned, I feel I'm very flexible. That's a big benefit; in some cases, it's not.
Zino: Yeah. But also, in my development, I also see that I'm getting more interested in different styles. Like, ballet, like, how is it possible that they have a posture like that?
Evy: And then they fly at some point.
Zino: Yes. They look so feather-light. Yeah. And when they look at us, they think the same.
Evy: But it's also very rough.
Evy: Yeah. Well, everything that like the physically. You have also a lot of pain, I assume.
Zino: Yeah.Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Evy: Because it looks easy, but it's definitely not.
Zino: No, no. But like I mentioned, like, it's also an obsession too. You really want to do this. It's a life dedication till now, and I hope it's gonna continue for a long time. But, yeah. Three years ago, I got this accident within dancing, and I had to go for a surgery, for example. So now my leg is full of titanium.
Zino: Yeah. You sign up for it. At that moment, you also realize, "Oh, so I cannot do this and this and this anymore. Do I want to continue dancing? Yes or no," But it's a feeling, you know. You cannot stop, and you want to be original, as well, so you create new ways to dance around it and flow around it, and it becomes your plus.
Evy: Yeah. You turn your struggles into the presence.
Zino: Yeah, yeah.
Webster: What does your routine look like when you guys get together?
Zino: My routine. It is different. It's always different. If we go into a research period for a theater piece and then we are together. It's not based on the physical condition but more about creating new tools and a new language to tell, to storytell. If I'm free, I like to wake up, stretch, go to the gym, and practice, go home, eat good.
Webster: That's good. Got to keep the body fit, right?
Zino: Yeah, yeah.
Evy: What's your life outside dance? Is there a life outside dance?
Webster: No, he's a professional.
Zino: I'm a composer, so I compose music. I really love that balance that when I push it too much and then maybe I get injured or sore muscles, I go behind my laptop, and I start producing music.
Evy: Cool. Yeah.
Webster: That's gonna be quite a big part of the whole process as well, music and dance because they go, you know, one and one go together, right?
Zino: Yeah, hand-in-hand. Yes.
Webster: Do you have particular rhythms you guys are into? Like, is it something that, you know, you're known for? Do certain groups have certain tastes in music that you prefer? Or is it kind of as and when?
Zino: This is also related to the story you want to tell and the audience you're targeting. Like, if you target an audience for a general audience, let's say like that, it's nice to have a storytelling music that people can live into it, so the dance is on top of that. But if you really want a dance-telling story, then you try to keep the music as open as possible and then create more in soundscapes so that it creates space for dance to tell.
Webster: How involved do you guys when you're doing theater, with, you know, the lighting and the music and the stage design, and all that sort of stuff? Does that all come together, or like who, how? How does that work?
Zino: Well, we work with a light designer essentially, but in a practical way, I learned that, and I'm still learning, we are all still learning that we want to integrate that from the beginning because it's part of the artistic process. You can create so many, many beautiful scenery just by standing at one point and change the lights or the music. Yeah. I think till now we create from dance and human perspective. But my vision is that it needs each other from the beginning of the process already. Yeah.
Evy: And how much like different cultures influence your productions also because you're quite diverse group? As in, like, I don't know. I was thinking now, like, you know, like Sufi dancing is a certain way of like, do you have any influences that you bring from your cultures that...?
Zino: Cultural dance.
Zino: No, actually not. Actually not. But an interesting question because last year we got asked to make a piece about our roots. And I was like, "Oh, nice. I'm gonna make a piece about Indonesian dance and... But wait, I'm also Dutch," and that has quite often a cruel history. So we decided to make a piece with our own dance language that is not cultural-related but to tell the story about our identity, how it was back then and what it brought to us now as human again.
Evy: Yeah. This is gonna be the ongoing thread in the story, everything as human, as human experience.
Evy: Yeah. That's nice.
Webster: What are you excited about?
Zino: What am I excited about?
Webster: Yeah. Any special projects we should know about?
Zino: Well, we've been thinking about a new project we want to make. I cannot tell too much about it, but I'm...
Evy: We won't tell anybody.
Webster: You can tell us.
Zino: No, but I'm really excited about the theme and the vision towards it. I hope everything takes out the way we want to be like "From the Streets to the Seats," that I'm so happy. Yes.
Evy: Cool. It's exciting.
Webster: So for our listeners in Amsterdam, where can they find you on the streets? Do you have certain spots, or you're like a roaming band?
Zino: Well, if the weather is good, and that's occasionally, you can find us on the Rembrandt Square.
Webster: Rembrandt Square. Okay. Cool.
Zino: Yeah. But for now, we are busy in the studio, creating our new projects, which hopefully we'll release in April. Yeah.
Evy: Is it important for you to go back to the streets once in a while?
Zino: It's the essence. Yeah, yeah. It is very important for us to go back there and to feel this, the people on the street that are real.
Evy: Yeah. The grind, the real thing.
Zino: The grind, the real thing, the hustle. Yeah. This is where we came from, and this is also what we don't want to forget.
Evy: And not to become too cocky and...
Zino: Yeah, yeah.
Evy: Never mind Obama. You prefer the square. We'll cut that out, right?
Webster: Keeping it.
Zino: He's like…
Evy: Me dissing Obama.
Webster: I'm pretty sure he's not gonna listen.
Evy: Oh, you never know.
Webster: I don't know. You never know, if he's not busy.
Evy: He's writing books. What else does he have to do? Sure.
Webster: Do you have any more questions?
Evy: Do I?
Webster: Yeah. No, I was asking you.
Evy: Does he have questions?
Webster: Do you have questions?
Evy: Do you have questions? I don't know. Well, I mean, what are your hobbies actually? Because we covered the dance and the music but then...
Zino: Actually, I'm searching for a new hobby.
Evy: Growing things?
Zino: Growing things in Amsterdam? Like what? Plants?
Evy: Tomatoes? I don't know.
Zino: No, that's not my hobby. But who knows, maybe one day if I decide to stop dancing.
Webster: Change of career.
Zino: No, I don't have any other hobbies. I love food. I love traveling, of course. I hope I can find out how I could make more and more brilliant dishes.
Evy: Okay. What's your favorite dish, or cuisine, or...?
Zino: I really love sushi.
Evy: Ah, nice.
Webster: Sushi's good.
Zino: Sushi's good.
Webster: Sushi's good. Healthy too.
Zino: Japanese food. Japanese food in Japan in particular.
Evy: It's not so easy to get some good Japanese food here in Amsterdam...
Webster: I don't know.
Evy: ...in my humble opinion.
Webster: I haven't been to Japan, so.
Evy: Well, after being in Japan.
Webster: Yeah. Yeah.
Evy: Okay. So I guess with the food moment.
Webster: End on a high.
Evy: That is the high note. Thank you so much for being here with us.
Webster: Yeah. So for our audience listening, where can they find you guys online in general, website, social media, that kind of stuff?
Zino: Yeah. We have a website, and it's called fractal-collective.com. So check us out. You're gonna see our upcoming projects if you're interested.
Webster: And is the documentary on there as well, or is that separate?
Zino: No, no. We would like to release the documentary on some platforms, but it's in development. Until now, it goes paired, hand-in-hand with our theater production "From the Streets to the Seats" that's in three parts. One part is a street show. Second part is documentary, and a third part is the theater piece.
Evy: Okay. Exciting. Yeah. We'll share all the links on our website.
Webster: Yeah. Well, thank you very much.
Zino: Thank you.
Zino: Thank you for having me.
Webster: Thank you for speaking with us. And for our audience listening at home, you can find us on www.worduppodcast.com, where you'll find our social media as well as past and current episodes.
Webster: And for our audience at home, you know where to find us on www.worduppodcast.com, where you'll find past and current episodes, as well as our social links and you, can…All right. What? You're looking over there. I was like, am I doing something wrong?
Transcript by Janice Erlbaum