DIVERSITY’s connected tour may have started as a tenth anniversary show, but the disconnect caused by Covid lockdowns means the 79 gigs span the London street dancers’ 13th year.
Already their longest itinerary of their tenth tour has included a performance of York Barbican and an afternoon fan meet-and-greet session on April 4, when creator and choreographer Ashley Banjo, her brother Jordan and Perri Kiely have hosted a press day ahead of a series of Yorkshire dates.
Diversity, winners of ITV’s Britain’s Got Talent 2009, will return to York Barbican on April 27, as well as the Harrogate Convention Center on May 8, with other shows from Yorkshire to Halifax and Sheffield as part of a revamped trek four months in 34 UK and Irish cities from March to June.
79 shows, Ashley. Wow! “We could do more,” he says. “When you start approaching 100, you’re like ‘why don’t we go to the arenas?’ The answer is ‘we could, but it’s much more difficult to do the same quality of shows because the connection is different.’ This way we get such fun audience participation.
“We like to keep it at that room size, and even if we grow, I don’t think we’d take it anywhere bigger because I like that scale of show.”
Ashley recalls the tour’s early days after winning Britain’s Got Talent: “On our first touring venture, we had 11 shows in all, and few promoters thought the dancers could fill the venues.”
How wrong that perception was. Instead, Diversity stayed true to its street dance roots while gaining more and more followers. Now they feature Connected, Ashley’s show about the internet, social media, the digital age and how it connects us all.
“We’re asking the public questions around this idea, asking ‘how many of you use the internet? ‘, and they all raise their hands, but when you ask ‘what is the internet? is, and yet we use it every day. Our shows want to connect with people on a deeper level.
This tour is the first chance to see Diversity perform a live performance of their Black Lives Matter inspired dance which drew 24,500 complaints to Ofcom after they created the routine during a special appearance on Britain’s Got Talent on the 5th September 2020.
Ashley’s choreography took the form of a father guiding his son through the events of 2020, from the pandemic to police brutality against black people and the death of George Floyd that led to the Black Lives Matter protest marches.
The Mail Online ran 20 stories on the issue, as complaints to media regulator Ofcom piled up about the dance routine‘s ‘unsuitability for a family audience’ and how it ‘approved a political movement”.
Britain’s Got Talent has been cleared of any breach of broadcast rules, with Ofcom saying Ashley’s dance was “a call for social cohesion and unity”.
“Creativity is always a leap of faith,” Ashley posted on Instagram immediately afterwards. “Everything I did was what felt right and I would do it 100 times over sending love to everyone who supported us.”
Looking back, he says, “A huge amount of good has come out of it, and we’re including the routine in Connected. After doing it first on TV, this tour is the first time we’ve seen public reaction. It’s quite magical when humans connect in this room.
“If you argue and can say that about anything that seems to have been ingrained in our lives for so long, you will always get the opposite opinion, but we were surprised at the intensity of the opposition.
“It just goes to show why the conversation is so important and why being able to do almost 80 shows is an incredible opportunity for us.”
Jordan and Perri have been part of the Diversity troupe since the beginning. “It’s an amazing feeling to keep doing the shows. The first thing you think of after TV success is ‘they’re going to give it a year,'” Jordan says.
“I was a pretty cynical 16-year-old thinking ‘make the most of it.’ ”
Thirteen years later, “People love Peri because they grew up with him, and now they love listening to Peri and I in the mornings on Kiss Breakfast. People loved seeing Ashley on Dancing On Ice,” says Jordan .
“With Diversity, people love the shows because there are so many talented dancers, with 15 of us on stage most of the time, but it’s not just about being bad dancers, or Ashley brings a brilliant choreographer, but with Ash he really understands what people want to see and how to get it across.”
Perri is delighted with the reaction to the Black Lives Matter routine. “People are crying, we are getting standing ovations,” he says. “It was so negative after the TV broadcast that I remember thinking, ‘I don’t think we’ll do another show,’ but actually we have a lot of support.”
Diversity: Connected, York Barbican, April 27, 7:45 p.m.; Harrogate Convention Centre, May 8, 7:45 p.m. Box office: York, yorkbarbican.co.uk; Harrogate, harrogateconventioncentre.co.uk.
By Charles Hutchinson