Interview: Mixing it up - Avant Garde's Tony Adigun

Tuesday 15 October 2013 by Carmel Smith

Tony Adigun. Photo: Greg Walsh

Tony Adigun has had a successful career as a choreographer and dancer with many high profile singers and bands (Whitney Houston, Mel B..). The winner of two BEFFTA’s (Black Entertainment, Film, Fashion, Television and Arts Awards), he’s a Director on Sky’s Got to Dance – and he’s also associated with the home of UK contemporary dance – The Place – as a Work Place artist and one time Place Prize contender. He founded his company Avant Garde Dance “as a creative release from the world of commercial dance that I was working in.” He describes his latest production – The Black Album launching at Rich Mix this week, ahead of a UK tour, as ‘lke a concept album’. We’re intrigued..

How did you first get into dance?
I was born in Bristol, but grew up and still live in Hackney. My mum was a dancer in Nigeria, so as a family we were always dancing. In primary school I had two passions, football and dance. Every Wednesday there was a student assembly and there would be an opportunity to present something. Each week without fail, I would come up with a new routine, rehearse all week and present it. I was having fun, I was choreographing to Vanilla Ice, Salt n Pepper, MC Hammer. I was hugely inspired by Michael Jackson and learnt all the moves from watching him on TV.
I went to study computer science at university but instead of making computer programmes, I was more interested in listening to music and going to the studio to make moves. I dropped out, kept teaching myself, and then got recruited to choreograph Mel B’s world tour. I founded Avant Garde Dance in 2001 and I have not looked back.
What does dance mean to you now?
Dance is my output for my passion for music. Music is the driving force and dance is the way that I show my appreciation.

Tell us about your company…
Avant Garde is a London based company pushing the boundaries of hip-hop and contemporary dance.The company was formed as a creative release from the world of commercial dance that I was working in. I wanted to bring together a group of like-minded dancers to explore more unusual, abstract and artistic ideas away from the mainstream. So ‘Avant Garde’ felt like right name to represent those intentions. Our mantra is ‘Innovate Never Replicate’.

You’re associated with The Place – and Artistic Director on Sky’s Got to Dance. That’s quite a range! How do you describe your work?
Eclectic. We use hip-hop at our core but we deliver it in a contemporary package. The movement is theatrical, abstract and focuses on musicality. There are no typical street dance formations here, but I definitely know a good one when I see one, and the opportunity to break convention and challenge artists on presentation.
We are constantly playing with styles and genres, and have developed a unique approach to what we produce. We strive to create fresh and exciting work that moves forward. We embrace new concepts, challenge conventions and break boundaries. I really enjoy challenging myself and our audience, and have worked with circus, chinese pole, clowning, theatre, film, projection and unusual sites in my dance shows. No two shows are the same, keeping both us the artists and our audiences on our toes. New territories and new ventures excite me.
With versatility comes longevity, so I’m really honoured to have the opportunity to be present in both the commercial circle and the artistic one, and cross over from to the other. There is a lot to be learnt from both.

Tell us about The Black Album – which you’re launching at Rich Mix this week..
The Black Album is built around the idea of a concept album, in which three distinctly different choreographies are seamlessly woven together. Set in what could either be a club, bedroom or one’s imagination, we take the audience on a soulful journey through Jazzanova to Mozart, Woodkid to Trentemoller, Linkin Park to Beethhoven. Our choreography spans a range of styles and emotions, bringing to life a new way to listen to dance and a new way to watch music. In creating the true clubbing experience, audiences will receive a free CD to the DJ mix when they leave, offering a multi art-form approach to the concept.
Avant Garde Dance’s new ensemble consists of Sara Gordon and I, with two previous AG company members Dani Harris -Walters and Jordan Melchor.
We/ve brought in four new highly skilled dancers: Caramel Soldier (the UK’s legendary House dancer, previously performed in both Bounce and Blaze), UK B-boy Champion DJ Jam Fu, and top UK break dancers B-boy Silent and Jangles. The show is accompanied by a live DJ – Tokyo Touch and includes audio-visuals by new London collective Alto Grye. Aesthetics and style are fundamental to the presentation of our work and we are working with one of the UK’s most sought after stylists Ayishat Akanbi. Akanbi aka the Garment Composer has previously worked with JLS, Labrinth, Laura Mvula and many more.

Your upcoming UK tour is taking in traditional venues – which is something new for you?
We stand in a fairly unique place where we have performed in many venues, both indoor, outdoor and site specific across the whole of the UK. People have seen a range of our work, some have been more hip hop led, some more contemporary, some circus and others more youth focused. But now we want to share our real voice – the true AG vocabulary and style, a real mixture of hip-hop and contemporary which is entertaining, emotive and embedded with strong visual imagery.
This is our first tour to small to mid scale theatres, with a full-length indoor piece. We have already visited most of these cities with our outdoor work Taxi and Silver Tree, but we are keen to develop audiences across all styles of our work. We are notorious for challenging convention, and with this show we are presenting a not so conventional show in conventional spaces. We want to make sure every piece we do is a total surprise and is totally different, so that our audiences enjoy the exciting journey of work we produce and present.

Who/what have been major influences on you?
Music is my major influence. I am constantly listening to all kinds of music, spanning genres, cultures and sounds. I usually work with beats, finding the musicality and quality of the sound, which then informs the choreography. I am also majorly influenced by fashion, art, photography and film. Check out my Tumblr to see what inspires me.

Artists I admire – Dieter Rams (industrial designer of consumer goods) for his minimalism and aesthetics, Robert Glasper (hip hop jazz pianist) for his experimentation with rhythm and texture, James Thiérrée (circus performer, actor/ musician) for his range and talent, Gecko Theatre Company (physical theatre) for their ambitious and imaginative cross art-form productions, Alex Ferguson (football manager) for his leadership qualities, value in team work and focus on supporting the youth. And finally entrepreneurs Alan Sugar, JayZee, Richard Branson for their creative and astute approach to business.

Any hot tips on shows to see in London at the moment – other than The Black Album?!
Punchdrunk’s The Drowned Man – it’s cinematic, epic and incredible.
Jonzi D’s Lyrikal Fearta – this man is a legend with all that he does, so would be good to catch him on tour this Autumn.
Collabo April 2014 – one of my most successful concept nights which aims to bring innovative dance styles together, and challenge the way in which UK companies create work.
Robyn Orlin this weekend at Stratford Circus as part of Dance Umbrella – a provocative artist who uses a range of art-forms, should be really interesting.

If you didn’t work in dance, what would you be doing?
Id be a footballer. I was semi pro until I was 18 for Leyton Orient and Colchester. The club wanted me to leave school but my mum was not having it and made me go to Uni. I think she regrets that now – seeing what a footballer earns in a week compared to a choreographer!

Avant Garde The Black Album tour, 2013/14:
Rich Mix – Thu 17 October
Pavilion Dance, Bournemouth, Thursday 31 October
Cambridge Junction, Wednesday 13 November
Deda, Derby, Friday 15 November
British Dance Edition, Edinburgh King’s Theatre, Friday 31 January
The Point, Eastleigh, Thursday 27 February
Barbican Theatre, Plymouth, Friday 28 March
Dance East, Friday 4 April 2014
East London Dance, Stratford Circus, Friday 30 May

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