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Talking to Freddie Opoku-Addaie, Artistic Director of Dance Umbrella

Talking to Freddie Opoku-Addaie, Artistic Director of Dance Umbrella

Freddie Opoku-Addaie is a critically acclaimed choreographer, dancer/performer, curator and teacher and is also the recipient of several choreographic awards and commissions. East London-born, Freddie’s #Ghanian heritage informs his art practice through which he references disparate movement styles, folkloric themes and structured choreography to make witty, conversational and affecting work.

Close to Home Marketing shoot at The Albany on 30th August 2022

Before becoming Freddie was Guest Programmer for Dance Umbrella during a three-year initiative from 2016-2019. His Out of the System programme presented exhilarating work by dance practitioners from the UK and abroad.

Can you tell us a bit about your job as Artistic and Chief Executive Director of Dance Umbrella?

Bf by Jorge Crecis & Freddie Opoku-Addaie, part of Aerowaves, dance across europe 2010 photo Benedict Johnson (2009)

The role entails an artistic overview – it’s a very collaborative team, so artistically there are a lot of conversations about who we want to present internationally. I travel internationally and nationally a lot to see shows, through artists’ invitations and recommendations. I bring my own knowledge as well as that of artists that I want to bring into the conversation of what an international dance festival in London, with a 44 year history, should be presenting and where.  We’re not venue based and it’s really important to consider how we locate ourselves as a festival and where our hub is, as well as who we want to be partnering up with. The festival takes place in zones 1- 6 and beyond, so we really are London wide.

Boyle_NJ_NoraChipaumire_Shot04_0331

As Artistic Director and Chief Executive, I bring my passion for the global city that I was born in, my innate curiosity as an artist as well as my Ghanaian heritage. My enriched multiplicity and nuances of experience in the thick of it are vital and artistically it has to comes across.

 How would you say the festival is evolving under your artistic directorship?
 
I took the reins in the middle of the pandemic and now with everything that’s happening with the cost of living it’s important to be aware of how to support independent artists and the sector more broadly. It’s not just about presenting artists’ work but also about supporting work before and beyond the festival, to support artists to be sustainable in the 21st century. We want to widen the centre of leadership in the sector – involving the next wave of artists in the conversation. There is a big gap between established artists and those who are not necessarily in the conversation but are also making really exciting work. Dance Umbrella has been a trailblazer for closing that gap and it’s something I am committed to continuing. The sensibility of the festival this year really gives that vibe, as well as focusing on equity in diversity of artists and the team that works with them. 

Some types of artists are afforded the benefit of the doubt, often when it comes to black and global majority groups it’s called  ‘taking risks’ – that narrative must evolve unapologetically. 

What is your approach to making programming choices?
 
I have a lot of conversations – as an artist myself it’s great to speak to my peers and also to other programmers and international presenters. I feel strongly that parity between artists is really important when extending the canon beyond Western aesthetics. Also, looking at artists that we’ve presented previously and seeing what other ways we can position their work, for example digitally. Dance Umbrella is very unique as we have conversations with a wide range of venues, we look at the ambition of the artist and where they envision their work happening. 

Can you give us a whistle stop tour through the programme:
 
We’re opening the festival with a beautiful, visually arresting work called Reverie by Georgia Tegou and Michalis Theophanous, which I’m really proud to present as I see those artists as the next wave of established artists. 

 I’m excited we have nora chipaumire in her first London visit with ShebeenDUB, a sound system installation, live performance and part gig exploring dub and sound system culture as a movement of the black African diasporic practice in partnership with Bernie Grant Arts Centre

Then we’ve got Alleyne Dance Close to Home,which is part of Lewisham’s year as London Borough of Culture 2022 and is a big participatory project with over 200 participants, taking place in Sedgehill Park, a very diverse community. It’s really exploring migration and the richness that it brings to the community and London broadly. 

Triple bill Change Tempo is a bite sizes works in platforming upcoming established artists that’s must be on our radar. This year Change Tempo questions ideas of transmission, transformation and representation with Luiz de Abreu and Calixto Neto’s O Samba do Crioulo Doido, BABAE by Joy Alpuerto Ritter and Linda Hayford’s Shapeshifting. As a multinational triple bill it really gives a sense of the incredible range of contemporary work that has and is being made internationally now.

Chiara Bersani’s Seeking Unicorns is a beautiful piece that we’ve wanted to present since before the pandemic.  We’re presenting it at the National Gallery. It explores the ‘political body’ and the disabled artist’s position. The placing of this work is very unique.

Then we have Oona Doherty with her third visit to Dance Umbrella. Navy Blue is her most ambitious work to date in terms of scale.  It and features music by Sergeï Rachmaninoff and Jamie xx. This piece delves into where we’ve been and where we’re heading with an urgent appeal for social change, it will be at Sadler’s Wells.

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The breadth of work is really compelling and diverse, I think that’s what a global city like London must offer as an international dance festival.

Touring London has been a feature of DU’s family friendly programme for some time – tell us a bit about the rationale of this and about this year’s show.
 
Do-re-mi-ka-do is a very playful work by the Dutch company de Stilte that looks at the relationship between sound and body and is for children aged 2 and above. It goes on a mini tour within the festival to six venues across London, and for me it’s really important that we bring these international artists and world-class work to local communities. We also want to support our venue partners in outer boroughs during these challenging times for London.
 
Why have you decided to continue with a hybrid model this year and can you give us an overview of the Digital programme.
 
There’s some amazing work out there that can’t be presented live.  We have a national and international audience that is unable to see the work we present in person and they can purchase a digital pass, which is very affordable. It’s accessible and presents dance film as an art form in its own right, as well as giving audiences and fans way to get closer to how artists think and work.

 We’ve commissioned new films including Abby Zbikowski’s Radioactive Practice which is a beautiful piece of work. We also have in-conversations with world renowned choreographers. And for the first time this year we have a podcast with composers, musicians and sound designers that work very closely with choreographers, exploring what that relationship is like. So there is a range of work that I think is really important and we can’t do it all live. It makes sense to offer a digital programme in the modern world in which we live.

The programme is led by a majority intersectional female line-up – was this a deliberate choice?
 

No, it just worked out that way – there are many female makers out there that are creating amazing work from multiple perspectives. I always believe we’re working beyond the 3 T’s – being tokenistic, tickboxing and just tolerating. This year’s particularly strong line-up is a nod to what’s happening in the sector, Dance Umbrella has managed to capture that and frame it within the context of this year’s festival.

What would you say to a first time DU attender about why the festival is unmissable?
 
All of it is unmissable – obviously that’s what I’m going to say! It’s affordable, which is really important in an expensive city like London, and we’re working to make the festival as accessible as possible. We’re widening the offer with our hybrid festival and by having a range of venues across a global city, with venues that cater to different types of audiences and tastes. You will get something different from each show, you are not going to get the same experience twice. One thing that I would say about the artists is that they are all very curious and there is a sense of strong artistic practice and outward equity. So audiences, there is a lot happening in October, but I can definitely guarantee that Dance Umbrella is very unique. There is something for everyone.
 
Anything else you’d like to say?

As someone born in London, I’m really proud of this festival and how it reflects our wonderful global city – it’s our #DUfest22. More and to book: https://www.danceumbrella.co.uk/