Dancers huddle in the corner of a vast studio. Outstretched fingers flutter - an urgent rap on the conga from choreographer Carl Campbell sets them spinning into whirling shapes, looking like Matisse cut-outs. Boys somersault backwards.
Campbell scratches the skin of the drum, a primeval sound. The dancers become the stirrings of the earth. A soloist rises, her feet drumming the waking soil. Company dancer Debra Biddulph arches a proud back, undulating into high, swooping kicks.
This is a session for first year BTEC Performing Arts students at Southwark College, working with Campbell's locally based Dance Company 7, a contemporary, Caribbean, dance theatre fusion of Asian, African and European forms. This performance project, using elements of carnival design, formed part of the company's showcase, Respect: I Am What I Am, celebrating Black History Month, alongside work on family and freedom from local primary schools.
Boosted by the excitement of the drumbeat, Campbell's gentle guidance and active encouragement from Head of Performing Arts and dance expert Anne Muddiman, students are working like professionals: disciplined, committed. At Southwark College, half of the students' time is given over to dance. Muddiman works with Campbell, developing his material in her sessions.
Campbell corrects posture to ward off injury, teaches a student "how to sink without shocking the spine". He rehearses a partially-hearing student in the role of a rainmaker.
The studio is a hive of activity. A clash of cymbals provokes a flurry of tiptoe whirling. One group separates to "the four corners of the earth", and whooshes back into a clapping circle. Debra Biddulph re-hearses scudding bodies, arms raised above heads to enact a fire dance. Two dancers bind a third in a swathe of purple to become the wings of a giant eagle that wheels and hovers. "The dance images are strong and empowering," says Anne Muddiman. In two hours, the pace has not flagged. The dancers remain alert, on their mettle.
Carl Campbell Dance Company 7 Caribbean Youth Dance Theatre auditions: 0171 639 4875.