BENGALURU: Avant Garde Dance is a London-based company pushing the boundaries of hip-hop and contemporary dance. As they tour the country, setting up workshops and performing their art, we catch up with Tony Adigun on what makes this troupe stand out from the crowd. Man of many hats, Tony Adigun, tells us more about his choreography, the school of dance, his India tour, and his inspirations
Tell us a bit about the entire concept of Avant Garde Dance.
The main two styles that I work with mainly within Avant Garde are Contemporary and Hip Hop. Although Avant Garde started as a Hip Hop, I soon fell in love with Contemporary. I wanted to create something that maintained the vigour of Hip Hop whilst incorporating the Contemporary thought processes and vice versa. I believe dancers should be superheroes, not just moving for movement’s sake. There are elements within both styles that I’m not necessarily a fan of and so I try to take the elements that I do like and combine them, creating something fresh and innovative. I have also worked on various commissions which have involved a lot of site specific work; ‘Chinese Po’ and ‘Attack of the Bandstand’ are some examples of the site specific work created within Avant.
How did Avant Garde Dance begin?
The formation of Avant Garde came about after spending two years travelling the world; choreographing for international pop artists. This was probably one of the best experiences for me as a 19 year old dancer and choreographer. I really enjoyed my time, however after the two years I felt a more creative drive within myself that I felt I had to unleash unto the world which then led onto the formation of Avant Garde Dance Company.
I saw Avant Garde as an opportunity to explore all the things I couldn’t explore through the popular conventions of dance at that time. I wanted to experiment not only with dance and music but the total aesthetics of production which included lighting, costume, concept etc.
How did you first get into dance?
As far as I can remember dance has always been a part of my life, I never sort of switched on the lights and decided I wanted to be a dancer; it’s something that has always been a part of my life. I was always passionate about being a creative, a choreographer and it’s no surprise as and it’s something that has been very apparent in my family life.
My mother was a dancer in Nigeria; something I didn’t know until a few years into my dance career. In primary school my main two hobbies were dance and football, and I’d be found always doing one or the other. People ask me when did you start choreographing and truth be told I was about 8 or 9; choreographing in the playground to Salt n Peppa, Vanilla Ice etc, and every week I’d have a new piece of choreography to perform for my school assemblies.
Tell us about The Black Album
The Black Album is 65 minutes of just Avant Garde dance. It’s a triple bill of works I have previously choreographed including Omega, Classical Break and Dark Matter. The tag line for The Black Album, is ‘a new way to listen to dance and watch music’.
Audiences will receive a link to listen to The Black Album club mix, offering a digital aspect to the live show. For me this is very important, opening the minds of the audience to different elements whilst watching the dance regardless of how familiar they are with the songs. Be prepared to be taken on a musical journey through the dance history of Avant Garde and the musical loves of myself. Avant Garde Dance’s new ensemble of consists of five original Avant Garde Dance Company dancers, including myself.
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.
How has the tour been thus far?
We have set up workshops in pretty much every city that we’ve visited and have received amazing feedback from the students.
The first workshop was after our show in Calcutta with students displaying high levels of enthusiasm. It was very humbling to hear some of the students say that they had gone home to practice what they’d seen in the show to prepare for the workshop the next day. The energy levels and receptivity of the students have been incredible during the last two workshops where we’ve tried to communicate our aesthetic of combining Hip Hop and Contemporary.
The responses via social media have been overwhelming and once again, very humbling. We feel like we’ve almost found a spiritual home as people here really understand and appreciate us as a company and the vision I as a choreographer am trying to put across.
We’ve been invited back by various organizations and so we’ll just have to see how it all goes, if we receive a call to come back and teach I’m sure we’ll be very happy to do so as we’ve had an amazing time.
What is your opinion of the dances of India?
I’m very much aware of classical Indian styles such as Bharatanatyam and Kathak and I very much appreciate the articulation of the movement, the sounds. They speak to me in terms of their strength and intensity whilst maintaining such delicacy of movement. Two years ago I received mentorship from Akram Khan which was a very good experience and I think it was interesting for him to see a Hip Hop company that drew upon so many artistic influences.
If you could learn an Indian art form, which would it be?
The rhythmic play of footwork in kathak. I love the combination of strength and intensity with soft delicate movements all at the same time – a beautiful nuance.