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Alumni spotlight: In conversation with Cassie Kinoshi

Tue 5 May 2020

Award winning composer and saxophonist Cassie Kinoshi completed her undergraduate degree in Composition at Trinity Laban in 2015. She leads SEED Ensemble, whose debut album Driftglass was nominated for the Mercury Prize in 2019. She is also a member of award-winning jazz septet Nérija and Afrobeat band KOKOROKO. Her work spans theatre, film, contemporary dance, jazz and classical. She has been commissioned by the Old Vic, National Theatre and Women of the World Festival 2017 (Royal Festival Hall).

Cassie was part of the London Symphony Orchestra’s prestigious Panufnik Scheme in 2018-19, and was a Cameron Mackintosh Resident Composer at Dundee Rep Theatre in the same year. Most recently, Cassie has been collaborating with fellow Trinity Laban alum Maxine Doyle on Deluxe, a show celebrating internationally acclaimed dance company BalletBoyz 20th anniversary.

We caught up with Cassie to find out more.

When did you start collaborating with dance artists?

“When I was studying at Trinity Laban I lived with Anne Verheij, who was completing her MA in Creative Practice and created a lot of dance films. That’s where I started writing scores for her work and developing a language for working with dancers. We have showcased work at the London Short Film Festival and I continue to work with her.

“As a composition student, there were opportunities to work with dancers if you wanted. I got involved in CoLab and I put forward ideas that amalgamated Neo-soul, Afrobeat, tap dance and jazz.

“Then, when we first presented SEED Ensemble’s album Driftglass as a one-off show in 2017, dance was involved. So working with contemporary dance and screen dance is something I’ve always done.

Collaboration is at the heart of a lot of the work I do. I learn the language of people from other artistic backgrounds.”


How do you approach composing for contemporary dance and what is your creative process?

“As a composer, what I write depends on the subject matter and the piece. When work is in collaboration with an artist from a different discipline, having descriptive conversations, sharing music and looking at visuals are really helpful. How I work in theatre and jazz has definitely seeped in as well.”

How did you become involved with BalletBoyz and their anniversary show Deluxe?

“One of my artistic mentors through the Abrahm Wilson Foundation, Fred Bolza, was aware that Michael [Nunn] and Billy [Trevitt, BalletBoyz Founders] had wanted to work with someone centred in jazz for a while, so Fred recommended me. They then put me in touch with Maxine Doyle.”


Maxine Doyle and Cassie Kinoshi collaborating in the rehearsal studio

(Image: Maxine and Cassie collaborating in the rehearsal studio credit George Piper)

Can you tell us a bit about Bradley 4:18?

“It’s inspired by ‘Pictures on a screen’ from English poet and spoken word artist Kate Tempest’s concept album Let Them Eat Chaos. I found the poem really useful as inspiration.

“The lyrics are really sad. The character [Bradley] is awake at 4am thinking. He wants to feel whole and full but doesn’t know what that means. He has external validations but inside he’s empty. It’s about Bradley’s journey of trying to feel fulfilled and then the different aspects of him all clashing and coming out as he’s trying to understand who he is. We wanted to capture that conflict. The music was trying to capture that tension of being stuck in your mind.

This is one of my largest commissions ever – it pushed me a lot. It was a good challenge working with people at this level and I’ve learned a lot from the whole process.”


What has it been like to collaborate with fellow TL alum Maxine Doyle?

“Maxine speaks metaphorically and I love working that way – both with theatre and dance – as it helps me shape what I’m writing musically.

“We had a lot of great conversations leading up to rehearsal to get to know each other and she sent me the Kate Tempest lyrics.

When I was in the rehearsal room, I’d take note of what Maxine was telling the dancers and apply that to the music.”


“I’d bring my laptop, portable keyboard, studio headphones and notebook – that’s my set up – and I’d write ideas in the room, in that moment. It was a hands-on process and I love that. Sometimes I’d bring in my sax and improvise with the dancers and Maxine, record it and take it away.

Aerial view of Cassie working at white desk with keyboard and laptop

(Image: Cassie’s work set-up in the studio credit George Piper)

“A couple of members of the band came into a rehearsals to play what I’d composed so far and improvise on the ideas I’d written.

“What I wrote into Logic Pro and what the band sounded like sounds different, so there was initially some uncertainty surrounding the soundworld. But my focus was bringing together the vision that Maxine had with SEED Ensemble and blend things in a way that works for both.

It was a privilege to work with Maxine and the amazing dancers. They made me feel really welcome in the space. Sometimes composers are tacked on at the end, an afterthought, but I was involved from the beginning. There was a true sense of collaboration.”

The digital version of Deluxe will feature in the BBC’s Culture in Quarantine festival.

Main image: Cassie Kinoshi (credit Bunny Bread)