Alumnus Akeim Toussaint Buck Takes Home Arts Foundation Futures Award - Northern School of Contemporary Dance


Thursday 27th April 2023, 2:55pm

Akeim Toussaint Buck, a former student at NSCD, has been awarded the Arts Foundation Futures Award for Dance Theatre with a £10,000 grant to support his future work.

Now in its 30th year, the Arts Foundation Futures Award in Dance Theatre recognises artists who are pushing the boundaries of the ways in which dance can engage different audiences and the wider public.

Akeim Arts Foundation Dance Futures Award

Akeim studied on the BPA in Contemporary Dance, performing a solo for his graduation in 2014. Since graduating from NSCD, Akeim has been described as an electric performer, carving out a path as a prolific dancer and choreographer and founding his own company, Toussaint To Move. In 2017, with the support from NSCD’s artist development programme ‘Northern Connections’ he created and performed one of his first major solo shows, Windows of Displacement, which he performed again at The Sharjah Art Foundation's 15th Biennial on 11 March this year.

Last year, Akeim took part in the very first COLOUR Festival hosted at NSCD. Part of this exciting festival line-up was Akeim’s work: Radical Visions, a curatorial practice that spotlighted artists of the Global Majority, and invited people to engage with spoken word, creative writing, dance, live music, artist talks and workshops.

Eight years on from his graduation performance at NSCD, we catch up with Akeim about how he feels his work has evolved over time, the inspiration behind his innovative work, highlights from his time at NSCD, and exciting future projects:

First of all, congratulations Akeim!

How did it feel to win and how do you think the grant from the Arts Foundation will benefit you as an artist in the future?

It feels like a dream. The money I have been awarded is going towards self-development, creating ease and space in my schedule, and some will be utilised as seed funding to give me capital for investment in other non-dance related projects. As well as allowing me more time to build and develop existing relationships with Arts Council England and fellow artists, the grant will also allow me to spend more quality and precious time with my family. The creative process just feels more organic when I have more time to reflect on my work and ideas.

Are there any news skills that this money will help you to develop or explore further?

I'll be planning and organising in-depth learning of Jamaican dance styles from a number of Black British Dance pioneers, which will be the catalyst for designing my own workshops and intensives. This will feed into my research for a new musical theatre work, Free.

Free is an ode to reggae music and its revolutionary roots, a story of seeking freedom and enjoying life regardless of the heartache that comes with living. I started to scratch the surface of this piece of work during my second year at NSCD, so this work has lived for me for over a decade. I am a big believer in sustainability and I believe that ideas never go to waste, they just evolve. This contemporary dance musical theatre work will be a live reggae album and a contemporary dance show at the same time. Free will bring together many of my musical collaborators like fellow NSCD alumni Otis Jones, Azizi Cole and many more. Think West Side Story meets the Bob Marley musical, a world reflecting on ours through music and dance, in the stylistic essence of reggae. Set to premiere either late 2025 or early 2026 at Sadler's East, I already feel like it's going to be groundbreaking.

Sounds exciting! What draws you to musical theatre as an artform? Is there anything else you’re interested in exploring within the theatre space?

I have always been intrigued by musicals and have found them incredibly accessible and riveting but sometimes cheesy and simple. However, there is genius in simplicity. I remember watching Stomp when I was 13 years old and thinking 'I'd love to make something like this one day'. My dance theatre show Beatmotion emulates this as it has such a high focus on musicality and character, but Free for me hits the mark. Free has already garnered a commission from Sadler’s Wells and I'm looking for more support for the work to be developed.

I am also really excited about my curatorial practice and how I can play a part in changing how theatre spaces are treated and used. I find the arbitrary way in which we experience going to the theatre very unnatural for the masses and we have to think of new ways to engage people in the political and financial climate we are currently in. We cannot rely on the old ways anymore so, to be honest, you might see me go from artist to programmer/curator in the next ten years.

What other projects do you have coming up that we can look forward to?  Are there any other ideas you’re working with at the minute?

I’ve been developing a new collaborative work with Ella Mesma called ‘Okan’, a Yoruba word meaning oneness and love. This work combines martial arts and salsa to explore the complexity of what it means to be ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’ in the context of relationships, communicating the message that our souls are non-binary.

Since 2016, I have been developing a practice called Beatmotion, which allows me to combine voice and movement. With my interest in text and verbal coded language, I began to question how the simplicity, yet vast range of vocal tonality and dance can communicate emotions and narratives to an audience. Since 2021, I have been creating pop-up performances fuelled by this practice and I'll be performing some of these pop-up shows this summer in Leeds.

I'll also be revisiting the world of Negus later this year, further extracting ideas from the short film to create a live theatre version. Negus looks at the origins of the Ethiopian word as a term that describes the emperor or king of a region. Many scholars believe it was twisted to become the ‘N’ word of insult and degradation. Negus has had two iterations already: Negus, the short film and Negus: Triumph, the site-responsive art gallery work. Now Negus: Genesis, will further explore these ideas in the setting of a black box theatre, aiming to reframe and coronate a spiritually high consciousness in the African Diaspora.

Can you tell us a bit about how your time at NSCD helped you to develop as an artist?

My experiences at NSCD definitely helped forge who I was going to be forever. I will always be grateful to my time at NSCD for that. When I moved to the UK, I was still just a 10-year-old kid from Lucea, Jamaica, a very small town with no artistic infrastructure. When I turned 18, it was a privilege to get accepted into this cool place where I was learning about different arts and training in dance every day. The whole experience was extremely eye-opening for me, and my graduation solo helped me to uncover and understand the universe that all my work lives in.

You performed one of your first major solo shows ‘Windows of Displacement’ in Leeds back in 2017, and you performed it again in March this year. How has this evolved over time?

I last performed my solo show Windows of Displacement at The Sharjah Art Foundation's 15th Biennial on 11 March.

The work has evolved so much over the years and will never stop because I'm not the same person I was and never will be. My practice with my voice has deepened and so has my ability to play with the material. The audience participation, the deepening of meaning in the work, the information I'm sharing. Everything has grown and now it's a battle between what has become second nature and what can be a new experience every time it is performed. It is a piece of edutainment and a hug; if you don't know much about the process of becoming a citizen of an imperialist country then it informs you, and it manages to cultivate a space of warmth and humour for every audience member, regardless of where they come from.

Do you think this work resonates any more today given the current socio-political climate around migration?

From the day that I started working on Windows of Displacement until now, the themes of the work have continued to be relevant, even more so in the era of Black Lives Matter. As I look at the world we live in, unfortunately I don't see things changing for the better in terms of policies on the movement of people. On a global scale, war continues to displace us and treat us like fauna, guilting the victims instead of creating thoroughly supportive systems of love and care. I feel the creation of these support systems would be a better direction to move in than living in a world built on ‘profit over people.’

Windows of Displacement is a call to action: "This is our act of activism together, but it doesn't end here." Now, with my aims to strictly do it internationally, the spaces it is being received in have their own seemingly unique socio-political situations that reflect their society. However, the work continues to speak to them, and they actively engage with the rollercoaster ride. I have seen theatres in the UK change their attitude to the work following them previously misunderstanding it and not wanting to see it in their theatre. Regardless, it is a work of art that I am proud to say through blood, sweat and tears was made possible. It won't be in the UK again anytime soon, but the spirit of the work lives on in the cinematic resetting, 'Displaced', which will be screened around the country as part of events.

You’ve mentioned collaborating with others in the past. Have you ever been involved in work that helps other artists to develop?

I hosted several events in Leeds following my graduation - I helped to develop the programme for ‘Snakebox & Friends’, providing a platform for musicians, poets and dancers at the Live Art Bistro which is now CLAY: Centre for Live Art Yorkshire. These events were also fundraisers for social issues like homelessness or for refugees. I teamed up with the homelessness charity Emmaus and set up stalls where artists could sell things - the money collected from people's entry fees was donated to the charity, and artists received 100% of the money they made through sales or donations.

I’m currently encouraging artists to share their work is through a new monthly open mic night that I’m running at Canned Heat in Chapeltown. I am really excited about this. I used to host small events in Leeds during my time there as a student, so the event each month will be a nice homecoming.

I am also working on a collaborative project called ‘Hibiscus and Zinc’ alongside my mother, Audrey Mae, who is a costume designer. This will be commissioned by Transform Festival in Leeds.

As well as being passionate about dance and movement, we’ve noticed you also invest your time into exploring contemporary issues through creative writing. Could you tell us a bit more about that?

I am dedicating more time to other artforms. I have been accumulating a collection of poems across two books called: My Word, The World vol 1 & 2. Following being awarded the Arts Foundation Futures Award for Dance Theatre, I’ll have more time to focus on routes to publication for my poetry.

What does the future look like for Toussaint To Move?

To me, Toussaint To Move is about more than just dance. It is, and will remain, a focal point for my creative output. However, I am branching out to become more self-sustaining. I'm realising that a company does more than just create - it becomes a place for projects and people to come into their own, connect with a community, and be sustained by that community.

You can find out more about Akeim and his experiences at NSCD here.