Oguike’s Green In Blue, performed in 2008
Henri Oguike is a leopard who can change his spots. His work is always inspired by music, always sleek and technically accomplished, but his colours and patterns change drastically from piece to piece.
Oguike was born of a Welsh mother and a Nigerian father in Swansea in 1971. He was 18 months old when the family moved to Nigeria. His mother soon returned to Wales and, at the age of 10, Oguike followed. In unemployment-riven Port Talbot, he drifted aimlessly through his teens and bunked off school, but also got into breakdancing. His teachers at Swansea College encouraged him to audition for the London Contemporary Dance School and he succeeded. Oguike became a founder member of the Richard Alston Dance Company in 1994, where he was a striking, charismatic dancer. His star was rising when, in 1998, his hopes were dashed: he snapped his Achilles tendon.
On crutches and on the dole, Oguike was close to giving up dance altogether. But he decided first to try his hand at choreography – and showed a precocious talent. He founded the Henri Oguike Dance Company in 1999 and began touring productions. His fiercely musical choreography and skilled troupe of dancers soon attracted attention. Front Line (2002) was singled out as an astonishingly bold, assured work for such a young choreographer.
Since then, he has scarcely paused for breath, with the Henri Oguike Dance Company touring Europe, China and the United States. In addition to regularly creating new works for his own group, Oguike has received commissions from Bare Bones, Phoenix Dance Theatre and the Portuguese companies Companhia Portuguesa de Bailado Contemporaneo and Companhia Nacional de Bailado. He has also worked with the Britten Sinfonia and made several pieces for student groups. He was the director of Youth Dance Wales for three years (2004–2007) and made a short film for Channel 4 in 2007. The company’s current 10th anniversary tour is a retrospective of highlights, including Front Line, which is now recognised as his signature work.
Watching Henri Oguike
Like Richard Alston, Oguike uses music as a starting point and his pieces tend towards the abstract, even if they have a narrative undercurrent. His technical style – long-limbed extensions, tricky twists and balances – is also similar to Alston’s, albeit with movements more rhythmic and earthy than you’d find in his mentor’s work.
Oguike is renowned for his broad musical tastes, which range from Scarlatti to Shostakovich, Japanese drums to Arabic lute, avant-garde electronica to Mexican folk songs. So be prepared for an eclectic musical mix and don’t expect a predictable choreographic response.
The company wouldn’t be where it is today without Isabel Tamen, another former Alston dancer. Tamen has been the company manager from the beginning and is also Oguike’s wife and mother to his children. Oguike’s most regular artistic collaborator is lighting designer Guy Hoare, whose environments of light, shade and colour are often an integral part of the choreography. His most regular musical collaborators are the Pavão Quartet; his dancers have included Nuno Campos, Nuno Silva, Charlotte Eatock and Sarah Storer.
Of all his invitations and commissions, Oguike is most proud of heading Youth Dance Wales. (He is terribly patriotic.)
In his own words
“[I’d seen] men and women running around in leotards, looking strange. The next thing, I’m there doing it, thinking, ‘Oh my God!'”
“I’d like to think, as an ongoing challenge, you can bring the dance and music audience in a way that genuinely lets one into the other’s world.” – Interview with Lyndsey Winship, Dance Now, 2005
In other words
“Henri Oguike is an indecently talented fellow.” – Mark Monahan, Telegraph 2008
“What’s thrilling about Oguike is not just his talent, but the fact that he is pushing so hard to find out what it can do.” – Judith Mackrell, Guardian, 2005
“An evening with Henri Oguike is always an evening of spirited musical adventure.” – Debra Craine, Times, 2008
“That dance wasn’t quite what I expected with that music. But it figures.”
“So, are you the black Billy Elliot?”
(As one Radio 3 interviewer asked in a live broadcast, leaving Oguike stumped.)
Richard Alston Dance Company
Now watch this
Where to see him next
See the Henri Oguike website for performance dates.