Meet Freddie Opoku-Addaie, the curator of Out of the System 2018, a celebration of global and local dance

tung magazine interview out of the system dance umbrella

“It’s important to me to consider how we can start new conversations with the work. Both of these choreographers are really challenging their practices, and that feels exciting to me.”

This week, head over to Shoreditch Town Hall to catch Out of the System, a festival in its own right within the framework of Dance Umbrella, curated by choreographer, performer and educator, Freddie Opoku-Addaie. Freddie Opoku-Addaie invites South African born award-winning dancer and choreographer Gregory Maqoma and the artists of Via Katlehong to bring the whistling, tapping, clapping rebellion of the quick-stepping Pantsula movement to the stage in Via Kanana. The second show is from South-London choreographer and artist Ivan Blackstock (who we interviewed last year), who brings CRXSS PLATFXRM, an arts organisation devoted to supporting and showcasing the unseen wave of artists pushing forward UK Street Culture in the UK.

We caught up with Freddie to find out more about what to expect from the festival-within-a-festival…

Hi Freddie, so tell me a bit about Out of the System… 

Hi! So, Out of the System is a curation framework — this year under than banner we’re presenting two works: Via Kanana on Wednesday 10th and Thursday 11th, and Crxss Platfxrm on Friday 12th. Although I am a choreographer, I haven’t made any work this year — my role is as curator. 

What are your priorities when you’re curating a festival-within-a-festival like this one?

What I enjoy most is figuring out what goes next to what. You have to create a full meal - starter, main and dessert. It’s also about the quality of each element. In this case with Dance Umbrella, it’s also about the artist — both Gregory Maqoma and Ivan Blackstock work in and out of a system of the establishment. Via Katlehong [ed: the South African troupe working with Maqoma]  is bringing to the fore the Pantsula dance which was formed on the streets of South Africa back in the 50s. Those Pantsula roots connect strongly with what Ivan’s doing through Crxss Platfxrm with street culture. 

It’s also really important to me to consider how we can start new conversations with the work. Both of these choreographers are really challenging their practices, and that feels exciting to me. Gregory is an iconic South African choreographer working with traditional Pantsula dancers, while Ivan presented his work at Dance Umbrella four years ago and now he’s back as a curator. He’s transforming along with the scene, constantly reacting to it. As a choreographer, I know how easy it is to follow the same formula, so to challenge and therefore to challenge the audience to experience new things is important to me.

How does use of space come into your practice? 

Last year Out of the System took place over the course of one night, whereas this year the two pieces have been separated out. The space will change massively from the Via Kanana nights to the Crxss Platfxrm one, when it’ll become more immersive, and that’s part of the performance. How we relate to space and how we see space is important for getting new, diverse audiences in to see performance art. 

It used to be that if street dance made it into more mainstream spaces that the dance itself would be on the more commercial side. Now, by contrast, the underground scene is coming to the fore. The Pantsula performers are the custodians of that form, and the new wave of hip hop dancers coming through Crxss Platfxrm are the custodians of their form. They credit their lineage, making sure nothing gets lost in translation.

There’s an installation that’s part of the Crxss Platfxrm element — a cardboard cut-out of one of the artists holding a freeze. That cardboard relates to what street dancers used to dance on. For me that says something about the shift in the kinds of spaces that street dancers are coming into. They didn’t use to have the system around them, but in this realm cardboard is no longer a necessity.

On your earlier point about audience — what do you hope your audience will be talking about as they leave of Out of the System? 

I think a huge element is the pure rigour in the practice. The lineage of all those styles from the 50s onwards — you can’t deny that they have come through diasporic practices. Creating a hybrid that works — making those angles make sense so that the different styles don’t over power one another, but stand next to each other in communication, is a big part of what we’re doing with Out of the System. It feels natural, but at the same time we shouldn’t understand the craftsmanship that goes into getting these steps to work. 

The footwork in Via Kanana contains the roots of some of the aspects of house, you can really see that shining through. And I was just watching a little clip of a Crxss Platfxrm performance on YouTube the other day…at the end they do this incredible bit of performance that made me think, ’wow, this is ballet footwork, this is a classical form.’ I think it’ll be important for people to experience that, and see how that translates into the different styles you get within hip-hop — crumping, breaking, popping.

You’re obviously gleaning a lot of inspiration from the artists in Out of the System. Where else do you find your own creative inspiration? 

I see a lot of theatre. I recently really enjoyed Poet in da Corner — it’s not completely without fault, but I was interested in the integrity of the work and the subject matter that it challenged. That was really exciting to see. 

I also saw Noname a couple of months ago at KOKO - she owned the space in a way that reminded me of choreographic performance. She turned to go off stage after the last song and said to the audience ‘guys, this is where I go off stage and you start shouting for more, then I’ll come back.’ She walked up a couple of steps and came straight back down them again, almost in character. It was a great bit of choreographic practice to say: this is what you think you’re going to see, and I might adhere to that or I might turn it on it’s head.