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Spotlight on Freelancers: The Yonis

Spotlight on Freelancers is our interview series dedicated to highlighting the incredible range of jobs that exist in the arts. You can read more freelancer interviews here or listen to the Stratford East Podcast. Photo credit: Nina Robinson

Tell us a bit about yourself.
We are Charlotte and Haley (both she/her). Charlotte grew up in Scotland and Haley grew up in California so we lived very different experiences growing up, but we both had 'dance moms', to which we are eternally grateful for. Charlotte started with Highland dance and Haley started with tap and jazz.

We met when we studied together at London Contemporary Dance School (LCDS) in 2014, and in 2017, when we graduated we started The Yonis.

Could you tell us a bit about the history of The Yonis?
When we lived in London, we would go to gigs together whenever we could as we both love live music but we were always so jealous of the girl bands. Being performers ourselves we knew what it was like to be on stage but the energy and euphoria that it felt to be sharing the experience of music and dancing together in the crowd was something we wanted to recreate as contemporary dancers.

We also felt boxed in by conventional contemporary dance traditions so we thought ‘’why not start our own girl band but make it punk?” We couldn’t play instruments, or sing very well but we could dance so in February 2017, in a small coffee shop in East London, London's movement girl band The Yonis were born. We asked some friends at LCDS to join us and it all started from there.

Charlotte and Haley started the band but over the last four years and even after the first meeting The Yonis became a living, breathing and ever-changing group shaped by each and every person who has joined. Together we have created the values and ethos we stand proudly by today. As an all-female collective we celebrate our bodies as vehicles to be physical, powerful and dynamic, finding strength in coming together to create a safe place for anyone who wants to be involved, to take up space and to make noise.

What was your route into the arts/theatre making? Are these routes still available?
With The Yonis, we would network and apply to perform at underground events, cabaret evenings, festivals and community spaces. We believed in a DIT attitude (do it together) and we would just put together a number the day before and turn up and perform. We had to do this because money was scarce but because of this we adapted a unique way of creating, working and performing - which gave us confidence, and allowed us to get to know and shape our own artistic voice.

These routes may not be available anymore because sadly, a lot of the underground, small scale venues that we performed at have had to close down due to COVID. The beautiful thing about the DIY community is that there is no shortage of passion and event’s like these will always pop up. 

What skills do you think a theatre maker needs?
For us it's all about communication, trust, and support. Hyping each other up through every step of the process. Saying yes to trying everyone's ideas even if it takes two or three times as long to create something. Believe in yourself and you will find your own language and artistic voice from there. 

What are some of the biggest myths around theatre making?
One of the biggest myths is that you have to know what you're doing. You don't.

We wouldn’t specifically call ourselves theatre makers, with the Yonis we try to bring contemporary dance to unconventional and unexpected places. For us, we like to try to break the audience / performer barrier, to give the audience a more embodied viewing experience.

What’s coming up for The Yonis?
In Summer 2020 we planned to tour small venues in London, the UK, Poland and France to release our debut album. Of course, we have had to postpone but we can’t wait to reschedule to dance, sing, shout, scream and create Yoni magic together again.

Instead in summer 2020, we were approached by choreographer Eva Recacha. She wanted to make a new performance with a lot of women, so naturally she thought about The Yonis. We will start research and development for the work on #iwd2021, which is quite timely because the work will explore themes of femininity, togetherness and celebration. Check out our IG @the.yonis for updates on our projects!

Alongside Charlotte and Haley on the upcoming projects, The Yonis are; Aine Reynolds, Bethany Rose Edwards, Bun Kobayashis, Florence Blackmore, Isobel Ripley, Jay Yule, Kaivalya Brewerton, Maisie Sadgrove, Monika Szpunar and Natifah White.

What sorts of things (if anything) have you been doing during lockdown?
Charlotte: I've been trying to learn German because I’m now living in Switzerland. Now I can teach a dance class in German but when it comes to conversations it's more difficult because I'm so afraid to make mistakes!

Haley: I’ve been giving myself time to rest, to not feel a rush to be productive or create in this down time. In doing this i’ve been able to return to dance and movement with more joy than ever before. As The Yonis, we’ve been dancing together in cyber space and that has filled me with energy and love.

Today is International Women’s Day and we’re celebrating some of the women whose work influences us – who are some of your inspirations/icons?
Charlotte: For me, it's my mum and sister. They are both such strong, caring, loyal, bold, brave individual women who live unapologetically. I miss them a lot because I'm in Switzerland now, and they are in Scotland but whenever I'm in doubt, I think of what they would do or how they would tackle a difficult situation and I instantly feel stronger.

Haley: All the people we've met along the way in The Yonis are icons to me. Seeing people so excited and open to sharing the space and creating together has truly filled me with inspiration. Thank you to the 70+ people from ages 5 to 75 who have joined thus far and to the many more in the future.

Which emerging artists should we check out?
We’re not a big fan of the ‘emerging artist’ concept so here’s a list of IG handles of amazing freelance artists and groups that we love.

@iro.costello @kowboykit @alethiaantonia @sakeemathecrook @kval___ya @eleanor.sikorski @kuvara_jewellery @amybelldance @florence_peake @evestainton @imorzelowska @hashimotowiksa @claricia.parinussa @melebroomes @drmcrshr @s.t.a.s.i.s @youngboydancinggroup_ @summerduplessis @pesthuman @charlie.ashwell @serafine1369 @inigoblake @fubunation_ @coldharvcash @skatebooobs @girlstothefront_ 

What’s one piece of advice you would give to emerging artists?
Always work with and for people that you respect and are excited by.

The Yonis recommend:
TV Show: I May Destroy You by Michaela Coel
Film: Raw by Julia Ducournau
Play: Juliet and Romeo by Trajal Harrell
Album: Our debut album when it's released and on tour ;)
Book: Period Power by Maisie Hill


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