Despite its very visible presence in African and Nigerian culture, dance, as a contemporary art form on the continent seems often neglected and poorly understood; it’s a state of affairs, Qudus Onikeku, artistic director of Lagos’s QDance Centre hopes to change. Recently, QDance has taken up home in the centre of Lagos Island, and among launched an initiative to spectacularly raise the profile of dance in Lagos, and Nigeria. danceGathering, a collaborative initiative which brings together a large number of dancers to Lagos for workshops and master classes, culminates in a performance festival. For the 2018 festival, QDANCE Center took over an iconic Lagos location, Broad Street. Rehearsals for the performance took place in Glover Hall, one of the many quasi-abandoned buildings on Lagos Island. A former social hall, partly demolished and rebuilt in the 1960s, it has served as a symbol of colonial convivencia, post-independence nationalism and now, 21st century cultural resurgence. For some time now, under a loose agreement with Lagos government, Onikeku’s company has made a home of Glover Hall, breathing much needed life into a neglected treasure.
It seemed more than fitting then that danceGathering’s theme was ‘Body and Memory’, exploring ideas of the body as a storehouse for memories and inherited traumas; curated by Qudus Onikeku, and One Ozuzu, Dean of The School of Fine and Performing Arts, at the US’s Columbia, College. The gathering drew a wide array of artists from across the globe.
The culminating performance of the festival drew deeply on the themes of the festival’s exploration of body and memory, most poignantly referencing the trauma of slavery.
Strikingly, the performance began with a poem referencing the history of slavery, and then a slow keening performance from a chorus of performers with costumes echoing the clothing of Brazilian Candomble female worshippers. This chorus underpinned the rest of the performance, their voices melding into sound curated by participating artists; consistent with the festival’s theme, the music drew links between Africa’s musical traditions and its descendants, particularly the less commonly acknowledged such as rock and electronic music; against the backdrop of Lagos’s crumbling colonial architecture, the QDance company’s exploration of the trauma of the body made good use of these musical interventions to present a frenetic, exploration of how memory remains in the body.