Update from Qudus' blog

Aug 16, 2013

Of Zik, Awo and other unfinished matters.

Of  Zik, Awo and other unfinished matters. 
By Qudus Onikeku

Since 1914, which marks the inception of this desired machine, called Nigeria, made of many parts and in dire need of a sense of a body, Nigeria is still a country yearning for direction and in dire need of collective history and heroes. In view of any tangible action leading to this realization, our long time cancers of tribalism and other unfinished matters surfaces and become a major obstacle.

Of Zik and Awo. 

In this article I wish to understand why it has presently become quite impossible to have a parallel historical discussion between various ethnic groups, especially between the Igbos and the Yorubas, without quickly falling into stereotypes – defense of ethnic allegiances, the inability to objectively remain in the defence of shared truth. I have seen this manifest in our political structure, sporting teams, even to the ridiculous extent that the official history of Nollywood now has two ethnic faces. 

Curiosity made me take a closer look at the old age rivalry that existed between two of the most important political figures in Nigerian history: Obafemi Awolowo and Nnamdi Azikiwe. Yet, rather than tackling it from the point of view of a patriot, without any interest in prescribing a solution, or venturing into political discourse, both of which have mostly been proven latent, I'm using the analogy of the Oedipus complex, to inquire if it was an innate distrust of the 'other' and everything he represents, power tussle, or ideological opposition, that later led to the tribal schisms which played out between Ibos and Yorubas, before and after the civil war. Or if was in fact the presence of a politics of difference that made obvious their arch-rivalry, which carefully placed them in the mouth of historians, for as long as Nigerian history is concerned.

At this point, you my reader will permit me the liberty to quickly divert your attention. We all remember the myth of Oedipus, which gave a spark of inspiration to Ola Rotimi's 'The gods are not to blame,' that son of Jocasta and of Laius who unwittingly killed his father, to marry his mother. Psychoanalysts have coined the term ‘Oedipus Complex’ out of that legend, which is the unresolved likeness of a child for the parent of the opposite sex. This involves, first, identification with and, later, hatred for the parent of the same sex, who is considered by the child as a rival. 

The rivalry between Zik and Awo could be identified as early as 1938, when Awo and Zik were on opposite sides of argument on who will be the president of the Nigerian Youth Movement. They had identified with each other, probably admired each other's intellects and eventually saw each other as a formidable future rival in national politics. I guess each of them thought it was their unalterable destiny to become the first prime minister of the federation of Nigeria. Furthermore, in the words of Achebe, I understand that in 1951 Awo 'stole' the leadership of western Nigeria from Zik. In 1953 at the London conference, Zik vehemently opposed the insertion of the 'secession clause' which Awo was championing for the constitution. They set up on opposite ends during the civil war and Awo's Action Group continued to be a major opposition to NCNC. I sense that this rivalry, goes far beyond politics but something more in the realm of Oedipus complex, something quite personal that eventually took different roots.

The three nationalists of the pre-independence and the immediate post independence era in Nigeria were clearly Zik, Awo and Ahmadu Bello. In order not to fall out of point, I will not say much about of Ahmadu Bello, but for the sake of clarity, it is important to note that while this arch-rivalry was going in between Zik and Awo, Ahmadu Bello, on the other hand preferred to stick to his northern dream of becoming the Sultan of Sokoto, in his calculations, going to Lagos to administer was below his dignity. It therefore, becomes quite obvious that, as far as federal politics was concerned, the north was aloof but far. I can't however say clearly if they never considered the north as enough threat, or if they underestimated the British plan to prop up the north into key places, or if they already saw that they were no match for the north and rather than forming a coalition, they'd rather turn their mutual admiration into rivalry.

Of us and History. 

In case it hasn't been made clear till this point, the purpose of this reflection is not to look at past event from the point of view of those who lived it, neither is it of my interest to give detailed chronology of their rivalry, but If 40 years makes a generation, then we can only view our present journey as a nation in three parts, if 1914 marks the starting point, then we are presently right in the middle of the third part. 

The second generations of Nigerians, which in my calculation began at about 1954, despite Wole Soyinka's declaration of a 'wasted generation', did all they could to turn the wheels of their colonial heritage around. With all their might and good will, charisma, and foresight, they failed in many aspects, but no one can deny their successes in many regards. To be able to make sense of our past, and fashion an enviable path for future generations, it is in my belief that this third generation of Nigerians, must begin to adopt newer ways of viewing and reviewing past events, in order not to tackle it from an emotional or fact-finding/journey-to-the-past point of view, both of which will only do well in aggravating more emotions and give even more dimensions to the truth.

Each time there comes the need to tackle our past, a set of question must be posed. What will the object of remembering be? What is its purpose and how must it be posed? Must it be an anxious flight from boredom? A desire to be free from ourselves and from our pitiful present existence? What is this theatre other than that of a long finger that stops, looks around, points and pokes at somebody – anybody blameworthy – pours out its feelings, and returns to contact, presses, wounds, crouches and chews up, swallows, digests and... Excretes?
            Yes, Excretes! This filthy excrement is usually what remains of the long probing fingers of ours, loaded with our blood line. Through this excrement we intend to find out and attack what have murdered us, the compressed sum of our evidence, the age old seal of that difficult process of digestion, without which all would remain hidden forever. But what else might this remembering be, other than the disguise behind which We maintain intimate and biased relation with our 'excrements', which eventually enters into the sphere of tribalism.

The question of identity or more precisely, of tribes, - or ethnicity as in the case of Nigeria - is one I've spent valuable time trying to understand, as to why do we think a politician defines us best? And what props up the heads and minds of mortals to the extent of seeing another mortal - dead or still alive, - as a representative of God on earth, who deserves to be bowed down to, and to whom human sacrifices are offered if necessary. The most unfortunate thing is that tribalism, just like racism, nationalism, feminism, religion and other politics of difference, has always acted as legitimate weapon of political campaign, useful in directing human energy to whatsoever righteous causes.
As the need to belong happens to be a basic requirement for every human being, the politician liberates the flow of desire and unleashes the Oedipus complex in his primary target. In truth, the unleashing of an Oedipus complex is not morally wrong in itself, because the facts and figure politicians lay down to support this form of bigotry are usually legitimate and seems to be true, but in truth it is false. It is in the fear of a subject that is faced with the possibility of not being able to be able, to be sure that a certain political rival does not possess this ability of being able to be able, he declares that the other is in no way another myself, who is either participating in a common existence and cause, or participating in a common power tussle and dominance.

Therefore those of us in whose hand History with a capital 'H' has been carefully dropped, must be wary of what to do with it, not to forget that proclaiming oneself as ‘the Chosen One’ - one who has got, not only the roadmap, but also an accompanying private jet, and the master key to the promise land - has been the ways of politics. Remembering is knowing, and we cannot forget what we know. No, not if remembering is imbued with some moral duty or a call for vengeance, separation or xenophobia. No, it is simply not at our discretion to forget. 

We live today in order to remember and to know, and indeed with total clarity. Amnesia is however worse than forgetfulness, because It is in fact, our collective amnesia that makes it impossible to fashion a clear and original collective history, through our collective "how we got here". It's a crises that has lingered for too long, one that has destroyed the dream of a body of value system, a system that was once built on various ethnic ethos and myths, on the stories we told ourselves of our various origins and collective destiny.

In the face of past events that cannot be fully grasped and set in one dimension, solitude and subjectivity is naturally crushed, for there now exists an abyss between History and the living. The past is our accumulated knowledge; our observation of the world is put together by thoughts, but thought is never new and never free, because thought is the response to the past in the guise of knowledge and memory. When we observe, we often observe with personal memories, experiences, hurts, despairs and hope, and with all that background, we end up looking at the world as a separate entity, and create more division. 

Where then do we find enough innocence for generating national history? How can we enter into a relation with History without allowing ourselves crushed by subjectivities, sensitivities, personalities, allegiances, emotions - Tribalism? How can we, the living, preserve our ego and  conquest over the anonymous? If we cannot assume History as one assumes an object of curiosity, how can there possibly be any conciliation between us and History?

Jun 27, 2013

When Nollywood invaded Paris.

Those who were slightly familiar with my artistic preoccupation, have asked me "what is it exactly that might have propped the mind of a dancer/choreographer, with such an outrageous touring calendar, that turns him into a die hard fan of Nollywood?" 
It is indeed a curious case, but there is surely an explanation, i take it therefore that, since I deal with body movements, with the texture and architecture of moving bodies on stage, and cinema on the other hand, deals with motion pictures in frames, meanwhile, the stage, just like cinema plays with the tones of light, shadows and color. As a dancer, I've told stories with my works, just as cinema does; so, in that magical territory of visual spectacle and of story-telling, you can see that I am not a learner.

As a creative artist however, raised on Nollywood stories in Lagos, a professional life in Paris and across the globe, has made the dream of a different utopia evident for me, with few friends we have previously organized a tour around six African cities, for a documentary film project i titled "Do We Need Coca Cola to Dance?" The title alone attest to my never ending quest for fresh air, for a different story and evidently; a different utopia. Then a strange idea came; NollywoodWeek in Paris.

Just the sound of it give hints of a wonderful thing. The nollywood story is by any consideration a most phenomenal story, for an industry that began almost by accident, and has not benefited from any official nor foreign support. A totally homegrown industry. Nollywood has created its proper commercial path, through popular and old fashion manner of reaching out from doors to doors, it has therefore, positioned itself as the legitimate business model, for the way Africa must position itself within global negotiations. 

Nollywood now prides itself as the first homegrown african initiative with a global appeal. Everywhere you travel these days, you will realize that Nollywood have been there before you. Therefore the question for me was, what should a NollywoodWeek Paris be like? Because a phenomenon like Nollywood, More than a Festival, the appropriate gesture must be that of gratitude, that is, a wonderful occasion to say thank you to all those who dreamt what was to become Nollywood today, This enormous success of the contemporary Nigerian cinema, has made a complete redefinition of contemporary African art. Without any formal schooling, without recourse to foreign assistance, without the benefit of hefty budgets or of any of the dazzling gadgetry of Hollywood, Nollywood outstrips all its former predecessors, within the first two decade of its birth, and initiated a completely novel cinematic genre in global media. 

It is indeed a story to marvel about, worthy of celebration and sharing with the world, that a group of half-literate dramatists of the popular traveling theatre tradition, seeing their trade tottering on the brink of extinction, because of the harsh economic policies of the 80s, could, out of desperation, seize the opportunity of newer technologies, and, in alliance with small-scale entrepreneurs, they harnessed it with such inventiveness, and now their successors have tirelessly turned it into a multi-million naira film industry, whose products have almost completely displaced the far more sophisticated, far more technically competent products, of Hollywoo. d and Bollywood. 

Between May 30 to June 2nd, YK Projects presented the first edition of NollywoodWeek in Paris, at the Cinema l'Arlequin, in the heart of
Paris, France. We gathered around 1500 spectators from around the world. In addition to having access to watch the most recent and talked about films from Nigeria on the big screen, seven movies were screened; MAAMi, PhoneSwap, IJE, INALE, Tango With Me, Last Flight to Abuja and Man On Ground. Our festival attendees also had the opportunity to meet the directors, producers, actors, scholars and French based film industry professionals during conferences and Q&A sessions held throughout the festival. 
For four days, Parisians celebrated Nigerian cinema and voted the film Phone Swap by Kunle Afolayan as the Public Choice Award winner for this first edition of NollywoodWeek. With the added Nigerian touches throughout the weekend, from Nigerian cuisine at the 'Lagos Lounge' to live musical performances, including a surprise session from Keziah Jones on the Opening Night, many walked away feeling this event was a success. As we celebrated however, we were equally aware that we are simultaneously responding to the increasing global curiosity for Nollywood movies. With this festival we have been able to speak to millions of Parisian cinephiles, who are so much in deep need, and deep thirst of a different utopia; watching stories, films, images, made by people who they share imaginations, questions, thirsts, needs, and dreams with. 

Lastly, We at Yk Projects are very much honored to present the best of New Nollywood to an entirely new audience, to make a resounding echo of all those who worked so hard to make the dreams become films; to be watched all over nigeria, all over Africa and throughout the world. With this new platform, we also hope to create an annual hub, for all those scholars, journalists and researchers who have taken their time, to record and document a phenomenon that is constantly changing and constantly evolving. And to make it a legitimate meeting point between actors, directors, producers, co-producers, distributors and other industry professionals to exchange, to inspire one another and eventually, do things together.

Qudus Onikeku
Founder and Artistic Director
Yk Projects
Co-founder and Artistic Director
NollywoodWeek Paris. 
www.qudusonikeku.com | qwww.ykprojects.com | www.nollywoodweek.com

Jun 21, 2013

Entretien avec Qudus Onikeku

Fasciné à la vue d’un homme se livrant à des acrobaties, c’est âgé d’à peine cinq ans que Qudus Onikeku, né en 1984 à Lagos, tente de l’imiter et se met en mouvement. Adolescent, il se forme au sein des Ballets du Nigeria, où il se lasse rapidement de la gestuelle répétitive des danseurs traditionnels nigérians. Il suit alors des stages de danse contemporaine et rejoint, en 2003, la compagnie d’Heddy Maalem, pour lequel il interprète notamment Le Sacre du printemps. Son apprentissage de l’acrobatie au Centre national des Arts du cirque (CNAC) de Châlons-en-Champagne, mais aussi du hip hop et de la capoeira, lui permet de s’affranchir des vocabulaires chorégraphiques codifiés. La forme l’intéresse en effet moins que le sens et l’intensité du présent partagé, avec ses compagnons et avec le public, pendant le temps de la représentation. Réfléchir l’art et le monde d’un point de vue qui lui est propre, façonné par ses origines mais aussi par la réalité internationale de son activité, voilà ce qui anime vraiment Qudus Onikeku. Depuis quelques années, il développe une danse puissante et ciselée, occupant l’espace à la manière d’un arpenteur et d’un guerrier. Inspiré par la culture yoruba, l’un des plus anciens peuples d’Afrique, en questionnement perpétuel sur l’histoire du Nigeria, Qudus Onikeku explore les relations complexes entre individu, mémoire, corps et Histoire. QADDISH est le dernier volet d’une trilogie composée d’un solo sur la solitude, My Exile is in my Head et d’une pièce sur la tragédie de l’Histoire, STILL/life, dont une première version avait été créée avec Damien Jalet en 2011 au Festival d’Avignon dans le cadre des Sujets à Vif.


Entretien avec Qudus Onikeku
QADDISH est le dernier volet d’une trilogie. Quel est le fil conducteur entre vos trois dernie`res créations : My Exile is in my Head, STILL/life et QADDISH?

Qudus Onikeku : L’idée d’une trilogie cohérente est apparue au fil des créations, plus précisément après STILL/life : chaque pièce réclamait en quelque sorte la suivante. Dans la première, My Exile is in my Head, il était question de solitude extrême et d’exil. Dans STILL/life, je m’intéressais à la tragédie de l’Histoire et aux façons dont on peut y échapper ou pas. Pour QADDISHj’ai décidé de travailler sur l’idée de mémoire, de généalogie et de tradition. L’histoire du Nigeria, ou plutôt l’histoire officielle du Nigeria telle qu’on peut la lire dans les manuels scolaires, m’interroge beaucoup. Le Nigeria que l’on connaît a moins de cent ans : il existe depuis 1914, date à laquelle le Britannique Frederick Lugard unifia deux territoires, le Nigeria du Nord et le Nigeria du Sud, dans la nouvelle colonie du Nigeria. La formation de celle-ci résultait de transactions commerciales, dont je ressens, dans mon corps, qu’elles ne sont pas mon histoire. Il s’agit donc de prendre de la distance avec cette histoire telle qu’elle est racontée, avec la politique qui façonne nos identités. Pour moi, la solitude permet de trouver un état brut, hors contexte, affranchi des récits. Avec My Exile is in my Head, j’ai cherché à éprouver une présence radicale, afin de rencontrer le corps et l’être qui est dans le corps, presque enterré. Pour pouvoir trouver ce corps, il faut s’échapper de son histoire, de ce qu’on nous a transmis. J’ai donc poursuivi ce cheminement sur une voie plus politique dans STILL/life : comment l’Histoire peut-elle à ce point être imprimée en moi alors que je ne la connais même pas? Comment sommes-nous empêtrés dans tout cela?

Qu’en est-il alors du propos de QADDISH? Est-il plus intime?

QADDISH trouve sa genèse dans mes interrogations sur ma généalogie. Mon père a quatre-vingts ans et va probablement bientôt nous quitter. Au lieu d’attendre ce moment-là pour honorer sa mémoire, je voudrais la recevoir avant qu’il ne parte.
Je souhaite utiliser la mémoire de mon père comme une prolongation de moi-même, de ma propre mémoire. Lorsque je danse, j’ai la sensation que mon corps transporte une mémoire qui me dépasse, mais qui s’échappe dès que je cesse de danser. Je ne suis pas sûr de trouver des réponses dans les quatre-vingts années de vie de mon père, mais je pense qu’elles peuvent être un véhicule, le début d’un voyage qui nous emmène tous les deux encore plus loin dans l’Histoire. Il était lui-même enfant quand ses parents sont morts. Il est né dans un pays occupé, alors que son père, lui, a vécu l’arrivée des colons. Dans la mesure où je suis né dans un pays dit «libre», j’ai à cet égard plus de choses en commun avec ce dernier, qui a vécu une partie de sa vie hors de l’histoire coloniale.

Comment s’est déroulé cette quête?

J’ai commencé par un voyage avec mon père à Abeokuta, sa ville natale, d’où viennent également le chanteur Fela Kuti et d’autres grands artistes nigérians. Je souhaitais y faire des recherches sur la tradition yoruba, en particulier sur les masques qui nourrissent, depuis longtemps, mon travail artistique. La tradition de ce peuple, qui est l’un des plus anciens d’Afrique, n’est pas qu’une affaire spirituelle ou transcendantale : elle repose sur toute une série de codes. Avec tous ces codes, je veux essayer de créer une danse, un langage. À partir de cette tradition, je souhaite inventer une fiction, une proposition poétique.
Au cours de ce voyage, Charles Amblard a enregistré beaucoup de sons, de moments que l’on retrouvera peut-être sur scène. Mais l’important n’était pas tant de ramener des matériaux que d’être là-bas, de trouver un état, des essences, quelque chose dans la culture yoruba qui n’a rien à voir avec le monde d’aujourd’hui. Trouver ce qui, dans cette tradition, peut modifier le corps.

Vous êtes également parti en Malaisie. Le voyage est-il un élément important dans votre processus de création?

Quand je prépare un spectacle, le voyage est en effet très important. Je me déplace beaucoup, en Malaisie et dernièrement aux États-Unis, car cela fait partie du processus de création. C’est le même corps, le mien, qui danse chaque spectacle. Pour changer l’espace et la danse, il faut donc faire entrer le corps dans une autre dimension. Ma danse vient surtout de l’inconscient, de couches de mémoire qui recouvrent mon corps et dont je ne suis pas conscient. Les voyages me permettent d’éplucher ces couches pour atteindre quelque chose de profond. En travaillant sur des états de conscience, je travaille sur des états de corps et modifie ainsi ma danse. En Malaisie, par exemple, j’ai pu rencontrer des gens, des énergies qui me sont proches tout en restant étrangers. On trouve là-bas des philosophies, des traditions, en particulier celles du masque, qui sont assez similaires à celles du Nigeria et cependant, tout y est différent. Le hasard participe, bien entendu, de ces voyages : je ne serais jamais allé en Malaisie si on ne m’avait pas proposé une résidence là-bas!

Les masques que vous évoquez occuperont-ils une place dans votre pièce?

Le masque m’intéresse moins en tant qu’objet qu’en tant que véhicule et expression d’une philosophie. Dans les cérémonies qui mettent en scène les masques dans la culture yoruba, le « spectacle » commence bien avant l’événement, des semaines en amont. Dans mon travail, je considère que la représentation n’est qu’un événement parmi d’autres du spectacle. Tout commence bien avant la lumière qui s’éteint… Je ne sais donc pas si les masques seront sur scène. Ce que je sais, c’est qu’ils sont bien plus que des objets de décor ou de simples accessoires.

Pourquoi avoir intitulé votre spectacle QADDISH?

Ce titre vient d’un jeu avec mon prénom. Le terme «Kaddish», qui désigne la prière juive pour les morts, signifie «saint», mot qui, en arabe, se dit «Quds» ou «Qudus». Voilà pourquoi j’ai orthographié le titre de la pièce QADDISH et non pas KADDISH.
Sur les raisons plus profondes de ce choix, tout est parti du Kaddish de Maurice Ravel, absolument extraordinaire. Les oeuvres sacrées, de manière générale, me touchent beaucoup. En entamant davantage de recherches sur la thématique, j’ai découvert que le Kaddish avait la même signification que le Notre Père dans la liturgie catholique et que la Fatihamusulmane. Il s’agissait donc d’un thème universel. Dans QADDISH, je veux suggérer que mon père, c’est aussi notre père, notre passé, notre mémoire à chacun et qu’Abeokuta, la ville où nous sommes partis sur les traces de notre mémoire, pourrait aussi bien être n’importe quel autre lieu, Babylone ou Athènes par exemple. Même si mes spectacles trouvent leur origine dans quelque chose de très personnel, je ne veux pas parler de mon histoire en particulier. Je veux parler de nous tous. Une oeuvre de Maurice Ravel sera, entre autres, interprétée sur le plateau par le violoncelliste Umberto Clerici et la soprano Valentina Coladonato, deux musiciens que j’ai rencontrés en 2011 à l’occasion d’une création avec un orchestre classique en Italie. Sur scène, Charles Amblard et Emil Abossolo Mbo seront également présents. Et quelque part, dans la salle, il y aura sans doute mon père, qui m’a accompagné pendant toute la durée de la création.

Pouvez-vous nous parler un peu de la culture yoruba? En quoi vous inspire-t-elle?

Ce qui m’intéresse le plus dans cette culture, c’est un rapport spécifique au temps, un questionnement qui compte parmi mes obsessions. Le temps n’y est pas appréhendé de façon linéaire : les notions de passé, de présent et de futur n’ont pas beaucoup de sens. Par conséquent, le travail de mémoire n’est pas uniquement rétrospectif : ce n’est pas une pelote de laine que l’on déroule. On ne peut pas se contenter de regarder le passé pour comprendre le présent. Car le passé change selon qui le regarde, selon qui le manipule. De la même façon, prévoir le futur à partir du présent ne rime à rien. C’est pourquoi, dans la philosophie Yoruba, il y a au moins cent récits sur les débuts du monde. Ils sont tous différents et tous vrais. Si quelqu’un raconte une histoire, on considère que c’est la sienne et qu’à ce titre, elle est véritable et digne d’intérêt. Il y a quelque chose de très démocratique dans cette philosophie. La culture yoruba développe aussi des liens très intéressants entre les notions de spectacle, de souvenir et d’instant présent. Les mots «spectacle» et «souvenir» ont la même racine, tout comme les mots «image» et «maintenant». Plus que le contenu communiqué, c’est le présent partagé qui est important. Cette idée me plaît beaucoup : pendant mes spectacles, tous les pores de ma peau transportent des radiations, de la mémoire. Il ne s’agit pas de comprendre quoi que ce soit, mais d’être là maintenant. Et dans ce «maintenant», il n’y a rien à analyser, il n’y a que de l’expérience à vivre.
J’ai le sentiment qu’en Europe, on recherche toujours un mode d’emploi alors que parfois, pourtant, moins on fait d’efforts et plus on comprend. Il faut donc savoir se relâcher pour accéder à l’événement, être humble, comme je le suis sur scène. Je dois être présent. Apaiser le temps, le public, contrôler l’énergie pour que l’on puisse faire le voyage ensemble.

Pourtant, vos pièces sont traversées par de multiples récits et de multiples influences…

La connaissance, ce n’est que du passé qui s’est immiscé dans le présent, mais ça n’est pas le spectacle pour moi. Il faut se départir de tout ce que l’on a appris. Je dis régulièrement à mes étudiants : «Votre mémoire constitue des bagages. C’est lourd, alors sur scène, il faut l’oublier.» Tout comme les techniques que l’on a pu apprendre : pour moi, la capoeira, le hip hop, la danse africaine, etc. Sur scène, je peux être vide. L’espace peut alors entrer en moi. C’est aussi ce que je demande au public : être vide. S’il n’est pas vide, ou disponible, je ne peux pas rentrer en lui et si je ne rentre pas, le rituel ne marche pas. De la même manière, je suis chaque soir vide de la mémoire d’hier, des représentations précédentes : c’est à chaque fois une nouvelle expérience avec des gens nouveaux. C’est pourquoi l’improvisation est importante dans mes pièces. Et c’est pourquoi il y a rarement des surtitres : je ne veux pas que l’on s’arrête sur du discours, que l’on s’interroge sur ce qui est dit. L’enjeu n’est pas de l’ordre de la compréhension. C’est exactement comme dans la poésie ou dans la musique classique : je cherche du ressenti. Une conscience cosmique, dont on ne peut avoir qu’une perception, mais certainement pas de compréhension.

Existe-t-il selon vous une danse contemporaine africaine?

Ce qui m’intéresse, c’est de puiser dans nos cultures pour créer aujourd’hui. Je m’intéresse à tous ces artistes qui ont créé des masques, à ces gens qui ont pensé la philosophie yoruba, à tout ce qui a été détruit, effacé ou qualifié de démoniaque par le christianisme. Je veux exhumer cette philosophie et la faire vivre au présent sur une scène. Est-ce que cela donne pour autant de la danse contemporaine? Peut-être. Mais au-delà des étiquettes, ce qui m’intéresse est purement artistique et philosophique : comment se ré-ancrer dans nos cultures d’origine et dialoguer avec le monde.

Propos recueillis par Renan Benyamina

durée estimée 1h - spectacle en anglais surtitré en français - création 2013
6 7 8 9 1 0 1 2 1 3 À 17H
conception et chorégraphie Qudus Onikeku dramaturgie Emil Abossolo Mbo scénographie et lumière Guillaume Fesneau, Aby Mathieu son CleÅLment Marie Mathieu
avec Emil Abossolo Mbo, Qudus Onikeku
la soprano Valentina Coladonato et les musiciens Charles Amblard, Umberto Clerici
production Compagnie YKProjects
coproduction Festival d’Avignon, Parc de la Villette (résidence d’artistes 2013), Musée de la danse/Centre chorégraphique national de Rennes et de Bretagne, Théâtre de Grasse
accueil en résidence au Centre national de la Danse (Pantin), au Rimbun Dahan (Kuala Lumpur), à l’University of California (Davis) dans le cadre de Grenada Artist in Residence et à la compagnie Systeme Castafiore (Grasse)
avec le soutien de la Région Île-de-France, de la CCAS, de la Spedidam et du Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication DRAC Île-de-France
Le Festival d’Avignon reçoit le soutien de Total pour l’accueil de ce spectacle.
chorégraphie et interprétation Qudus Onikeku texte Zena Edwards lumière Guillaume Fesneau
(voir page 163)
(voir page 147)

Jun 17, 2013

A journey with GAO, my father...

A journey with GAO, my father...

...(excerpt) An image came to my mind. Not an image I constructed on my own, but that which gradually builds after an expanded moment of silence. It's the image of a path, not a straight path, but a set of dots that I'm trying to link, one to another.
Then I wrote to my father.
From far beyond eternity's borders
Where no god, or goddess, nor demon can go

Whence I summoned the unemotional voice:

It howled like a tempest through the star-spangled skies
Like thunder upon the plains
Re-echoing through the valleys and gorges
And shaking the great barren crags
Like trees in a gale.
Bolt after bolt of crashing lightening across the skies.
Of the Highest of the very High.

'Our father', I wrote.

'This is not a letter but a telegram,
what will you say if I invite you for a journey?
A journey to your Home; Abeokuta.
Just you and I, a long journey towards memory lane,
We shall leave far behind, that maddening noise of modern city jive,
And hurry home where tribal elders live;
Where you could perhaps tell me more about you,
About our name, about my ancestors,
About the remaining memory left with you -
There, beneath flat-topped iroko trees,
Where nestling birds with many tongues argue,
And flaming aloes bless the smiling breeze with heady scent.

There I shall sit before aging elders,
Who shall relate to me the tales of Yore,
There I shall kneel and hear legends of those-that-lived-before.
There I shall live in spirit,
Once again in those great days now gone forever more;
And see again upon the timeless plain,
The massed armies of so long ago!
The words of men long dead shall reach my soul,
From the dark depths of all-consuming Time.
Which like a medicine, shall inflame my whole -
And guide my life's canoe to shores sublime.
On This journey between the both us
- Us who are so different and so alike -
Clear with soul's time penetrating eye.
I shall see great empires rise, flourish and die.
I shall see deeds of courage or of shame,
Now carved forever on the drums of fame: 
A testament that I'll then put into form, to make a Dance'.

A dreadful silence fell upon my earth. And my troubled heavens were stilled, while my sea, which had been devouring, with its wavy vast areas of land, retreated to its coast, shamefully like a boy caught in an act of naughtiness.
This might smell like a move to moralize my own paranoia, which is made all too obvious by the states I often catch myself these days, the reasons for which are mostly obvious to me, and me alone perhaps; that of melancholy, of loneliness, isolation, voluntary exile… Not that these reasons worry me so much, since they are, after all of my own making.

This year, Our father turns 80 years of age, and just suddenly, I entered a state of tranquil acceptance that Our father is aging, and that he now lives with the eternal presence of death staring him in the face. That brought me to examine my relationship with him.
I know very little about Our father and his past, nor will he recount, but it is to be hoped. What I was hoping for was to set Our father's existence, viewed as the potentiality of my own being, to be able to capture a memory that I have long lost, and I also have the feeling that even Our father cannot remember, and have not bothered himself of the importance of such memory.

The reason known to me; being that Our father was born in a country under negotiation, but I was born in a free land. He however, did surprise me with a no less indiscreet reply by proposing to take me to Abeokuta.
An opportunity opens, to pry into the Onikeku lineage, the first scoop of the spade towards the much, much deeper trench that I still have to dig out, clod by clod, from one end to the other, for there to be something to swallow me up completely in my moralizing paranoia. Though maybe I am not digging in the ground, but rather in the air, because there, one is unconfined, there, one could appear more insane than radical, and could eventually be left alone without unnecessary attentions, after all, others had engaged in similar quest in the past, and have been left alone.

It is to be a continued digging of the grounds other sons of the soil like Amos Tutuola, Wole Soyinka or Fela Kuti had dug for me, but simply because they did not get to our family house in Ago Owu, then I considered their work unfinished.
Hastily and without a hint of diabolical mockery, just like that I grabbed the tool from them and now, in my hand, here, I am left alone, standing here now, to finish up from where they left it, and that should explain why I have so much déjà vu. All my flashes of recognition are merely recognitions leading towards their recognition, and whatever I do or manage to dig out, will only become, but a recognition within me, that will lead me back to my dotted path...

QADDISH premiers in July 2013. At Avignon festival.

May 9, 2013

Revue de STILL/life

« Still/Life » de Qudus Onikeku. 

La Maison de la Danse invite à Lyon, dans le cadre du festival La Maison Sens Dessus Dessous, le stupéfiant danseur nigérian Qudus Onikeku.
Still/life, les 25 et 26 mai au Nouveau Théâtre du Huitième, 22 rue commandant Pégout-Lyon 8.

Danse - Qudus Onikeku - © Sarah Hickson
(© Sarah Hickson)

Still life signifie “nature morte”. Ce n’est pourtant pas une corbeille de fruits que peint Qudus Onikeku dans son spectacle. Séparant les deux mots d’un slash (Still/life) c’est sur la brèche qu’ouvre leur combinaison, “encore ici, en vie” que le danseur tisse de multiples variations. Les tragédies de l’histoire africaine traversent sa pièce comme autant de touches chromatiques, de fragments composant un ensemble abstrait. Pas de récit, encore moins de commentaires : Qudus Onikeku est le maître d’une cérémonie brute et virtuose qui pose cependant une question : «qu’est-ce qui fait qu’un homme peut se transformer subitement en monstre ?». La transformation d’une victime en bourreau, le tiraillement et les conflits intérieurs sont les motifs du rituel, traités comme des inspirations chorégraphiques plutôt que comme des thèmes documentaires. Formé à l’acrobatie, aux danses traditionnelles de son pays (le Nigéria) ainsi qu’à la danse contemporaine, Onikeku s’affranchit des styles et atteint un état de présence magique, subjuguant d’intensité. Sa danse est tout à tour féline et tellurique, il dévore l’espace avant de se replier, mutique ou provocateur, sur lui-même. Pour trouver ces états de corps uniques, il voyage beaucoup. Il emprunte à la philosophie yoruba, dont il se revendique l’héritier, ses préoccupations : la pluralité des mémoires, la non-linéarité du temps, le présent comme lieu ultime de la relation. Et la confronte, au fil de ses recherches et créations, aux cultures du monde entier. Un monde entier qu’il ramène, dans Still/life, sur quelques mètres carrés. L’espace y est borné par une conque de panneaux comme autant d’écrans sur lesquels la lumière peut se réfléchir et des images mentales se projeter ; une toile en morceaux, une mémoire éclatée en bris de verre entre ordre et chaos. Qudus Onikeku évolue dans ce décor sur la musique live de Charles Amblard et le chant, entre cris, ode et implorations, de Habeeb Awoko. À ce stade de complicité entre les trois hommes, on ne peut plus guère parler de solo ; chacun répond au souffle et à l’énergie de ses compagnons, dans un échange à la fois extrêmement réglé et ouvert à chaque instant à l’improvisation. Still/life, pièce créée dans une première version avec le danseur chorégraphe Damien Jallet, est une bonne occasion pour découvrir cet artiste unique et prometteur avant son prochain spectacle, Qaddish, présenté au Festival d’Avignon.

Feb 27, 2013

Defending my own Name. 'Qaddish'

Defending my own Name. 'Qaddish'

In the face of the world, I'm undoubtedly a Black and an African man, but the question for me has never been in the realm of denying nor romanticizing, not worrying whether I'm black enough or being too African. We live under a construct which have placed more emphasis on defining and outlining who we are, so rather than just dancing and communicating ourselves in our own simple and naive manners, we now - through the obligation of the other - spend time imitating an idea of ourselves. For me, there will be no denying nor romanticizing, for this is usually the price to pay in acquiring that legitimacy that is offered to traveling artists outside their terrain, but rather I look at things more holistically and all inclusive. So it's always about how to communicate my own ideas of the world, how to defend my name without dissociating myself from and above misrepresentation? I don't require any validation for that. 

For clarity of motive, I begin by stating that my real given name is Adul-Quddus, an Arabic root name which translates to 'the servant of The Holy' but if simply called Quddus, it means Holy. in Aramaic language, Quddus transforms to Qaddish.

In 2009/2010 all my personal preoccupations were concerned mostly with question of exile and solitude, deconstructing the concept of home as static four walls, but gravely in search of aloneness and alienation, and seeking ways of gaining access to the deepest part of my inner self, a process that was so required when the rupturing divorce with Nigeria blatantly stares me strongly in the face, then I created 'My Exile is in my Head'. In 2011/2012, the quest moves further to trying to undo the myriad lies and errors in human history, denying the very existence of history and nation-states, but to argue that the sole motive that makes up a society, are different individuals, making selfish decisions to support their personal interests, and so I created STILL/life, wondering what it is that prop up the minds of men, that they set up ideas which they later think they can bow down and offer sacrifices to, and in the process transforms them into murderous monsters. 

Now again, the quest has led into newer byways. From recreation of the self, to the negation of history, and now to the quest for memory. As my dance practice intensifies, the perception becomes even clearer, my body protest that there are things to remember, things that I never knew that I know, body memory that is. When I dance I remember, when I stop dancing, my conscious memory becomes too short and perhaps too corrupted to go that far and clear. So my preoccupation lately have been to return - in a manner of speaking - to somewhere deep in the earth, to link the far past with the present, the living with the dead, the human with the divine and the present with the near future. I have began work on a new piece, QADDISH which is the last part of this existential trilogy of mine, in which I've initiated a journey with my 80 years old father, a journey we are starting from his hometown Abeokuta. 

Journeys in general term serves as trope for the Yoruba, in cognitive aesthetic terms. Its aesthetics development, even in everyday speech, serves as a primed prefix to any wise saying, rendered as Yorùbá bọ, that is, the "Yoruba retorts or returns", "Retorts" in this sense shares a verb and semantic equivalence with "returns". In other words, Knowledge and discovery are predicated on a temporal and spatio-spiritual journey. Qaddish will exhibit several dimensions of this spiritual journey in space and time. Time present, past and future dialogue will compete for attention. An aspect of this will be evident in the display of an interactive Wheelchair, whose presence in space will trigger a dialog with the past, and its auto movement in space compels us to acknowledge the present. 

Drawing from the Yoruba cosmogony and collaborating with modern day use of robotic technology, the Wheelchair will embody the metaphor of the space-time continuum as in most African masks. Breaking the words literally, we get 'wheel', usually used to pierce time and space, and 'chair' as a static designed object slowing down time and marking a static space, since time cannot be separated from space, we have 'time-space,' in other words, the undecoded 'wheel-chair' is fossilized message, a single instance that is representative of other instances, other spaces and times, it is a repository of the intrinsic connectedness of temporal and spacial relationship, of a time past and of current knowledge such as myth, legend and the history such paradox exhibits. 

Through its evocation of several dimensions of time, realized in the congealed narratives of the figurative sculpture of condensed myths, current discourses, and a power to prognosticate, the wheelchair suggests a multimedia event, even in its static state, it compel a visual discourse. The chair will exercise an anarchic force upon perceptions, breaking down compartmentalizing categories by being able to move unaided by living beings and uninhibited between reality and magic, the referential and the semantic. 

In my approach to art, one thing is clear, this one thing however, might be seen as connection of many things that have simultaneously come to rest within my restless mind, and my body have created a precept and a refuge for these complexities. My personal need for comprehension, for finding answers to the many questions that surfaces on my mind on a daily basis, together with my own personal artistic preoccupation, with a dire need to heel and to advance art and humanity, and to be a bridge between aesthetics that has either been wrongly understood or dismissed as low art, and in all of that i have also find a space for my spirituality, in search of unity with the cosmos, with God and hoping to recover a certain verticality, to recover the authentic self that is neither subjugated to norms, history, the past nor thrown aback in his right to the assured presence. This meant for me tapping into age long Yoruba philosophies, which already neatly outlined the part of the self, of alterity, of the commune and of the divine, in its imagination and the role of aesthetic beauty and of art. With enough skills, talent, experience and knowledge, that i have been able to gather and exercise through my practice, i hope to take from this diverse sources aesthetic and transpose them into contemporary, and urban context. 

I am particularly animated by body memory, rather than history, by the will to reach out and communicate with the audience, above the will to express something of the self, and in so, I've constantly searched for ways to fuse poetic attitudes with a particularly traditional satirical and fictitious modes of story telling, as in the griot tradition, combining both social history, collective memory or collective amnesia with personal autobiography, as a critical lunching pad in the process of myth reading and communal rejuvenation. In most of my works - including group pieces - the dancer is always given the dramaturgic and choreographic liberty, to present himself as himself but pointing to something else, there is restricted level of show off, but a responsibility of an interpreter and the humility of a messenger. Through self exposure and auto derision, or self fortification and self proclamation, the dancer also weans his audience from any license of criticism they might have of both his art and the message thereon.

I have by no means felt at ease with the saying that "Dance is a language" or a 'form' of 'expression' and often outraged by audiences who want - by all means - to understand my performance, as one probably understands a piece of writing. Language can do less when dance is in view, and 'forms' denote something fixed. Body movement, or simply put, action has always been a superior mode of thought and of communication, therefore, the contextual meanings in my performances are neither eternal nor immutable, but mere signifiers in time and space. For me, a performance is simply an experience, not a cerebral one however, it is rather a brief shared moment of vitality, of healing, of social purification, where i sometimes make allusions to antisocial behaviors, but above all it is to mediate between the here and then and to make balance. 

My audience are invited to share communicative experience through many different sensory channels simultaneously; verbal, musical, choreographic and visual aesthetic dimensions, they all become part of the components of the total message, whereby there exist a personal alchemy between the 'performers' and every member of the audience, because in the Yoruba tradition, we believe that the eyes has got only two foods that feeds it, one is Iran, a magical spectacle or a choreographic display and the other is ewa, which is beauty. As beauty is relative, magical spectacle and choreographic display takes more of my attention, because it creates its own beauty in its own terms. 

This shows the importance the Yoruba attaches to intense and visceral body movements, artistic, acrobatic, or magical display, as a means of securing attention and thereby influencing both the human and the divine. Spectacle (Iran) in this sense denotes an happening that seldom occurs in everyday life, and hence a relish for the eyes. Conversely, Iran spanning from the root word iranti (remembering) is a memorable experience, lingering visually and aurally in the subconscious. In the visual art, an image or sculpture is called Aworan, a contraction of A-wo-ranti (a visual reminder) literally "what we look at to remember." Beyond and above the need to delight the senses alone by entertaining or educating it, a performance is also to establish a direct (active) body to (passive) body transmission, as well as a framework for regulating the social and cosmic orders. 

Jan 31, 2013

Tours and Calendar

Calendar 2012/2013.

3 - 12 January     - WIP La Villette (Creative residency STILL/life)
13 January          - WIP La Villette (Public Presentation STILL/life Work in Progress)
16 - 20 January   - CND Pantin (Creative residency STILL/life)
24 - 27 January   - Theatre de l'Agora. Evry (Creative residency STILL/life)
30/01 - 04/02      - CND Pantin (Creative residency STILL/life)
06 - 11 February - CND Pantin (Creative residency STILL/life)
14 - 16 February - L'Arc Scène Nationale Le Creusot. (Show My Exile is in my Head + Screening Do We need ColaCola to Dance?)

19 February       - The Performing Art Market - Yokohama (Show - STIll/life work-in-progress version)
20 February        - Institut Française Tokyo (Show - STILL/life work-in-progress version)
18/02 - 04/03      - Theatre Bretigny Val d'Orge (Creative residency STILL/life)
12 - 16 March     - Centre Culturel de Porte de l'Essonne Athis Mons (Creative residency STILL/life)
17 March            - Théâtre Arlequin de Morsang sur Orge (Show My Exile is in my Head)
19 - 21 March     - Festival International CDC Toulouse (Show My Exile is in my Head)
19 - 23 March     - Centre Culturel de Porte de l'Essonne Athis Mons (Creative residency STILL/life)
24 March            - Centre Culturel de Porte de l'Essonne Athis Mons (Premiere STILL/life)
25 March            - Theatre Bretigny Val d'Orge (Show 2 STILL/life)
30 March            - Théâtre des Ulis (Show 3 STILL/life)
31 March            - Théâtre de la vallée de l'Yerres. Brunoy (Show 4 STILL/life)

27 April - Speaking at the TEDxIfe conference in Ife, Osun state. Nigeria.
5 May - Festival La Voix est libre @Theatre Garrone. (Improvisation with Dieudonné Niangouna)
10 May - Festival La Voix est libre @Bouffes du Nord. (Improvisation with Dieudonné Niangouna)
17 - 29 May - ADC Geneva  (research residency)
29 May - 1 June - Modul Dance Festival. LUJBIJANA SLOVANIA (Show STILL/life)
18 June - Prize giving for PRIX SACD in Paris - Awarded the NEW CHOREOGRAPHIC TALENT
22 June - 1 July - Festival Platform Kinshasa (Show STILL/life)
1 July - 7 July - Lagos/Abeokuta (Research QADDISH - Creation 2013)
7 - 11 August - Dancing in Levée des conflits by Boris Charmatz Hamburg. Germany.
14 August - 24 August - Festival Correios em Movimento Rio De Janeiro (Show My Exile is in my Head)
My Exile is in my Head - MC theatre Amsterdam. 25 - 26 September
My Exile is in my HeadParktheater Eindhoven. Netherlands. 27 September
My Exile is in my HeadBijlmer Parktheater Amsterdam Zuidoost. 28 September
Modul-Dance conference - Tilburg Netherlands. 1 - 3 October
My Exile is in my Head - Albany Deptford. London. 4 October 
My Exile is in my Head - Dukes Theatre Lancaster. 6 October 
My Exile is in my HeadLakeside Arts Centre Nottingham. 11 October
My Exile is in my HeadDrum Theatre Birmingham. 13 October
My Exile is in my Head - Contact Theatre Manchester. 16 October
My Exile is in my HeadThe Courtyard Theatre, Hereford. 18 October 
My Exile is in my Head - Sherman Theatre, Cardiff. 20 October

QADDISH (Research residency) - CND - Pantin. France 2 - 12 November 
Africa initiative Group conference - Yamoussoukro Ivory Coast. 15 - 18 November
QADDISH (Research residency) - Rimbun Dahan. Kuala Lumpur 20 November - 15 December
QADDISH (work -in-progress) - Dancebox. Kuala Lumpur 22 November
QADDISH (work -in-progress) - IB Theatre Conference - TaPS. Kuala Lumpur 2 December
Do we need colacola to dance? (film screening) Alliance Française de Kuala Lumpur 5 December
QADDISH (work -in-progress) - Nyoba Kan Festival. Kuala Lumpur 7 - 8 December


Visiting professor + QADDISH Research residency - University of California. Davis. 6 Jan - 10 March 2013
FLASH (New creation with students) - University of California. Davis. 7 January - 6 March 2013

STILL/life - Festival Hors Saison - ARCADI. La Ferme du Buisson. Noisiel. 24 - 25 February 2013
QADDISH (work in progress) - University of California. Davis. 7 March 2013
FLASH (Premiere) - University of California. Davis. 7 - 10 March 2013
QADDISH (Research residency) - Yerba Buena Art Center. San Francisco.11 - 15 March 2013
STILL/life - Maison de la Danse. Lyon. 24 - 25 May 2013
Levée des conflits by Boris Charmatz - Montreal. 27 - 31 May 2013
QADDISH (work -in-progress) - ConnexionKin. Kinshasa 2 - 8 June 2013
QADDISH (creation residency) - WIP La Villette. 10 - 22 June 2013
QADDISH (Production residency) - Theatre Benoit XII. Avignon24 June - 5 July 2013
QADDISH - Premiere in Theatre Benoit XII. Avignon. 6 - 12 July 2013