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Freddie Opoku-Addaie on Dance Umbrella Festival and making dance more accessible

Dance Umbrella is London’s resident international dance festival that brings to the fore brilliant dance works from artists that test the limits of movement and choreography.

Running from 7-23 October, this year’s festival will feature a blend of in-person performances in the capital and online events to get the global dance community together to celebrate the art form. We chatted to the festival’s Artistic Director Freddie Opoku-Addaie about what audiences can expect from this year’s programme, which will focus on platforming intersectional, diverse and innovative female dancemakers from across the world.

Katie Hagan: Hi Freddie! Tell us about this year’s hybrid programme and what audiences can expect.
Freddie Opoku-Addaie: This exciting hybrid programme will bring some of the most distinctive international and UK based artists making choreographic work to our global city. What’s excites me most about this year’s work is the unified theme that features across all the performances we are presenting: an awareness of our collective differences and how enriching this experience is.

Taking a deeper look into the programme, we will welcome Dance Umbrella debuts from Chiara Bersani’s Seeking Unicorns in partnership at the National Gallery. We also have a London and Dance Umbrella debut from nora chipaumire with ShebeenDUB, an audio-visual installation into dub culture with a part social, part dance, part gig and part social dancing. chipaumire has invited other international movement artists Yinka Esi Graves, Marguerite Hemmings and Trojan Sound. This UK premiere is a celebration of a creative African diasporic invention of dub produced by Dance Umbrella and presented in partnership by Bernie Grant Centre.

Oona Doherty will return to Dance Umbrella with the UK premiere of Navy Blue, and for younger audiences, there’s the joyful work Do-Re-Mi-Ka-Do by de Stilte.

As well as presenting exciting debuts and premieres, we have curated an international mixed bill Change Tempo exploring themes of transformation, transmission and representation in partnership with Brixton House. This will involve artists Linda Hayford, Joy Alpureto Ritter and the Luis de Abreu transmitted solo performed by Calixto Neto.

Nora Chipaumire - Credit Ian Douglas

Katie Hagan: Who is opening and closing the festival?
Freddie Opoku-Addaie:
We open the festival with Reverie by Georgia Tegou and Michalis Theophanous. This piece invites audiences into their signature ‘dance-as- design’ world, blurring the line between real and imaginary.

To close the festival, we have the large-scale participatory work Close To Home by Alleyne Dance as part of We Are Lewisham. This celebrates the impact of diverse migration in the community and beyond.

For me, it’s a no brainer that Dance Umbrella presents art of this relevance across a unique global city like London.

Katie Hagan: This is the second year of a hybrid festival. Why is it important to have a mix of online and in-person events?
Freddie Opoku-Addaie:
We’re a festival that is proud to bring amazing international and national artists to audiences across the whole of London. But beyond this, we also believe in the importance of widening the reach and accessibility of artists and art to audiences who cannot join us in person.

We’re also known for being a festival that is more than just live performances. For years now we’ve been broadening and deepening our audience’s understanding of dance through articles, discussions and films, and this year we’re adding podcasts to our programme too!

Katie Hagan: How will these podcasts and programmes help audiences experience and consume dance in other ways?
Freddie Opoku-Addaie:
Dance, like many other artforms, is all about creating a vision or a fully realised piece of work that audiences see, feel and hear.

The concept for the Choreographer’s Cut films and Sound in Motion podcasts is about pulling back that curtain so to speak, allowing audiences to get a deeper insight into the making process with the people who were in the room making the decisions.

For Choreographer’s Cut we’ll be talking to Saburo Teshigawara, Wendy Houstoun and Hetain Patel about their works, where their inspirations came from and how they came to be made. For Sound in Motion we’ll be speaking to Amy May, Michael ‘Mikey J’ Asante, and Vincenzo Lamagna about the relationship between composer and choreographer, listening to scores they created for dance works and hearing the process of how they came to life.

de Stilte, Do Re Mi Ka Do - Image: Hans Gerritsen

Katie Hagan: Do your experiences as an independent dance maker feed into your work as artistic director of Dance Umbrella?
Freddie Opoku-Addaie:
I have been in this role for nearly 18 months, and I feel there are a lot of transferable skills. I can collaborate with people from all backgrounds towards a shared goal. I have and will conjure spaces for widening aesthetics within and beyond the western canon. I know and empathise with the lack of structural support independent artist/s have and what they need to sustain some kind of equitable career in this sector.

My vision is to widen the centre and hopefully, through continuing support of funders and collaborative partnerships, we can level up the playing field.

Katie Hagan: How do you keep a festival with such rich history so fresh to audiences?
Freddie Opoku-Addaie:
The work speaks for itself. As long as there are the conditions available for artists to equitably thrive and continue making bold and innovative work that speaks to all different types of people, then we will keep presenting it in a festival that celebrates that.


To view the Dance Umbrella festival programme and book tickets, please head here. 

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