Dancing to his own tunes

Footloose

Dancing to  his own tunes

‘A new way to listen to dance and watch music’ is London-based Avant Garde Dance Company’s tagline for their latest creation, The Black Album. “The movement of the dancers enables them to hear parts of the music they had never heard before,” explains Tony Adigun — dancer, choreographer, founder and artistic director of Avant Garde — during their tour in India. They performed in Kolkata, Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Bangalore and Chennai while also organising workshops, master classes and networking events.

All about technique

“For me, this is important, opening the minds of the audience to different elements while watching the dance regardless of how familiar they are with the songs,” says Adigun. As a triple bill of works, The Black Album takes the audience through 70 minutes of choreographed works that would “entertain, enthral and also be accessible to new audiences,” which consists of two existing pieces (Omega, 2009 and Classical Break, 2011), and a new piece (Dark Matter, 2012), which uses music ranging from Jazzanova to Mozart, Woodkid to Trentemoller and James Blake to Beethoven.

The combination of Hip Hop and contemporary dance styles brings a fresh, vigorous approach to dance that is fused together in concept to deliver a message or theme. “The movement is raw, honest, and powerful, but it’s also theatrical and abstract and focuses on musicality,” he goes on to say.

Avant Garde might have started out in the Hip Hop stream but Adigun’s passion for music and expression pushed him to discover and inevitably fall in love with contemporary dance. He merged elements from both styles to create what is now known as Avant Garde’s own signature.

Adigun himself is a dancer and has dance running in his veins. Born of a Nigerian dancer, he says, “as a family, we were always dancing”. His life on stage began early, with regular rehearsals to present a new dance routine for school assembly each week “choreographing to Vanilla Ice, Salt n Pepper, and MC Hammer”.

At 19, he was invited to choreograph for Mel B of Spice Girls, and he moved on to the international stage. Touring the world with artistes including Janet Jackson, Usher, Ashanti and Whitney Houston, Adigun got his preview of the music industry up close. After two years, he felt that popular conventions put a barricade on just how much he could explore as an artist and dancer. He had ambitions of dance and music in a way that the music industry was not ready for.

Founding Avant Garde in 2001 gave him the creative release he was looking for. Adigun says, “I wanted to experiment not only with dance and music, but also with the total aesthetics of production which included lighting, costume and concept.”
Finding his feet

This was the beginning of a journey that held a world of discovery and obstacles: Adigun had to also don the hat of a businessman for the company to flourish. A standard case of where art is alas not always just for art’s sake.

Adigun insists that his dancers be the visual representation of the music, facilitating the audience to grasp those fine elements of music that they might have otherwise missed out on. Dancers were chosen based on their skill in musicality and creative expression; and three of the dancers on tour have been training with Avant Garde for the past five years, graduating to the Main Company from the Youth Company.

During their tour in the UK, at the British Dance Edition 2014 in Edinburgh, the Avant Garde Dance team met the Prakriti Foundation (based in Chennai), who loved the show and invited them over to do a six city tour in India. “The audiences were welcoming and appreciative. It really has been a privilege to perform in such great venues,” says Adigun.
India has dance embedded into the very fabric of her culture and the classical Indian styles such as the Bharatanatyam and Kathak had especially caught Adigun’s attention. “They speak to me in terms of their strength and intensity, while maintaining such delicacy of movement,” says Adigun, reflecting that two years ago he received mentorship from Akram Khan.

The tour was such a hit that Tony Adigun and Avant Garde have been invited by various organisations to come back and teach. Until then, Adigun has left all aspiring dancers with a few tips: “Be yourself, work hard and be enterprising in your approach. Never stop training and developing yourself. Expose yourself to other dance styles, art forms and inspirations, and you will see your creativity grow”.

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