Caro Meets Dance & Physical Interview

Tony Adigun: Fagin’s Twist

By | Published on Wednesday 28 September 2016


If you are into your contemporary dance, then you probably already know the name of Tony Adigun of Avant Garde Dance, the company behind – amongst other things – acclaimed triple bill ‘The Black Album’.

Avant Garde’s latest show has a rather interesting theme, taking an alternative look at the character of Fagin from ‘Oliver Twist’. Intrigued, I spoke to Tony, to find out more.

CM: Tell us about Fagin’s Twist – obviously it’s inspired by the Dickens classic but can you explain what story it tells?
TA: It takes some of the characters from Oliver Twist and looks more deeply into their personalities and how they react to the world they find themselves in. You don’t need any previous knowledge of the original story as it concentrates on the relationships between the characters.

CM: What themes does the piece explore?
TA: It’s narrative piece and it exposes some timeless societal themes such as cycles of poverty, ambition, greed and belonging. I hope it helps us to think differently about people’s situations and actions.

CM: What made you want to tell Fagin’s story like this? Are you a fan of Dickens?
TA: I was looking for a classic tale to re-tell, and finally settled on the story of Oliver Twist. In thinking about the different characters in the book, with the team, I set about re-imagining some of them; discussing what led them to the point at which the story we all know starts, and creating back-stories for those who didn’t have them.

Oliver’s character seemed too simple, he was too nice and everything just fell into place for him. It seemed too easy for him. Fagin was the last one we looked at. I’m a believer in the underdog and I was really interested in his personality. I wanted to take his journey before he got to the point where he’s most recognisable and look at his past, at his childhood and see what parallels I could make between him and Oliver.

CM: Can you describe the choreography used in the show? What genre would you call it?
TA: I wouldn’t call it any one specific genre as such. I work with contemporary dance but am heavily influenced by hip-hop culture and my work in the commercial dance world. The eight incredible dancers who perform the piece bring a variety of backgrounds, training and styles into the mix. Text is also a really important element of the show. It brings another layer and I enjoy the complexity and the simplicity that text can bring to a moment. It’s a third element which helps to infuse what’s going on and explain what’s happening.

CM: How important are the music choices?
TA: I’m a massive fan of music and so I work really closely with my collaborators in selecting the right kind of music. The mood, energy and style need to complement what’s happening on stage. We try out all sorts of different music and sounds in the studio during the creative process, so it’s an experimental process. Sometimes we get it right first time, but sometimes it takes a long time to get it just right!

CM: How do you bring a show like this together? Do you work with the dancers to devise the choreography or does it all come from you?
TA: It definitely doesn’t all come from me – I’m not superman! We all work as a collaborative team on this, devising choroegraphy and looking at themes, feelings, emotions. Once we’ve done that, we then look at weaving them all back together as a team.

CM: Can you tell us about the other creatives involved in bringing the show together?
TA: I worked with dramaturg Adam Peck, writer Maxwell Golden, sound designers Brian Hargreaves and Seymour Milton, lighting designer Jackie Shemesh and set and costume designer Yann Seabra. It’s been great working them all – they’re all incredible artists. This is the biggest show we’ve made as Avant Garde Dance Company, so they’ve all been so important to the work. The process of working with them has allowed me to take a step back and look at the overall picture.

CM: Can you tell us about Avant Garde Dance, and why you set up the company?
TA: Avant Garde Dance Company came about when six friends came together to create, in a fire station in East London. We wanted to get away from confines of the commercial industry. We wanted to look at everything, from the music to the lights to the costume… I felt there was more than being a backing dancer, and I wanted to explore those other realms.

CM: That was about fifteen years ago, wasn’t it? What highlights have there been in that time?
TA: There have been so many different highlights! I recently worked with Cirque du Soleil which was an incredible experience. And of course, ‘Fagin’s Twist’, which is the big highlight for the whole company right now!

Other highlights have been ‘The Black Album’, which we toured through the UK and to India, and also British Dance Edition, when we performed as part of the same platform as Hofesh Shechter Company and Akram Kahn Company.

We’ve just been awarded Arts Council Elevate funding which will support our development over the next three years, which will allow us to push our vision even further.

‘Fagin’s Twist’ is on at The Place until 15 Oct. See this page here for more info and to book.

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Photo: Alicia Clarke