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Why No One Laughs When Qudus Dances.

November 25, 2016.

I have attended enough events to believe that for the Nigerian audience, laughter is the preferred response to a failed or strange performance. Not boos, not insults, not at first. This holds even for some comic shows, where it helps to understand the difference between laughing with and laughing at. Mostly this laughter begins with an individual chuckle that, if encouraged by a companion, spirals into a fit. Faced with ineptitude or inscrutability and seeking release, others join in.


It could be a commandment handed us pre-life: Any work failing to earn its time, due to novelty or incompetence, will be mocked. After that we decide to either endure the performer or throw her out.


Considering how much of the dancer Qudus Onikeku’s work is novel to a Nigerian audience raised on ‘cultural dance’ and now caught between the frenetic movements of twerking and the swagger of the shoki, it’s surprising no one laughs when the man dances. So that a recent comment from a lady who saw his last show bears repeating.


“After Qudus’s performance, I went home and wanted to kill myself.”

Cultivating a World of Dance

Oct 09, 2018

The Dance Department’s Practitioner-in-Residence Qudus Onikeku brings a global and anti-disciplinary approach to Columbia students.

This semester, the visiting practitioner-in-residence in the Dance Department is an internationally recognized dancer, choreographer, educator, and activist. His name is Qudus Onikeku and he proves how a diverse artistic approach can enrich Columbia College Chicago as a whole.

“Qudus brings an aesthetic that comes from a different cultural reference point that many students are not used to—an African one. It is rooted in Blackness and should help students recognize it within African-American expression,” says Art and Art History Associate Professor Folayemi Wilson, who co-directs Academic Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). “Included in that aesthetic is a sense of community, a generous mechanism and capacity for collaboration, and a common humanity that can touch everyone.”

Visualized Memories in Performance Space(s)

Sept 29, 2018

Speaking from the center and not from the margin when being in performance spaces is a constant struggle for contemporary African artists, who aim to represent themselves through deconstructing colonial fantasies of the Black experience. A visual art piece fixed in a canvas is like an imagined, captured memento of the past, whereas visually accessible movement art pieces expressed through dance is a flow of story-telling that has the ability to transform and change with each performance; to become the center. Movement art is the epitome of performativity. 


For centuries, Africa has been represented as a continent that is best characterized through a nonverbal aesthetic (Ebron), which in turn perpetuates the legitimacy prescribing whiteness to speak for and to the “other”. The category-making of African dance for instance, creates the hegemonic construction of dance. As anthropologist Paulla A. Ebron, puts it critically, the discourse of difference between Music (here: Dance) from “the West” and “African Music” is that, the latter “evokes feelings rather than stimulating thought” 

How Dance Gathering 2018 overwhelmed spectators on broad street

11 March 2018

The city of Lagos was recently in a celebratory mood as the yearly Dance Gathering 2018 was held on Broad Street, one of the most ancient and popular streets on the Lagos Island. Well over 3,000 people were in attendance to see the novelty of dance as it was held on the streets.


The popular event was co-organised by popular dancer and artistic director of QDance Centre Lagos, Qudus Onikeku, and Onye Ozuzu – Dean of School of Fine and Performing Arts, Columbia College, Chicago, U.S. It had more than 500 artists participating for the event.

Standing ovation for Onikeku’s We Almost Forgot

02 July 2016.

Complex but clear, Onikeku’s play uses high energy movements, singing, sound and intricate music to tell a potpourri of stories of war, crime, starvation, abuse and weirdness where everyone is victim and villain at some point.  But the underlining message is that while the unusual has become the norm, we are reminded once in a while, of the law of retributive justice.

How Should We Witness Horror? Qudus Onikeku's Performance of Trauma.

July 18, 2016

An atmosphere of menace hangs over the strangely-lit stage, heightened by repeated drum-rolls that help create a mood of unbearable tension. You are there. That sleeping night, you are there. That is the magic, the power of theatre. It puts you there. Under the darkening African sky, we are there, that sleeping night. A night like any other night. The same moon. The same stars. The same familiar things. Until just before midnight. The half-crazed woman on the living stage is there too. A migrant woman. A woman. Grieving. And her grief is unforgivable. It is any place, anytime – yesterday, today, tomorrow. It is anybody. She is memory’s mistress – summoning it from its deep well on the living stage. To history and Journalism belong statistics. But theatre humanises lives mutilated by violence; humanises the loss of those near and dear. Through theatre, we share the unbearable memories and loneliness of survivors.

Memory, Dance and Identity: Interview with Qudus Onikeu

July 16, 2016

With music, songs, dance, storytelling and performance, your contemporary dance show We Almost Forgot is total theatre. What informed the fusion of these art forms?


I come from a tradition of theatre makers. In addition, I am Yoruba so I have a number of experiences from my heritage that I can tap from. When I started work as a dancer, I knew that I wanted to do something as grand as what Fela Kuti did but needed to understand the rudiments of all of these and how they come together. I was reading a lot about the Yoruba theatre and the travelling theatre of the 50s, 60s and 70s because I considered that period our golden age. The interruption of the 80s and 90s brought much forgetfulness and misdirection. So I knew that if we want to go back to something that is already complete and has a clear direction, we have to understand what people were doing in the 50s, 60s and 70s and then move on from there. I looked back and realized that the whole thing happening then was total theatre. Dance, music, magic, acrobatics, drama, and poetry—all of these art forms came together, so as an artiste, I wanted to tap from these sources and bring them into something completely contemporary.

A dance to remember

June 29, 2016

We Almost forgot’ comes to Nigeria 

The cast and crew of Qudus Onikeku’s dance creation ‘We Almost Forgot’ were in Nigeria for the first ever performance of the scintillating dance routine in the country. The production featured six dancers and an actress from six countries (Nigeria, Gabon, Morocco, Algeria, Madagascar & France), making it a truly international show.

Qudus Onikeku’s sold out show thrill Lagosians


After a successful world premiere of “We Almost Forgot” in Berlin, Lagosians experienced this world class production yesterday, 24 June 2015 at freedom park, Lagos.

Qudus Onikeku’s latest creation, featured on stage six dancers and one actress, all of varied backgrounds and identities (Nigeria, Gabon, Morocco, Algeria, Madagascar & France). Qudus who is a world renowned dancer and choreographer, premiered his international works in Nigeria

A review of Qudus Onikeku’s “We almost forgot”

July 19, 2016

There are an awful lot of cockroaches at the Tafawa Balewa Square. You can see them at night, dark and brown, sifting their way through the piles of human filth in the square, slithering in between the slabs of concrete that make up the pavements of Lagos metropolis. I do not find them entirely unappealing, on the contrary as I made my way last Friday to Freedom Park for the showing of Qudus Onikeku’s “We almost forgot”, a dance art presentation that was one of many events of the Lagos Live Festival, I looked upon them with a certain fondness as they fled before me and from the crunch of the feet of my fellow pedestrians on their way home from a hard days slog. There is much to admire in their industry, in their dedication to a role prehistoric, conferred upon them by nature as scavengers and clean-up crew, their presence a testament to a vivid existence, to the unapologetic sprawl of a vast bustling metropolis.

Il était une fois un conte chorégraphique inattendu…

June 22, 2016

Qudus Onikeku (NDLR, qui a au préalable travaillé pour Heddy Maalem et Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, et les metteurs en scène George Lavaudant et Moise Touré), danseur et chorégraphe nigérian du collectif parisien YK Projects, est un habitué du Ballhaus Naunynstraße de Berlin. Il y était déjà passé dans le cadre du festival We Are Tomorrow. Il y revient avec sa toute dernière création, We Almost Forgot. Entre mouvements lucides et monologues déchirants, la pièce explore le souvenir douloureux, indélébile, et tente d’exprimer des traumatismes enfouis à travers un langage corporel éloquent, mais aussi éprouvant.

Qudus Onikeku: If I Had a Word, I Would not be Dancing


In the age when the idea of choosing “dance” as a career not only seemed abominable but equally forbidden, saying that Qudus Onikeku’s choice and remarkable advancement of a dance profession is laudable is definitely no small praise. Qudus Onikeku is an energetic dancer whose performances always leaves the audience yearning for more. Spectacle and beauty are two things via which he draws in his audience while fluidity and high energy are major hallmarks of his renditions. For him it is not just dance, but presenting a collage of experiences per time to his audience that reaches the depth of their soul and awakens even the tiniest of their sensibilities. It does not have to be logical, he says, because if it were, the experience might only last a day or two and be forgotten.

Onikeku is the Founder/Artistic Director of the YK Projects, Paris and the QDance Centre, Lagos. Indeed, he is a Visiting Professor of the University of California- Davis. I spoke with him about his life and art form. Enjoy.


Why do you dance, what does Dance mean to you?


Everything. When I discovered dance at the age of 13, I lost everything else. I lost interest in everything else. When I met with objections at home, the obedient part of me wanted to obey. But it is like taking the breath away.  Everything I have done in my life is through dance...

"Africaman Original" au rythme de Fela Kuti


Pour cette première soirée, l’Institut français du Bénin, partenaire de la manifestation, accueille le Nigérian Qudus Onikeku. Il enflamme une salle comble, avec "Africaman Original" au rythme de Fela Kuti et des images d’archives montées corps à corps (scène/écran) par son partenaire vidéaste, Isaac Lartey. Le public est invité à monter sur scène, tous les âges répondent à l’appel et c’est un vrai partage au son du père de l’afrobeat. 

Dance According to Qudus.


Qudus Onikeku is a soulful acrobatic dancer with a performance creativity that begs his audience for comprehension, an awakening  and answers to the many rhetoric expressed. Qudus on stage is like a body in trance taking you on a journey to see and feel things words cannot express. You see an unmistakeable burning desire to express everything he feels on the inside the only way it comes to him naturally. In a way he leaves you puzzled as you try to connect the different feelings you experience. There is more and you want to be connected to it for better understanding long after the dance ends. In a way to understand Qudus and his performance, we asked him, the only question that matters.


What does dance mean to you?


To me dance represents different things in different layers of my existence. Beyond the cliche of affirming that Dance is everything for me, I’ll go further to tell you about my approach and why we all must open ourselves to that discovery...


Un danseur très charismatique.


Le danseur chorégraphe nigérian présentait le spectacle Africaman Original. Entre danse, performance, stand-up, chant et cours de danse, le spectacle nous montre un danseur très charismatique et à l’aise sur le plateau et qui parle aussi bien le français que l’anglais, sa langue natale. Malgré un problème technique avec le son qui interrompt brièvement la pièce, Qudus Onikeku nous fait voyager dans un univers particulier. Les images vidéo sont des images d’archives de danses noires d’Afrique mais aussi du Brésil. La répétition des images est en elle-même une chorégraphie, en parfaite synchronie avec la musique du spectacle. Pleins de questions sont soulevées par ce jeune artiste talentueux, notamment le rapport au son et à la musique, mais aussi à l’image de la vidéo et au danseur lui-même dans ses gestes et mouvements, dans sa corporéité. Il est rare qu’un danseur s’adresse directement au public.

"Africaman original", une performance original.


Entre musique, danse et images d'archives (vidéo d'Isaac Lartey), c'est un regard sur l'univers de Fela Kuti, qu'il imagine danseur plutôt que musicien. Onikeku tente de poursuivre à sa manière le travail d'éveil des consciences du musicien en proclamant l'existence d'une esthétique purement africaine, géniale, comparable à n'importe à quelle autre au monde. Dans une débauche d'énergie et de fluidité, le geste élégant, le chorégraphe plaide ainsi pour le retour aux années 1970, période faste de la création artistique africaine, rejetant le "copier-coller" des cultures venues d'ailleurs que véhicule la télévision. La force d'"Africaman original" tient aussi à la connivence avec le public, qui finalement fait partie intégrante du spectacle.".



I met Qudus Onikeku in Abeokuta, Nigeria at the Ake Arts and Book Festival in November 2014.  He performed an electrifying, captivating rendition of My Exile is in My Head. It left the audience short of words.  Qudus is a choreographer, teacher and creative thinker.  He is making headlines internationally, performing his dances in Europe, Africa, Asia and North America.  We talk about his art, his journey to date and what drives him.  Qudus  continues to send a strong, positive message to the younger generation that there are many avenues to creating a livelihood while still living out your passion.  Here is my interview with Qudus Onikeku, as he walks his path to greatness.

Dance is an experience, not a story – Qudus Onikeku : Sun News

Dec 12, 2014

The explosive dance and acrobatic moves of Qudus Onikeku, Nigeria’s dance impresario based abroad, creates a nexus in the souls of his audience each time, making them yearn for more.


A choreographer, dancer, writer, and curator Onikeku’s act explores themes of identity, memory and also forms of exile. He is so energetic, and a delight to watch.

He was one of the artistes who enthralled the audience at this year’s Ake Arts and Book Festival, which held in Abeokuta, Ogun State, recently. He was able to play with those extremities to connect the minds of human beings.   “This is well connected art to all of those that really understand,” he said in an interview with journalists.


Nov. 30, 2014

A near-magical fusion of dance and acrobatics makes Qudus Onikeku a delight to watch. Yinka Olatunbosun reports

The best advice, albeit clichéd, any compere can give to the audience waiting to watch Qudus Onikeku perform, is “Don’t try this at home.” This young Nigerian acrobatic dancer-choreographer has become a metaphor of what crude oil is to Nigeria: exported, refined and imported. That sums up his life story but not his art. His style is mystical, larger than life and magnetic. Watching him for the first time perform at his eclectic show at the 2014 edition of Ake Arts and Book Festival (AABF) in Abeokuta, Ogun State, was a delightful experience. His dance production titled, “My Exile is in My Head’’, which is drawn from Soyinka’s experience penned down in the book, The Man Died , was staged for the first time in Nigeria.


July 9, 2013

Qudus Onikeku est un virtuose, ce danseur acrobate est artiste associé au Parc de la Villette en 2013. Pour le festival d’Avignon il crée Qaddish, le dernier volet d’une trilogie ouverte par My Exile is in my Head et prolongée par STILL/life.

Dans un entretien donné à Renan Benyamina pour le Festival d’Avignon, Qudus Onikeku raconte : « Pour QADDISH, j’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. »
Sur scène, le plateau est barré d’un grand panneau courbe qui se révélera transparent et support aux mots. Derrière cet espace, une soprano, un comédien, un guitariste et un violoncelliste vont accompagner les pas et les sauts de ce danseur de génie. Il vole, il n’y a pas d’autre mot et retombe sur ses pattes, lui qui commencera le spectacle en apprenant à marcher nous fait entrer dans ses mythes.

Qudus Onikeku danse le "QADDISH" : RFI

July 6, 2013

C’est un tremblement de pas, de voix, de sons, de mots et d’histoires, ressentis, ressortis et transmis à travers d’un corps d’un danseur multiforme, Qudus Onikeku. Au Festival d’Avignon, avec Qaddish, le chorégraphe nigérian présente jusqu’au 13 juillet une chorégraphie théâtrale très riche en propos et très forte en émotions. Entretien.


Le Kaddish fait partie de la liturgie juive, une prière pour Dieu, entonnée lors des funérailles. Quelle est la motiviation derrière votre Qaddish ?


Je crois qu’on est en train d’entrer dans un autre cycle. Les gens pensent qu’on est encore au 20e siècle alors qu’elle est devenue un autre siècle. Et la fin de chaque chose vibre. Au Festival d’Avignon vous pouvez trouver d’autres Kaddish et il y a plusieurs pièces sur l’enterrement et sur la mémoire. Je fais partie de ces gens qui ont cette sensation qu’il y a quelque chose à se rappeler. 

August 10, 2013

Het festival van Avignon stond dit jaar in het teken van Afrika. Eén van de premières was afkomstig uit Nigeria en is gemaakt door choreograaf Qudus Onikeku. Deze jonge choreograaf, geboren in 1984 in Lagos, Nigeria, is afkomstig uit de Yoruba cultuur en opgeleid in Frankrijk. De laatste tien jaar heeft hij zich een plaats verworven in Europa en Noord- en Zuid-Amerika. Hij is onder meer financieel gesteund door het Prins Claus Fonds.


Zijn voorstelling Qaddish is het laatste deel van een trilogie, opgedragen aan zijn nog levende hoogbejaarde vader. Opmerkelijk is Onikeku’s muziekkeuze, waar we geen Afrikaanse roots in terug vinden. De titel Qaddish verwijst naar Joodse rouwliederen. Maurice Ravel heeft hierop een compositie gemaakt, die weer de inspiratie is voor Onikeku.


Achter een wit kaasdoek, dat het podium halveert en waarop beelden worden geprojecteerd, zingt de sopraan Valentina Coladonato deze serene liederen. Vlak na haar komt een oude man op, Emil Abossolo Mbo, gekleed in een wit gewaad met tulband, die met een mooie diepe stem in het Engels teksten uitspreekt, over het leven als opgroeiende jongeling, de adolescentie, het volwassen zijn en uiteindelijk de dood.

March 14, 2013

“Flash: A New Choreography” is the latest work created and choreographed by Qudus Onikeku, UC Davis Granada Artist-in-Residence and preeminent performance artist known for his Yoruba culture-based choreography that fuses together movement philosophies of hip-hop, capoeira and Nigerian masquerade tradition.

Onikeku’s poetic and multidisciplinary attempt to present painful memories runs through Sunday at the Main Theatre in  Wright Hall at UCD.


“All my work as a creative artist has been a series of possibilities of responding to issues that affect me primarily, and those that affect the permanent human values which I defend,” Onikeku said. “I know that my audience is not particularly concerned with these matters before coming to the theater, so it then becomes my responsibility to find other interesting and spectacular ways of reaching out and communicating.”

May 9, 2013

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 ?».

February 28, 2011

The only international piece in the Dance Umbrella is superb.

Nigerian choreographer/dancer Qudus Onikeku who is now living in France, effectively in “exile” from the country of his birth, brought a beautiful work to Africa's largest and most important dance festival. Entitled “My exile is in my head” this work is sophisticated, slick and wonderfully enjoyable. The choreographer's intention was to deal with personal questions of home, belonging, non-belonging and exile. In a country where we have both a big expatriate community and xenophobia runs riot, literally and figuratively, through our society it is interesting psychologically to go on this journey with him.

While the use of video projections of shadow work and “words” is not new to Dance Umbrella audiences, this one is particularly well done. The lighting can only be described in superlatives and it combined to work with the video projections so well that I was somewhat surprised, on checking my programme, to discover that they were done by different people. Video conception was by Isaak Lartey and lighting by Guillaume Fesneau. The opening scene particularly, was eerie and mystic and it was the lighting which gave the work its neo-nascent appeal..

March 12, 2013

FLASH: A New Choreography premiered at Wright Hall in Davis on March 7, when students of the UC Davis Department of Theatre and Dance brought to life choreographer Qudus Onikeku’s vision. A graduate of the National Higher School of Circus Arts in Chalons-en-Champagne, France, Onikeku is originally from Nigeria.. He conducts his artistic research in Africa and is often inspired by his Yoruban culture.

FLASH’s blend of memories and movement is evident through the choreography, and brings the African desert to life for the audience. Dancers dig through sand, representative of life, and whither as one in death. Onikeku’s choreography represents the cycle of life.

"FLASH is just another way of talking about human memories,” said Qudus. “It’s my way of trying to find a way of healing using Art, music, dance and lighting.” Mr Onikeku also explains that FLASH is “an attempt to resurrect the images and memories of times past without the historical data attached to it. History is about Numbers and facts. FLASH is about pure emotion, the feelings the smells. All this, with a focus of healing.”

July 26, 2013

This year the event featured ‘STILL/Life’ – a clever commentary on the relationship between the developing world and the west.


Choreographer Qudus Onikeku was born in Nigeria and now lives and works in France. His work explores how the west has exploited the natural resources of Nigeria and what that means for the people.

He said: “I was just looking at the relationship with the kind of history that is repeated. And how can we navigate ourselves around it. It is just like the story of a man who is trying to rise and fall, and rise again and fall again. It was the second part of a trilogy on solitude, tragedy and memory.”

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