Immersed in the Lagos way

Toke Broni Strandby
Candoco embarked on an exciting project with British Council Nigeria, aiming to support the development of a new work by a choreographer from Lagos. The inclusive work was performed by local dancers later in the year in Lagos. Company dancers Toke, Mirjam and Tanja and Artistic Co-Director Pedro visited earlier to get things started. Toke shares his reflections….

As the plane is about to land, this massive city reveals itself through the clouds after only 6.5 hours in the air away from London. It is 5.30am on a normal Tuesday morning, 30 degrees and very humid as the 5 of us leave the plane. Not far from the gate we meet Mr. Henri who works for British Council in Lagos. He is here to welcome us and to get us out of the airport as quick and swiftly as possible to bring us to the car. I remember I was sitting there in my seat looking out of the window with my eyes wide open. I was not tired at all anymore, trying to fill up my mind with all these first impressions of the city. The streets were bumpy and dusty but the air outside seemed very fresh, and at the same time it felt like the busyness from people trying to get to work, slowly started to overtake the city. The first street shops were up and running. People were walking and running between the cars, trying to sell you almost everything you possibly can imagine. Busses and taxis were packed. People were walking alone or together chatting. Some jogging, some cycling and some on mopeds and as we drove deeper into the city we then slowly got caught in our first traffic jam. As I was sitting there in the car looking down from the bridge where we were at, humbleness was overwhelming me. Big buildings half built and half broken. Concrete mass and sheds next to hotels and advert screens. All very big contrasts appeared but still yet beautiful to see, this very early Tuesday morning.

We, Candoco are here in Lagos, Nigeria together in collaboration with British Council to find a local choreographer to create a piece with local dancers. All this is a part of a much bigger project, all aimed at increasing collaboration between both countries and the arts. As Candoco is working inclusively with dance and art, this project will hopefully also be a starting point of a much bigger scale, to incorporate disabled and non disabled dancers to work together and to create a focus on disability and dance in the arts, both locally in Lagos but also throughout the whole of Nigeria. This very exciting cultural project will be at its peak between September 2015 and April 2016, where our chosen choreographer will show their new creation in collaboration with Candoco Dance Company in Lagos on October 15.

Our 4-day schedule included two full days of workshops and venue research for the performance of the end piece. In the schedule we also found time to watch students perform at the Performing Arts School at Lagos University. A very engaging and exciting experience, filled with culture and political statements. It was all very engaging for the audience, with self-made music, singing and dancing.

With an urban population of over 14 million people, Lagos is one of the fastest growing cities in Africa. Because of the huge amount of people trying to get from A to B together with a very interesting traffic structure, it meant that on our first day of teaching we ended up being caught in the craziness of the Nigerian traffic! A 15 min short trip suddenly became a 2 hour-long journey. The good thing about this was, that it was almost very likely that other participants might be stuck too. Which was exactly the case. We finally arrived at the studio, which was placed right between a petrol station and an auto mechanics, but very well equipped. Two fans in each corner were our total lifesaver over the two days, as it was so warm and humid, that just by standing, sweat was dripping down your face. We spent these two days of teaching and exchange, to find the right choreographer for the project but also for them to explore and feel a difference in ways of moving, thinking and doing from what they might be used to. It was a very friendly and physical group, very ready to move but also extremely versatile in their ways of exploring new ideas and to take the “un-known” on. By proposing a mixture of ideas, our aim was to get an insight into their identity, their individual choreographic practices together with their idea of working within an inclusive group. Many very interesting conversations came up, but more interesting for me personally was to see how much our culture and habitat really are influencing our ways of sensing. How difficult it actually is to sustain and create a sensitivity towards a stranger and how easy it is to let that feeling drop again, but also in terms of acknowledging the space and to know what my individual contribution to that might be and why. It was two very warm and intensive days with a lot of things for us all to digest and talk about, but also two days of extreme richness and thought sharing, which were very up lifting.

Lagos were nice too us, even though they could have turned down the humidity just a touch! It was a very full on experience but also a complete eye opener to a part of the world I don’t know much about. It was interesting not to be able to leave the hotel to have a walk in the evenings, together with being picked up everyday by a private driver and a bodyguard with a machine gun, due to safety regulations. It was the first time I actually enjoyed being stuck in traffic, as I found it a challenge to try to figure out the logic of why we were stuck and how the traffic runs. It was an experience to see how many things some people could balance on top of their head, if there were any restrictions on what were allowed to sell on the streets, or if there are actually tourists who are taking the local busses when you don’t know the city and the only information you are being given is the end station a man are shouting out from the door of the bus. It was very healthy to feel like a minority in a place you have never been before and to feel how that can influence you in a way you didn’t necessarily think. Lagos is a big city of big contrasts and a big population, but also a city of great innovation and investment. KFC and Dominos have only opened very recently, where Hard Rock Café soon will open and Netflix is still yet come, so there are a lot of negotiations if someone should feel for a challenge!

Thank you Lagos, for this great experience!

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