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Q&A: Freddie Opoku-Addaei on 'Out of the System', A House Party for Dance Umbrella

Photo credit: Benedict Johnson

Freddie Opoku-Addaie is a British-born Ghanaian choreographer, performer and educator. He juxtaposes instinctive movement, ritualistic folk practices, and structured choreography, with indeterminate rules and parameters. The resulting works explore universal notions of the group, the individual and the outsider. He is a former Royal Opera House Associate Artist at ROH2 (2009-12) and his works have been presented nationally and internationally. Run Riot speaks to Freddie ahead of the Out of the System 'festival-within-a-festival' which he has curated for Dance Umbrella 2017.

Eli Goldstone: What does 'Out of the System' refer to? 

Freddie Opoku-Addaie: In this context it refers to the multiplicity and overlapping of artists’ cultures along with the tools from vocational and non-vocational structures from global influences. ‘Out of the System’ means the rigorous navigation and crafting in and out of the conventional framing in how we present dance and performance works. In 2017 it’s still very rare to see such a diverse billing of mid-career and established artists sharing the same platform. 'Out of the System' is a metaphor for this.

Eli: Who's performing and what sort of performances can visitors expect? How did you decide who to approach to be part of the festival? 

Freddie: This year we have Across the Souvenir by Alesandra Seutin (Belgium/UK), After Tears by Sello Pesa (South Africa), VEN by La Macana (Spain) and Clay by Yinka Esi Grave and Asha Thomas (UK/Sevile and USA/Paris), I saw these artists and their works nearly ten years ago (on mainland Europe and in Asia) and they still conjure vivid memories. Clay is refreshingly playful and gives a glimpse of the multi-facets of all diaspora today, which is also true across all the programming. We're working with the artists in framing a bespoke intimate setting across Rich Mix venue. And of course, the autonomy is with the Maker and they have the liberty to break away from or navigate the rules as they please - or totally run riot! Ha!

It's safe to say summer has definitely gone ('What summer?' I hear) but despite that the music festival vibe will reappear on 16th & 17th October with live bands Kioko and Yaaba Funk. I saw Kioko as the opening act for Lee Scratch Perry at The Jazz Cafe last year, and not surprisingly they've been a hit across the major music festivals over the summer. I've seen Yaaba Funk on numerous occasions and they performed at my wedding; they are a groove machine that leaves not a stationary soul in sight. 

As the everyday Opoku-Addaie (not the choreographer and dancer) I find ways to suppress movement that evolves into dancing but their sounds and what they conjure on stage got me moving. Audiences should get ready for a fun and incredible fusion of ingenious local and global talent; this is a new kind of house party. Also expect to throw a few shapes yourselves, I’ll be looking out for those trusted 'head bobbing' GIFs. 

Photo credit: Benedict Johnson

Eli: Your work combines elements from so many places - contemporary dance, Ghanaian folk dance, capoeira and hip hop, to name a few - do you find that combining elements of several disciplines allows for more freedom and scope? 

Freddie: First of all, all these forms are contemporary. The cultural forms are continually present and exist today and totally influence western contemporary dance and vice versa. I've never worked in any non-verbal, movement language just to say "Yeah, check this out" - but it’s a way into its wider context or framing. This is where the endless freedom and scope of the imagination can start to conjure stuff.

Eli: Has dance helped you shape and explore your own sense of identity? 

Freddie: No, it has not shaped my identity but certainly dance is a tool for helping to reveal layers of myself that I don’t even see or understand yet. 

Eli: Much of your work is collaborative - what sort of dialogue can be best explored using choreography? 

Freddie: I've realised over the years that I don't engage in collaboration with other dance artists or artists in other forms because I'm lonely, I necessarily enjoy it or can't live without it. But the exchange opens up another discourse and choreography is a powerful tool to shed a light on the ‘elephant in the room’. 

Eli: Finally - if you could dance with only one person for the rest of your life, who would it be? 

Freddie: Well, I cannot choose between my wife or son, and, to add, the late Rashpal Singh Bansal. As a dance artist and performer you could not ignore his ‘presences’; he was unapologetically inquisitive and his infectious spirit lives on and moves inside me.

Building on these collaborations within me, I would invite Elsa Wolliaston (iconic dance artist/educator) based in France. What she conjures with what you could call her innate tools – those vocational, non-vocational and global influences – means instead of my Opoku-Addaie ways of suppressing movement, I experience a state of wonder within seconds of beginning and as Elsa looks at me and the trusted ‘head bobbing’ starts, my (Opoku-Addaie) movement evolves into dancing of out context.


Dance Umbrella 2017 presents
Out of The System
Curated by Guest Programmer
Freddie Opoku-Addaie
Mon 16 - Tue 17 Oct, 7:30 pm
at Rich Mix
Tickets and info: danceumbrella.co.uk