The itinerant dance of Qudus Onikeku
by Deborah Rocha · 25 June 2009
Round squares, uneven grass yards, narrow streets and dead-end alleys. Launched randomly at the vivifying tension of streets, two dancers and a group of performing artists give start to the first movements of a loose choreographic scene, improvised, attractive and free of academicism. In a few minutes, pedestrians, garbage men, wagoners, beggars and workers – potential spectators – stop their own movements and, out of curiosity, gather around the newest space created for dance. The urban scene is part of the documentary Do We Need Cola-Cola to Dance, produced in July 2007, in African countries, by the YK Projects, a collective of artists of the new Nigerian generation, living or working in France.
Ahead of the collective is Qudus Onikeku, winner of the Future Awards 2009 (Nigeria) Dancer of the Year award. At age 17, he left for France, where he graduated at the Ecole Nationale des Arts du Cirque as dancer and acrobat, with a full scholarship from the French government. Parallel to his graduation, he was a resident artist at Gongbeat Artes, in Lagos, where he was born. Six years later, during the process of returning to his own African culture, he was faced with difficulties and issues revolving around the role of art and dance in the current context. What is an artist? Who and where is his audience? What is our stand on the global debate? Why do we study abroad if our audience is in Africa? How do we use the knowledge we acquire in the return to our homeland? When will we stop depending on the West to assure the survival of our talents?
With a body language composed by elements of capoeira, circus and Lagos street dance, Qudus took a contemporary dance free of stereotypes to unconventional spaces, places the growing art network hardly reaches, which contributes to the development of local initiatives. The collective, which has the support of Prince Claus Fund, in the Netherlands, carried out interventions in public spaces in Nigeria, Egypt, South Africa, Mozambique, Kenya and Cameroon, along with a video artist, a photographer and a sound technician. The performances were improvised and non-official, with little or no advertisement, in a kind of revival of old itinerant theaters.
The documentary has been screened in Lagos, Massachusetts, Kinshasa, Chigago and participated in the 24hours24Artist online festival, in Texas. It was screened for the first time in Brazil at Espaço Matilha, in São Paulo, on June 8. After the screening, Qudus took part in a debate with the audience, which included members of CNAC (Centre Nacional des Arts du Cirque), of the hip hop community and musicians like Simone Sou, with whom Qudus performed an intervention in the center of São Paulo, on June 13. The partnership with the percussionist, who has already worked with Brazilian musicians Itamar Assumpção, Chico César, Zeca Balero, Zélia Duncan and most recently, Os Mutantes, resulted in two performances. One was in front of Galeria do Rock, near Largo Paissandu, and the other one was at Viaduto do Chá, between 12 and 16 o´clock, a time of intense pedestrian movement in the area. Both artists met for the first time during the launching of the documentary in São Paulo and got briefly acquainted in a second encounter before the performance. The public stopped to watch the performance and some people even interacted with Qudus.
After the experience in São Paulo, the Nigerian artist will follow to Belo Horizonte, Bogotá, Buenos Aires. In July, he will be in New York City, where he will screen the documentary and perform with local artists. His project is to keep travelling with this kind of work and explore the involvement of African artists in the debate and development of the art market in African, in a way that is not submissive to European or North-American patterns, but rather committed to the understanding of their own values. Qudus work originated Ewa Bamijo, a dance and performing arts meeting that takes place every two years and is happening this year in Lagos, Nigeria, from October 27 to 31.
“This project is, first of all, an imagined solution for a highly personal issue, that disturbed my soul as a Young African creator and breaks the barriers between the artist and his audience and vice versa”, says Qudus. “I believe there is a powerful connection between artists and human rights activists. Both can rise against status quo to say what must be said in the name of humanity”, he asserts. It´s worth following the work of this young artist and the continuity of his actions in the increasing space dedicated to urban performance in places like Africa and Brazil.
Jul 1, 2009
The itinerant dance of Qudus Onikeku