FReddie Opoku-Addaie is celebrating his new job as artistic director of the Dance Umbrella festival, but he’s not sure if there will be a live festival to lead this year. The 2021 event isn’t scheduled until October, when he’s hopeful the cinemas will be back online, but there could be bends, if an international artist comes as part of a tour, for example, and has to self-quarantine between. countries. “Hopefully, fingers crossed, at least part of it can be live,” he says.
Opoku-Addaie is only the fourth artistic director in Dance Umbrella’s 43 years, after Val Bourne, Betsy Gregory and Emma Gladstone. The annual London festival is a reliable highlight on the dance calendar, from its early days giving first exposure to Mark Morris, Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker and Michael Clark to recent years discovering contemporary ice skaters Le Patin Libre and acclaimed choreographer Oona Doherty.
Opoku-Addaie’s mission is to “broaden the center,” that is, to broaden the idea of what conventional contemporary dance is: how it looks, who does it, where we see it, and how it interacts with other art forms. He wants not only to find the new, but also to value artists who are neither “hot youngsters” nor establishment names. “I’m really interested in artists who blew up and then fell silent; they’re still doing amazing things, they’re still doing interesting work.”
You could say that the 40-year-old man is one of them. Born in East London, he spent time in Ghana as a child and discovered dance at Newham Sixth Form College. He danced with Wayne McGregor and Candoco and then began choreographing work that is witty, playful, questioning, and props buff. He was a two-time Place Award finalist, most notably for 2010’s Fidelity Project, a duet with Frauke Requardt involving a popcorn machine, but outsiders to the world of contemporary dance could have easily lost sight of him since.
Part of that time was spent as a guest programmer for Dance Umbrella under Gladstone, where he was passionate about defending artists off the radar, especially the ones on his doorstep. “I think London is the greatest city of all time, it is diverse in its diversity,” he says. “There are a variety of artists that I really want to support on the international stage. We need to shout about our artists doing incredible work. The music scene and other sectors are more vocal about that, we could do much more in dance. “
Dance can be vocal in other ways as well. The people at the dance are notoriously nice, he says. “Maybe sometimes we are too nice”, when it comes to receiving adequate payment, for example, or talking about a system that leaves most of its artists living precariously. Every now and then you will hear someone refer to you as someone who is difficult to work with. “Why are they difficult?” Opoku-Addaie asks. “Is it because they don’t want to work this way, in this structure? Maybe we should adapt. “
When it comes to diversity, be it Bame, LGBTQ, or disabled artists, Opoku-Addaie is calling time to “the three Ts”: checkbox, tokenism, tolerated. “So it’s not one inside, one outside,” he says. “I’m in this new role, but it means people don’t turn their backs and say, ‘That’s great, he’s the first black artist to direct Dance Umbrella, everything’s fine.’ It’s definitely not all right. How can we move things forward beyond ‘OK, we have one in it’? It is a larger conversation.
“There is more listening, and that’s what I’m going to do as well. So we are not only tolerating, for artists to do their best work we have to go further, they need to know that you support them and that you are with them. “
Opoku-Addaie’s thoughts on change also cover more imaginative programming (juxtaposing hip-hop, traditional African dance, and ballet, for example) making the industry more self-sufficient and giving artists “priceless free time. “to develop beyond the conveyor belt of eternity. creating the next show. The post-pandemic landscape could offer an opportunity to redraw the picture.
“This is the moment when artists, creatives and the public can really reimagine how we exist,” he says. “So it’s really exciting. We’ve been through tough times, what could be more challenging? In comparison, this is not a risk. The risk is that we do not do it.”
You are ready to play your role. “Festivals, especially Dance Umbrella, capture people’s imagination and give a feeling of…” Think for a moment. “’Hope’ sounds a bit cheesy. But they push us to do something bigger than ourselves. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism