Tony Adigun is a man of many hats: creative director, curator, choreographer, dancer, educator and mentor – all worn with the same signature passion and style. He started his career aged 19 in the commercial dance industry, choreographing and touring the world with many leading recording artists. In 2001, he founded Avant Garde Dance in order to fulfil his creative needs as a choreographer. The company’s ethos is “Innovate, Never Replicate” and Tony continues to steer his ship into uncharted creative territory.
His latest work, Fagin’s Twist, follows the untold story of Charles Dickens’ notorious and complex villain – flipping your expectations of five familiar characters via the unmatched contemporary hip hop style of Avant Garde Dance. Maddy Costa caught up with Tony ahead of the tour for chat about the Company, his career so far and tips for young dancers…
What would you say you are you most proud of?
I’m proud that myself and Avant Garde paved a way for other companies, younger companies, to challenge whatever the norm might be. I come from a hip-hop background but I wanted to challenge the conventions within hip-hop, which not a lot of people at the time or within my generation were doing. I’m proud that we might have opened doors or hatchets or windows for people to experiment, whether that be in presentation, clothing, music or idea. I now see a lot of hip-hop companies who are thinking outside the boundaries or the rules within hip-hop, so I’m pretty proud of that in terms of opening people’s minds.
Was there a particular dance or theatre show you saw that shifted your relationship with dance?
I know the exact moment. It was Bounce the Show at the Roundhouse, a hip-hop-theatre show that came over from Sweden. I was about 18 or 19 and at that point I was very passionate about dance but quite wayward with it. I was dancing from when I was a young kid: we had a children’s assembly once a week at school and I was always choreographing a new dance piece to show. And I love music, and music videos – as cliche as it sounds, Michael Jackson was a huge, huge influence. I wanted to be him, I wanted to move like him, I loved the artistry of it, the clothing, the music, the voice, the videos, the stage production. That was probably my first encounter of all these different art forms that I’m very interested in now coming together.
But Bounce was the first time I got to see hip-hop presented in a theatrical way and it was my first proper mind-blowing experience. I went with a friend, a fellow dancer, and we didn’t know anything about it. And I remember afterwards just thinking: wow, what was that? I don’t know what that was but whatever that was, that’s what I want to do. It gave me a new take on what hip-hop could be.
Are there particular dancers, choreographers or theatre-makers who you admire or are inspired by?
I really like Batsheva Dance Company, and James Thierree from France – I really like his imagery, I love strong image. RUBBERBANDance from New York were a big influence in using hip-hop vocabulary to different types of music like classical music, and finding a way to blend a narrative with the movement, which is hard. And I really like Nederlands Dans Theater: I love the precision and articulation and musicality of it and just the ideas, the simple but complicated ideas.
Outside of dance, what inspires you?
Without sounding boring, it’s music. I’m just a fan of music: before dance there was music for me, and I think dance is my way of showing my love for 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’m quite linear I suppose: I don’t like circles, I like squares. 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.
“take as many classes as you can, even in styles you don’t like, just to see how it plays with your body and influences you.”
What advice do you give to younger dancers?
I tell all the dancers in the company or dancers I work with in workshops never to throw anything away. Never turn your back on any movement vocabulary, always add to it; take as many classes as you can, even in styles you don’t like, just to see how it plays with your body and influences you. I like to call it a snowball effect: as you’re growing as an artist, add layers to your experiences, and hopefully those will infiltrate to your movement style. And I like dancers to think outside of their initial mentality so I’ll say, take a punt: go and watch something you would never watch, whether it be cinema or dance or theatre, because it can really affect you.
Is there someone – a non-dancer – that you’d love to go out dancing with?
Ah! Russell Brand probably. I think he’s an amazing character, I enjoy his craziness – I’m a bit like that as well, people call me Willy Wonka, that kind of character – and I could imagine he’s a very interesting dancer.
Many thanks to both Tony and Maddy. We look forward to welcoming Avant Garde Dance to Swindon on Tue 17 May with Fagin’s Twist. For more information and tickets visit the Swindon Theatres website.