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Workshops as Performance Pedagogy in Nigeria

Workshops are commonplace phenomena in contemporary educational or professional life (Balme & Leonhardt, 2019). They are described by Oblinger & Lippincott (2006) as learning spaces developed in a pedagogical, dynamic, collective, and intentionally planned manner with the final intent of producing knowledge, expanding consciousness, and overcoming of oneself by all participants, as well as the widening of their possibilities of reading the world. Not only are workshops participatory and collaborative in nature, they are oftentimes facilitated by experts with the objective of imparting some kind of specialist knowledge within a temporal framework ranging from two hours to several days (Balme and Leonhardt, 2019). Originating from a 16th-century term - work-shop - denoting the artisanal manufacture and sale of goods at the same place, its meaning or usage has evolved over time beginning with the reorganization of work during the 19th century, when the term 'workshop' became a synonym to industrial factories and by pre-World War 1, university seminars in the USA (Balme & Leonhardt, 2019). However, the contemporary application of the term in pedagogical practices is firmly rooted in early 20th-century experimental theatre (Argelander, 1978). According to theatre historians Christopher Balme and Nic Leonhardt (2019), the famous playwriting seminar "47 Workshop" of George Pierce Baker at Harvard created a model for a theatre laboratory that slowly gained a following outside the academy; thus, crystallizing the term as a catchphrase for experimentation in the theatre, radio, and television.

Apart from links to creative-cum-dramatic outputs like playwriting, improvised theatre, and actor training, workshops have become primary methods for the institutionalisation and dissemination of knowledge outside the confines of structured curricula across a variety of professions. One of the art forms enjoying tremendous patronage from this pedagogical format is dance, particularly the Contemporary African Dance movement.

Figure 1: George Arliss conducting a workshop on the stage of the Knickerbocker Theatre for Grace Griswold's Theatre Workshop, New York, 1917.

Contemporary African Dance emerged in the 1970s through the pioneering efforts of Germaine Acogny, Alphonse Tierou, and Salia Sanou, along with financial support, sponsorship, scholarships, and training from Western agencies, philanthropy, and cultural organisations. It has now grown into a popular dance form for young artists living in urban areas across the continent. This rapid growth is traceable to the creativity of artists specializing in this form of dance expression, the network of partnerships and collaborations fostered through the propagation of the art form, and the multifarious approaches that have enabled the institutionalisation and dissemination of its skills, techniques, and knowledge. In addition to schools and dance centres, festivals/dance competitions, and other forms of knowledge exchange and collaboration, workshops have played an integral role in the emergence, development, dissemination, and reception of the aesthetics and practice of Contemporary African Dance globally.

This article examines and situates the importance of workshops as a pedagogical format in the emergence, growth and popularity of Contemporary African Dance, especially in Nigeria, by using Adedayo Liadi’s Ijodee Dance Company as an example. However, before considering the above, an attempt will be made to briefly establish the defining concepts of Contemporary African Dance as well as the linkages and connections that enabled its emergence in Africa.

Defining African Contemporary Dance

Contemporary African Dance draws its theoretical foregrounding and techniques from the modern dance form and practices of such renowned artists as Martha Graham and Peggy Harper. It lays particular emphasis on the ‘now, newness and freedom’ of movement or expression (Barnes, 2004; Itsewah, 2011; Straaten, 2016). While the foundations of its creative process involve restructuring and re-coding indigenous African dance by bringing it into a contemporary framework through research (Loots, 2005, p. 38), its main objective is not solely creating new dance movements, but “refining, restructuring, amplifying or intensifying an existing movement in conventionality to the artist’s statement at a given time within a given situation” (Itsewah, 2011, p. 70). Consequently, the principal feature of Contemporary African Dance is a constant recreation and exploration of the ‘new’ and ‘current’. This practical ethos is what essentially makes the dance form ‘an unfixed and shifting aesthetic’ (Straaten, 2016) relying enormously on a plethora of physical idioms, movements, and techniques developed by individual practitioners, thus making its definition arduous and contested (see Douglas et al, 2006; Loot and Young-Jahayer, 2005).

Figure 2: Adedayo Liadi and Richard Siegal workshopping a Contemporary African Dance in Lagos.

Moreover, the identity of Contemporary African Dance is firmly rooted in ‘a pastiche of idioms’ based on physical theatre, contact improvisation, movement, poetry, and music appropriated via theatrical languages by translating and re-inventing subject matter that challenges hierarchies and norms to raise visibility about socially relevant issues’ (Reddy, 2006, p. 119). Thus, Contemporary African Dance is championed by choreographers committed to breaking creative barriers, exploring new grounds, and working towards creating a “new dynamic culture that is constantly reproducing history by how they live and respond to their circumstances” (Maqoma, 2016, p. 38). This pragmatic ethos of ‘tell it as it is’ (Maqoma, 2016) resonates with Faustin Linyekula’s claim that Contemporary African Dance is an ‘aesthetic of survival’. The thrust of Linyekula’s argument is that assumptions linking Contemporary African Dance to preoccupations with Africa could be faulty because the dance form is undergirded by a system concerned with ‘care of the self’ to ensure the survival of the artist rather than the geographic location (see Douglas et al., 2006; Loot & Young-Jahayer, 2005). Linyekula’s controversial but significant assessment of the practice of Contemporary African Dance shows a degree of unease and tension among practitioners due to the connections between the dance form and Western influence, philanthropy, and collaboration. This is further highlighted in Panther’s (2006, p. 11) observation that the dance form was “aided by non-African agents in the form of European-sponsored festivals, exchanges, the transmigration of contemporary dance teachers from particularly Europe to Africa, and an overwhelming control and filtering by non-African directors and infrastructures.”

Historically, the conception and genealogy of Contemporary African Dance can be traced to France. Although African dance scholars have attempted to decolonize this conceptual linkage, shedding the genre's connection to French sponsorship has been difficult (see Kringelbach, 2013, p. 151). According to African anthropologist Helene Kringelbach (2013, p. 151), it was French funding of workshops, festivals, and competitions that “crystallized disparate choreographic elements into a genre.” Whilst it cannot be said whether the emergence of Contemporary African Dance was planned or incidental, a connection between France’s promotion of cultural or artistic enterprise in Africa and the achievement of the French government’s strategic interests is established in the country’s Patronage Policy.

Most African cultural events and artists have over the years drawn direct funding, patronage, sponsorship, and support from foreign organisations, most of which operate under ministries, agencies, or parastatals with the implicit mandate of implementing or achieving their country’s soft power objectives, cultural diplomacy, and serving or protecting their government’s interests (Nwakunor & Ajeluoruo, 2019). The case is more profound when linked to the growth of contemporary dance in Nigeria. A combination of factors including, but not limited to, a lack of infrastructure, adequate cultural policy implementation, and funding has been the bane to developments in the cultural sector. Although artists and theatre practitioners such as Muyiwa Oshinaike, Felix Okolo, and Chuk Mike, have made remarkable contributions to the contemporary dance scene in Nigeria, its growth is directly linked to the “perennial support and sponsorship” provided by foreign governmental and private institutions, such as Afrique en Créations, Association Française d’Action Artistique, Cultures France, the French Institute, Alliance Française, the French Cultural Centre, the French Embassy, the German Cultural Centre and the Goethe Institut (Kansese, 2013, p. 287). For instance, the Claude Brumachon and Benjamin Lamarche Dance Workshop, held in 1994 and sponsored by the French Cultural Centre, is often cited as one of the major events that kick-started the Contemporary African Dance movement in Nigeria (Itsewah, 2011; Kansese, 2013). The event attracted about 500 participants drawn from mainly traditional dance theatre companies, including the National Troupe of Nigeria, Akins Production, the Black Marbles, and the Ivory Ambassadors (Itsewah, 2011).

As a strategy to enhance participation in the workshop and attract interest, Itsewah (2011, p. 68) notes that the French Cultural Centre “paid for everything”, including providing workshop allowances, which enabled both prominent and aspiring Nigerian dancers to attend the event. Consequently, out of the over 500 participants, seven dancers – Adedayo Liadi, Abubakar Usman, Abdul Onibasa, Faith Benson, Abel Utuedor, Esther Olaniyan, and Bayo Ogunrinade – were selected for further training as “artists-in-residence” at the Centre Chorégraphique National de Nantes in France (Genevier, 1998; Itsewah, 2011; Kansese, 2013). Under the tutelage of Claude Brumachon and Benjamin Lamarche, these dancers and choreographers were exposed to the concept of French (née European) contemporary dance as they performed various dance pieces choreographed by Brumachon, most notably, When the gods go crying, which toured West Africa and France between 1995 and 1996 (Itsewah, 2011; Kansese, 2013). Thus ‘exposed and influenced’, these choreographers returned at the end of their residency as dance ‘apostles’ to propagate the gospel of Contemporary African Dance in Nigeria by establishing dance theatres or companies to train other artists using the workshop model. Besides establishing theatres, most of these leading contemporary dance artists became directly involved in organising and producing dance festivals, competitions, and shows as choreographers, consultants, producers, and mentors, thus becoming a major influence for emerging dance artists.

In addition, the French (through Association Française d’Action Artistique) were also instrumental in the organisation, funding and promotion of the first Rencontres Chorégraphiques de l’Afrique et l’Océan Indien (now known as Danse l’Afrique Danse!) in Luanda in 1995. This biannual festival serves as an important point of contact for collaboration between continental Contemporary African Dance practitioners and their European counterparts and as a platform for the selection of African Contemporary Dance companies for worldwide tours and assimilation into the programmes of the European contemporary dance world (Siegert, 2010). As such, participation in this festival draws a sort of endorsement or recognition within the contemporary dance world, both within Africa and beyond, by serving as an access route to a wider network of patronage, exposure, collaboration, and sponsorship (Kringelbach, 2013).

Figure 3: A Contemporary African Dance performance at the Dance Meet Danse Festival.

Adedayo Liadi and Ijodee Dance Company

Like most practitioners, Adedayo Liadi began his career as a Traditional African Dance artist before his conversion to Contemporary African Dance (Itsewah, 2011; Kansese, 2013). His initial contact with the professional dance industry was through the tutorship of Wale Odule, the Lagos Education District, and the National Theatre where he was exposed to compositions in Traditional African Dance, drama, and music (Dancefame, 2018). His talent and artistry were further enhanced during a period of collaboration with Sola Fosudo, Debo Alexandra (at Centre Stage Productions), and, most importantly, Muyiwa Osinaike (Ebony Culture Club and The Black Marbles Dance Academy), who is regarded as one of the foremost contemporary dance choreographers in Nigeria and the pioneer of the dance style commonly referred to as ‘stunt’ movement (Itsewah, 2011). It could be argued that the experience and exposure garnered from his working relationship with Muyiwa Osinaike was what influenced a gradual shift in Liadi’s dance artistry from traditional to contemporary dance aesthetics. The cycle of influence which birthed this gradual shift culminated in his participation in the 1994 French Cultural Centre Dance Workshop, where he was selected along with six others for an artist-in-residence scholarship at the Centre Chorégraphique National de Nantes (CCNN), France. Liadi also underwent several forms of dance training at renowned international schools for dance and choreography, including École des Sables, Dakar (under French sponsorship); Centre de Développement Chorégraphique, Toulouse; National Choreographic Centre, Montpellier; Susanne Linke Dance Studio, Essen; and Danceweb Europe, Vienna.

To engender a practical transfer of the performative knowledge and experience garnered through his exposure and training in contemporary dance, Liadi established Ijodee Dance Company in 1998 to serve as a research, talent discovery, and training platform and workshop centre for emerging contemporary dance artists in Nigeria. According to Dancefame (2018, n. pag.), Liadi’s first dance workshop in Nigeria was sponsored by the French Cultural Centre, Lagos. The event attracted numerous aspiring dancers and choreographers from Nigeria. At the end of the workshop, a dance piece titled “Ido'Olofin'', meaning ‘station of satan’, was created. The dance was showcased in several cities in Nigeria and toured four countries in Africa – Benin Republic, Togo, Ghana, and Madagascar. It has been asserted that the workshop and tour successfully launched the careers of the next generation of Contemporary African Dance artists in Nigeria, including Victor Phullu, Qudus Onikeku, Ayola Soyinka, Ibru Zulezu, and Josephine Okonji (Dancefame, 2018). Liadi’s next dance workshop in Nigeria was held in 2002 (still sponsored by the French) and featured emerging artists, such as Tony Offiong, Uche Onah, Preere Yebowei, Aliu Olatunji, Mary Oamen, Nneka Umeigbo, and Frank Konwea, and led to the creation of another dance piece titled “Ori” or destiny.

Figure 4: A Contemporary African Dance Workshop Poster.

The dance piece Ori is often cited as Liadi’s breakthrough dance piece because it won the best dance and choreography prize at the 2003 Rencontres Chorégraphiques de l’Afrique et de l’Océan Indien held in Madagascar, and toured 15 African countries and 10 European countries afterwards, thereby launching his career on a wider global stage (Dancefame, 2018; Kringelbach, 2013; Ayakoroma, 2012).

Using sponsorship from the French Cultural Centre, the French Embassy, the French Government, the Guild of Nigerian Dancers (GOND), as well as affiliated contemporary dance companies in Nigeria, Liadi conceptualized and helped organise the Dance Meet Danse Festival from 2002 to 2006, serving as a consultant and workshop coordinator. As an ambassador of Contemporary African Dance, Liadi and his Ijodee Dance Company have been involved in various dance projects, workshops, festivals, collaborations, and exchanges aimed at the promotion and dissemination of knowledge of the contemporary dance genre across Nigeria, Africa, and beyond. His consociation with international organisations has shaped the orientation of his artistry by providing him with the leverage to learn from and with such notable choreographers, dancers, directors, producers, promoters, and arts managers such as Claude Brumachon, Benjamin Lamarche, Germaine Acogny, Carlos Orta, Flora Teffen, Fred Bendongue, Pata Rosy, Susanne Linke, Sven Herding, Heddy Maalem, Danielle Rizkallah, and Herman le Roux. Moreover, the experience and exposure gained from these interactions not only re-configured his artistic and creative perspective and widened the trajectory of reception for his work, but it also positioned him as one of the most recognisable ‘ambassadors or apostles’ for the spread of Contemporary African Dance in Nigeria and beyond. The track record of ‘successes’ achieved through projects such as Ori, Ido-Olofin, It’s Me, New Age Transition, Heart of Africa, In-Imagination, We Think Alike, Olori Oko Dance, Aruku Shankka, Kaki A Gogo, Alante Tatacumi, Vote & Let vote count (Dance theatre), Encounters, The Real Dance, Molejo (I Can Dance), Moyege (Victory) Musical Dance, Aye Asan (Vanity), The Best, The Winner, 8220 Time, Dance Meet Danse Festival and Truth and Togetherness Dance Festival of Africa (TRUFESTA) and Workshop has made him one of the most sought-after choreographers in Nigeria and a viable investment or sponsorship option within the arts, cultural and philanthropic sphere.


The article traced the role of workshops in the emergence, promotion, and dissemination of performative knowledge in Contemporary African Dance, especially in Nigeria, using Adedayo Liadi and his Ijodee Dance Company as an example. It can be seen that strands of contemporary dance practices have existed in the country through the relatively novel choreographic ‘stunt’ movement and stage productions of Muyiwa Osinaike, Felix Okolo, and Chuk Mike. However, the support and investment from arts and cultural organisations, most notably, through workshops, festivals, and scholarships, have been critical to the emergence, promotion, and dissemination of Contemporary African Dance as a genre. With the French and other Western cultural centres playing a leading role in this regard, Adedayo Liadi and his Ijodee Dance Company emerged as the foremost ambassadors or apostles for the training and mentorship of emerging dancers and choreographic groups. Workshops, dance competitions, and festivals, such as Dance Meet Danse and TRUEFESTA, have become the prime medium for the dissemination of knowledge of Contemporary African Dance. Besides functioning as arenas for collaborative creativity and learning, dance workshop classes, as well as the festivals that frequently follow them, also serve as sites of interactions, where contacts, ideas, and alliances for collaboration on future projects are formed and explored across transnational, continental, and cultural boundaries. It is this opportunity of working together, exploring cultural backgrounds or experiences to create something ‘new’ through creative imagination that make workshops a potent medium in performance pedagogy.

Bibliographical References

Ayakoroma, Barclays (2012) "Theatre Practice in Nigeria: To Be or Not to Be?” NICO Features. Available at: Retrieved on July 19th, 2019. Balme, Christopher and Nic Leonhardt (2019) The Workshop: On the Genesis of a Global Form. ERC Developing Theatre Working Paper Series, Paper No 1. Barnes, Thea (2006) “Review”. Attitude: The Dancers Magazine 18 (3): 20-23. Dancefame (2018) The Professional Life of Adedayo Liadi (Ijodee). Available at: Retrieved on July 19th, 2019. Douglas, Gilbert, Sichel, Adrienne, Adedayo, Liadi, Noel, Kettly, Danster, Reggie, Cuvilas, Augusto, & Linyekula, Faustin (2006) Under Fire: Defining a Contemporary African Dance Aesthetic – Can it be done? Critical Arts, 20 (2): 102-115. Genevier, Christian. ed. (1998) “Omitun Cultural Dancers.” Luanda 98. Luanda: Press and Public Relations: 49-50. Itsewah, James (2011) “The Development and Implication of Contemporary Dance Genre to Dance Practice in Nigeria.” The Performer, 13 (7): 67-78. Kansese, Rudolph (2013) “Contemporary Dance in Nigeria: The Emergent Form of Alajota Company.” The Dawn Journal, 2 (1): 284-300. Kringelbach, Helen (2013) Dance Circles: Movement, Morality and Self-fashioning in Urban Senegal. New York: Berghahn Books. Loots, Lliane & Young-Jahayaer, Miranda. eds. (2005.)African Contemporary Dance? Questioning Issues of a Performance Aesthetic for a Developing and Independent Continent. Durban: University of KwaZulu-Natal. Maqoma, Gregory (2016) “A Response: Beyond Ethnicity.” Critical Arts 20 (2): 34-38. Nwakunor, Gregory. & Ajeluoruo, Anote (2019) “Foreign interventions in Nigeria’s cultural scene.” The Guardian, January 4th. Available at: Retrieved on July 10th, 2019. Oblinger, D and Lippincott, J. K. (2006) Learning Spaces. Boulder, EUA: Educause. Panther, Jay (2006) “A Response: African Contemporary Dance? Questioning Issues of a Performance Aesthetic for a Developing Continent.” Critical Arts: A South-North Journal of Cultural & Media Studies, 20 (2): 9-15. Reddy, Vasu (2006) The Poetics and the Politics of African Contemporary Dance: Contesting the Visceral.” Critical Arts, 20 (2): 116-120. Siegert, Nadin (2010) “Contemporary dance from Africa as creative opposition to stereotypical images of Africanity.” BUALA: Contemporary African Culture. Available at: Retrieved on July 10th, 2019. Straaten, Nicola (2016) A Brief and Incomplete Guide to Contemporary Dance in South Africa. Between10and5, June 9th. Available at: Retrieved on July 19th, 2019.

Visual Sources

Figure1: Theatre Magazine, January 1918: 30.

Figure 2: Adedayo Liadi. Personal Collections.

Figure 3: Adedayo Liadi. Personal Collections.

Figure 4: Adedayo Liadi. Personal Collections.


Author Photo

Gideon Morison

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