Avant Garde Dance – Tony Adigun Interview: “The worst thing for someone is to be at a show for an hour and not feel anything.”

One of the countries best hip hop and contemporary dance choreographers Tony Adigun talks me through his love of music, reinventing a classic tale and his inspirations.

Tony Adigun

Tony Adigun

Hello Tony, how are you and what are you up to?
At the moment, with Avant Garde Dance Company, we’re in rehearsals getting ready for our Autumn tour of Fagin’s Twist. We premiered the show back in April at DanceEast in Ipswich before touring over the Spring. So we’ve had time out on the road, and after a break over the summer we’re now getting back into character and shaping things up for our autumn tour and London season.

Fagin’s Twist examines one of Charles Dickens’ most famous notorious villains. How did it all come about?
I was looking for a classic tale to re-tell, and finally settled on the story of Oliver Twist. In thinking about the different characters in the book, with the team, I set about re-imagining some of them; discussing what led them to the point at which the story we all know starts, and creating backstories for those who didn’t have them. How did they get to that point?
Oliver’s character seemed too simple, he was too nice and everything just fell into place for him. It seemed too easy for him. Fagin was the last one we looked at. I’m a believer in the underdog and I was really interested in his personality. I wanted to take his journey before he got to the point where he’s most recognisable and look at his past, at his childhood and see what parallels I could make between him and Oliver.

Music plays an important part in Avant Garde’s work. How did you select the music to soundtrack Fagin’s Twist?
I’m a massive fan of music, and so I work really closely with my collaborators in selecting the right kind of music. The mood, energy and style needs to complement what’s happening on stage. We try out all sorts in the studio during the creative process, so it’s an experimental process. Sometimes we get it right first time, and sometimes it takes a long time to get it just right!

What can audiences expect from an Avant Garde production?
Generally, I want audiences to feel something. I say to my dancers: your job is to evoke an emotion from the audience, whatever that may be. If they hate it, take it: you’ve brought something out of them. The worst thing is for someone to be at a show for an hour and not feel anything. I also like the audience to think. I don’t like things to be laid out plain and obvious: I want the audience to find things for themselves. Their interpretation and what they get from it are just as valuable and as important to me as my original intentions.
This show is one that the audience can enjoy without any previous knowledge of the original story. The relationships between the characters are really strong. I want the audience to sit up and take note of what’s happening but there are also moments that are just light and fun, that people can just sit back and enjoy. It’s narrative and exposes some timeless societal themes, helping us to think differently about people’s situations and actions.
We have a brilliant creative team on board – a fantastic set and costumes that we’re getting great feedback on. And lighting that also helps to create the dark and evocative atmosphere we were after. I work with contemporary dance but am heavily influenced by hip-hop culture and my work in the commercial dance world. Our eight incredible dancers also bring a variety of backgrounds, training and styles into the mix. Text is also a really important element of the show. It brings another layer and I enjoy the complexity and the simplicity that text can bring to a moment. It’s a third element which helps to infuse what’s going on and explain what’s happening.

Who are the top 3 choreographers of all time?
Well that’s subjective! In terms of current choreographers and companies I admire, and who’ve inspired my approach, I would include Ohad Naharin and Batsheva Dance Company, James  Thierrée and Victor Quijada’s RUBBERBANDance Group. And, if I’m allowed to add a fourth, the formidable Nederlands Dans Theater.

You are bringing Fagin’s Twist to Pavilion Dance in Bournemouth. What are your thoughts on the cultural ecology in the region?
Pavilion Dance is a great organisation – a really important player, not just in the South West but across the UK, in terms of supporting and helping artists develop, and creating new choreographic work. We’ve enjoyed, and massively benefitted from, working with them in the past, and meeting people in Bournemouth interested in coming to see and take part in our work. So we really look forward to returning this month. It’s an interesting place to perform as you have the local community plus the tourists. With PDSW now programming two-night runs rather than just one-nighters, hopefully audiences will grow and include more of the passing tourist trade as well as those living locally.

How has your creative work developed over the years?
I’ve increasingly been able to incorporate influences outside of dance. I obviously have a great passion for all sorts of music. But there’s also a host of different things: I really like architecture and structure and translating that to dance, looking at the lines and configurations and patterns of a building and trying to infiltrate that into my dance. I really like design, I’m a bit of a technology geek, so I’m trying to bring that tech-geek aspect into dance. I like media, photography, taking pictures and editing videos, so I’m slowly trying to bring that into my work as well.
I didn’t have the conventional route to becoming a choreographer. I didn’t study dance, it’s just always been a passion, I suppose I’m lucky that I like to be unconventional, therefore I’m not following a set path. Working with The Place as a Work Place Artist has helped me to invest time in myself as an artist and I’ve been able to work on different projects that I might not otherwise have worked done. It’s also given me community, being part of a group of choreographers, and the discussion aspect, talking about the climate of dance, especially contemporary dance. This has massively impacted my development in recent times.

What are your top tips for an aspiring dancer/choreographer?
Never throw anything away. Never turn your back on any movement vocabulary you have, but always add to it. Take as many classes as you can, even in styles you don’t like, just to see how it works with your body and influences you. You’re growing as an artist, so add layers to your experiences. Think outside of our natural inclinations.

What is your philosophy when it comes to making new work?
Innovate, Never Replicate.