Ashley Jack: 'Edinburgh feels like it's sprinkled with glitter during August'

Ashley Jack: 'Edinburgh feels like it's sprinkled with glitter during August'

Ashley Jack

Hip-hop dancer, teacher, and choreographer Ashley Jack continues our Q&A series about the joys of Edinburgh's festivals

As we move ever closer towards Edinburgh festival season, our collaboration with the Edinburgh International Festival continues as we give you another weekly Q&A interview. Today we present Ashley Jack, artistic director and principal teacher at House Of Jack, which provides classes and workshops to hundreds of students of all ages and abilities, and puts on events, performances and battles. Here, Ashley tells us about memories of Edinburghs past, featuring a ground-breaking hip-hop musical and an iconic festival light show.

Ashley Jack: 'Edinburgh feels like it's sprinkled with glitter during August'

House Of Jack dancers at The List's annual Hot 100 party

Can you tell me about your first Edinburgh festival memories?

Being from Edinburgh, I have long memories of visiting the Edinburgh festivals, enjoying the atmosphere and seeing many, many shows. I remember being at dance college, training to be a dancer myself, and going to see a festival show at The Pleasance. It was a ZooNation hip-hop musical called Into The Hoods and I was blown away by both the show and the amazing atmosphere in the venue. I was getting into hip-hop dancing myself and it was fantastic to be inspired by seeing a show on my doorstep with fantastic choreography and talented dancers.

When I was 19 in 2007, myself and dance college friends created a dance company called Rhythm Inc Project, including now-members of Young Fathers. We performed a full show at the Fringe in The Lighthouse venue (now The Granary at Leith Shore) for two weeks, performing an energetic, fun show every day with a blend of salsa, hip-hop, ballet, contemporary, and singing, which was brilliant fun!

I have so many memories of fantastic International Festival shows, but one of my most memorable was seeing the first projection light show The Harmonium Project, which opened the festival in 2015. The stunning projection onto the Usher Hall was absolutely mesmerising and watching it in person was unforgettable. A more recent memorable experience of the International Festival was my involvement teaching young people Akram Khan's Kadamati choreography for the incredible mass movement performance in the grounds of the palace.

What is your all-time favourite memory of Edinburgh during August?

I love the general atmosphere in Edinburgh during the festivals, and the rush of it all. One of my favourite all-time memories was having House Of Jack youth dance company members perform as the Sugar Army in Oona Doherty's Hard To Be Soft show at the Lyceum in 2019. It was an outstanding experience for them to be involved with, and the exposure and feedback they received was excellent, with multiple five-star reviews and The Stage naming it as one of their Top 5 theatre shows to see in the UK that week.

Another highlight was having my youth company the Mini Jackers performing as part of a triple bill at the 2018 Fringe: it's always great performing myself, but it's so rewarding getting the young people involved and watching them perform.

Can you name one person you met in Edinburgh during festival-time who truly inspired you?

I was blown away by Al Seed's Oog show in 2015, portraying a shell-shocked soldier and his vivid depiction of PTSD. It was an utterly absorbing and inspiring performance.

If you could curate your own festival line-up for a day, who would you include? Anyone can be on there, dead or alive.

My perfect festival line-up would be.....

- all the House Of Jack young people doing a huge performance as a warm-up to kick the day off: it's always very rewarding to see them perform!

- a performance of Boy Blue's Blak Whyte Gray show from the 2017 International Festival. People said it was incredible, but with it only being shown for a short time during the festival, I wasn't able to get tickets to it.

- Fela, a powerful political musical theatre show I saw in New York, highlighting political issues faced in Africa with the belief that 'music can change the world'.

- a special edition of our annual Rock What You Got hip-hop battle!

- the original Whose Line Is It Anyway? cast doing a full show for a bit of comedic light relief :D

- continuing the evening with a cabaret act such as the amazing Briefs show that frequents the Edinburgh festivals.

- finishing the day off with a funk-party finisher from the one and only Prince.

What would you change to improve Edinburgh during August?

If I had to nitpick, I'd say more ticket collection options, or digitisation of the festivals with the option to just show tickets on your phone rather than trekking across to a ticket collection point after purchase and queueing to collect would be an improvement. But that's a minor point in such a great atmosphere!

Ashley Jack: 'Edinburgh feels like it's sprinkled with glitter during August'

House Of Jack's studio workshop

How does Edinburgh compare to other arts festivals across the world?

There's such an incredible variety and vibrancy at the festivals in Edinburgh, with people from all around the world and from all backgrounds coming together and enjoying the city. And the night-time atmosphere is brilliant, with the late-night comedy and cabaret shows. Some other festivals I've been to outside Edinburgh have tended to be more political-theatre focussed and a little heavier, rather than having that same variety. Edinburgh feels like it's sprinkled with glitter during the festivals: anything goes during August and you meet so many lovely people.

Part of The List's My Perfect Festival series, created in collaboration with the Edinburgh International Festival. Read more about other people's festival experiences here.