Abundant Art is delighted to chat with Akeim Toussaint Buck in the run up to his upcoming show. On Thursday 20 and Friday 21 January, Sadler’s Wells welcomes Akeim Toussaint Buck to the Lilian Baylis Studio to present his Wild Card, Radical Visions with an ensemble of artists.
The curated evening features live music, spoken word, film and powerful performances by artists who work with the themes of social transformation and diasporic identity. It celebrates the resilience and joy of the artists’ communities whilst underlining the oppression and trauma they face.
Akeim Toussaint Buck’s interview with Abundant Art-
What does dance mean to you?
Dance for me is a means of healing. We heal when we express ourselves and for me dance has been an expressive tool of deep healing and liberation that I don’t even have the words to truly communicate. So, I create, and I teach to hopefully strike others with that message and truth. For me this is what every expressive art form does for us.
Your work covers multiple art forms to tell the story, combining dance, creative writing, film, poetry, beat-box, singing and acting. What inspires you to work on multiple artforms?
Humanity speaks many languages so it’s only right my message is delivered in multiple mediums. Sometimes my work is just dance however the process to create the dance is fed by different mediums. Source material can be poetry and sometimes it’s a film or a specific song or an interview or a situation etc. In the context of a finished product, for me to get my message across one medium just doesn’t cut it. As a creator whose focus is on people and their stories, I feel it necessary to exercise my skills in many ways, telling stories that can open up new perspectives for audiences. This also bridges the gaps between audiences, inviting regular theatre goers, dance enthusiasts, supporters of poetry and live music to be in one space. Or someone who’s simply interested in the subject matter, so they come to witness art like this for the first time and they hopefully become hooked because their appetite is enriched with so many different flavours.
What are the elements that spur you when creating new work?
Ascension, curiosity of clarity, enlightenment, challenging myself and questioning collective accepted norms that we all know deep down should be questioned. I’ll give an example: in ‘Windows of Displacement’ & ‘Displaced’ I was adamant to use my own story as a springboard to look at global situations of injustice related to displacement. I was adamant to show the connections between what has taken place in the past and the current political climate we live in. The purpose becomes the fuel, even when I’m trembling inside questioning my position to tell this story and thinking no one will care. The passion to reveal something in the work keeps me going, digging and breaking my own fears around exercising my right to freedom of speech.
What is the Radical Visions story, how did it come about?
The opportunity to do a Wild Card came about because I asked for it and kept putting myself out there and my willingness to bet on myself and the artists I have programmed. You must back yourself first or else no one else will.
I went to a couple of other artist’s Wild Cards and was inspired by this idea of curating your own night. I took part in Spoken Movement and Keira Martin’s Wild Cards, and both were earth shatteringly brilliant, so I felt excited to express to the programmers that I am interested in hosting my own. They liked my track record and ideas after a chat and then we began to plan.
I thought long and hard since 2019 on what I would bring together. At first it was How we Rise, a nod to the late great Ms Maya Angelou. However, as the pandemic hit and my own confidence in my profession became shaken and the sudden global lens placed on the plight of People of the Global Majority (People of African Descent and Indigenous People), it became apparent that something more heart centred and focussed on us lifting ourselves out of the doom and celebrating our inner power had to be the theme. Radical Visions is born as a response to all things that we find lacking in our society, it’s a soap box for the people our society likes to forget. This Radical Visions is about placing people of the African Diaspora who live in the west at the centre of the lens rather than at the margins. That’s why I’ve programmed artists of that identification and who make work that reflects on that experience.
Does the theme of Radical Visions reflect your own experiences of diasporic identity?
The theme of Radical Visions transforms to reflect my diasporic identity in the form of being the product of a radical imagination and radical environments. Being of the African Diaspora in a predominantly European environment means my experience is unique, this society was not built for me to fit in it fairly. However, I am here and the society, regardless of its foundations, has to treat me with humility and respect as a fellow human being. It sometimes doesn’t, it sometimes does beat me down in numerous ways but still we are here beaming with greatness. This is testimony to the radical persistence of oppressed people. The truth is like a lion’s roar and this roar is saying we are human beings and that we deserve to be treated the same as anyone no matter where we are from or what you may believe about us. I do feel it is sad though that something so natural is now radical, that is a reflection of our times. Love, compassion and empathy are now radical.
Radical Visions also talks about the oppressions and trauma faced by the artists’ community and their resilience. Please elaborate and share your thoughts with us.
The artists in Radical Visions all come from the African Diaspora, this means we are descendants of the enslaved people taken from Africa for the trans-Atlantic slave trade. This act literally funded the world we now live in, and the atrocities enacted to such close relatives are inherited by us. Not just us the descendants of victims but the perpetrators too. This is not just focused on this situation; this is the same for the descendants of survivors and victims of World War One and Two. Scientists have proven that we do inherit the traumas of our ancestors, the experience is in our DNA. Some Artists decide to make work that ushers us into the possibility of healing those parts of ourselves, by giving space to what has not been acknowledged. Our painful pasts become fuel for our creations as we rewrite, re-experience, explore and give new life to it. We transform this pain into something beautiful and transformational for the audience, ourselves and our communities. This is the same for our communities, regardless of the attempts of genocide of traditions and people. Traditions continue to thrive and evolve, we continue to dance, sing, drum, and tell our folklore stories of our magic. As if during slavery the drum was banned but still, we found a way.
Just a side note, I truly believe that the time we live in now is a time where the inheritors of such resilience will become the leaders of tomorrow because now more than ever, we need creativity so we can adapt to this quickly changing world.
Creative expression is a vehicle of healing that everyone can practice to get to know themselves. Our communities did this during pre-colonial times and they still do because of the resilience of the act of creating. Again, this isn’t necessarily isolated to people of recent African decent however, due to the times we live in, we see people of African heritage practicing more dance and song communally because it is and always has been our pass time, before, during and after the slave trade. This is what my entire message is, at the core of all of us we have the same need, the need to express and be heard. This expression transforms depending on who we are, the acceptance of a diverse landscape of expressions is the Radical Vision.
Your presentation at Wild Card on 20th and 21st are packed with powerful work from a team of amazing co-artists exploring topical themes such as race, identity, unity, and power. What led you to select the team?
I selected the artists for Radical Visions based on the intention I felt from their work and them as people. Both companies aim to shed light on the many dimensions of what it means to live an African diasporic life. This was something crucial for this Radical Visions. I also contemplated whether this opportunity or event makes sense for their career and their projection of themselves. They had to want to do the event of course, this was super important. I am really happy with all involved, everyone connects to the theme and their work will shine and connect with people. FUBUNATION and Alethia Antonia are rewriting and expanding the possibilities of how people receive work, not just because of their identity but because of their ability to be relatable, vulnerable, with flaming hot movement language and potent messages without excluding their audience. This for me is a genius balance in being an artist and I just want to tip my hat to them.
Lastly, the cover poster for Radical Vision with a flaming Akeim Toussaint Buck leaping out of a stained-glass background with flying locks is absolutely striking. It tells the audience what can be expected from your performance. We would love to know about this image and if this is a part of a performance.
Pertaining to the picture. That is the great synchronicity of myself and Ashley Karrell, the photographer. This church is a location in the film ‘Displaced,’ yes, some dancing takes place. You’ll have to catch the film to see exactly how. It is a very beautiful image, full of symbolism and metaphor, it felt perfect to promote Radical Visions. As you may know Christianity was used to mentally indoctrinate many people who were subject to biological and cultural genocides, for example, Africans and Native Americans. To have myself dressed as this mystical African Angel Warrior, leaping out of this stained-glass window, represents breaking the mental chains. Don’t get me wrong, Christianity really and truly started in Africa, don’t believe me, read up on Ethiopian and the Egyptian connections to it.
The hunter not the hunted tells the story so when the European powers at the time were ready to spread their version across the world, the tactics were placed in scripture. So, for me it’s really an image saying we can connect to the god all around us in the traditional way our ancestors used to. And I’m not just talking about African spirituality, I’m talking about the Druids and ancient Celtic and Nordic cultures. It was about the Earth and the Spirit of the Universe as god and that lives in us.
Radical Visions is Co-Produced by Sadler’s Wells and Akeim Toussaint Buck for Wild Card. Radical Visions is also a part of Sadler’s Wells’ new programme Well Seasoned, Celebrating Black Dance in 2022.
Other artists featuring are London-based dance duo FUBUNATION, Ashley Karrell, Azizi Cole, Otis Jones, Pariss Elecktra, Amy Gadiaga and Muti Musifiri. Akeim Toussaint image by photographer Ashley Karrell.
Tickets:Wild Card: Akeim Toussaint Buck – Radical Visions – Lilian Baylis Studio – Sadler’s Wells (sadlerswells.com)
About Wild Card
Wild Card is the unique initiative providing a glimpse of the rich variety of work that makes up the current dance landscape. Increasingly popular with audiences and artists alike, Wild Card opens the stage to an exciting and adventurous community of dance-makers, giving a broad range of artists the unique opportunity to curate their own evening of dance. These specially curated nights feature exploratory approaches to choreography and combine different mediums, broadening audiences’ perspectives on dance made today.
Wild Card is part of Sadler’s Wells’ talent development programme of support for dance artists, alongside other initiatives including New Wave Associates, Sadler’s Wells Summer University and hosting the National Youth Dance Company.
About Akeim Toussaint Buck
Akeim Toussaint Buck is an interdisciplinary performer and maker, born in Jamaica and raised in England. Akeim’s intention is to create moving, thought provoking, accessible and free-spirited projects. The work challenges, enlightens and entertains in a visceral way, calling on multiple art forms to tell the story. Audiences are invited to not just observe: they are implicit in the experience. His work aims to reflect on reality, looking at ongoing socio-political issues, with a humanitarian intention.
Since graduating from the Northern School of Contemporary Dance with a Bachelor degree in Performing Arts, Akeim has been involved in multiple cross disciplinary programmes with a wide range of artists and communities from around the world. The aesthetic of his work combines: dance, creative writing, film, poetry, beat-box, singing and acting. Fused to tell stories capable of bridging the gaps between a variety of audiences.
Akeim’s movement interest has a myriad of inspirations, from Capoeira, Kick Boxing, Contemporary Dance, Contact Improvisation, Caribbean Dance, Hip Hop, Yoga and Release Technique to name a few. His performance focus expands from the physical to vocal expression. Building on an interest in the voice’s expressive qualities, with current explorations of beat boxing and vocal improvisation.
Recent achievements include becoming Irie Dance Theatre’s, Artist in Residence for 2019-2020, becoming the Artist for Northern School of Contemporary Dance, Yorkshire Dance and Spin Arts’ Catapult 2019. Thanks to Deda Theatre in Derby where Akeim has been recently appointed Associate Artist 2020-2021, gaining more support in his work. Thanks to Geraldine Connor Foundation where Akeim is an Associate Artist. Attaining a Seed Commission for piloting Beatmotion Mass for Leeds Year of Culture 2023.
Akeim’s work has been supported by Yorkshire Dance, Leeds Playhouse, Leeds Inspired, IRIE! Dance Theatre, Spin Arts, Serendipity, NSCD, Sadler’s Wells and Arts Council England. His choreographic work includes: Snakebox’s PLAY, Windows Of Displacement, Reckoning, Sib Y Osis, Beatmotion, Souls & Cells etc. Film work includes Galvanise & Displaced.