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Emmanuel Ndefo

Name of artist creator(s)

Emmanuel Ndefo, Nigeria

Driving themes

  • Combining movement based storytelling with oral storytelling.

  • Combining traditional practice with an understanding of contemporary composition and performed improvisation.

  • Joyful invocation, energetic communication with spiritual realms.

  • Remembrance and ritual, honouring the dead.

  • Embodying female characters.

Goals (choreographic)

  • To explore virtual presence and how human movement practices can be shared in an emerging post human digital reality.”

Long term goal

Engaging youth and developing ways of teaching, to convey his passion of traditional practices that require deeper concentration and an ability to focus longer in transformative dances. “currently involved in facilitating a small performance group for young dancers in a ghetto in Kano Nigeria, where people barely see dance as a career worthy of pursuing. I feel a strong need to set for them an example… as a dance choreographer and a community development artist.”

Beginning with

  • Culture: “deeply influenced by Influences from ‘Ima mbem’, a performance form specific to masquerade cult in Igbo societies that use a hybrid of song, movement and speech to inform, educate and entertain.

  • Training: Hip-Hop, Breaking, House dance, Traditional and ritual dances from Africa.

  • A gallery space: to experiment with costumes and create a ritual of remembrance for a list of women. He has been considering how to embody the presence of these women.


  • Enter into “a space for reflection, introspection and analysis of my creative process within a community.”

  • “To develop and amplify my own choreographic voice.”

  • “To better understand the principles digital collaboration from an international perspective.”

  • Find ways to embody these female energies.


  • How will he know if the spirit he is communicating with has given him permission to engage her spirit?

  • What sensations will he experience and convey through his body?

  • What does he need on this kind of a journey?


He was at a residency at a gallery in Lagos, which meant he had the gallery space and time to focus on creative work but the Internet was not great and there were timing challenges because of the nature of commuting in the city.

His training in contemporary dance comes from very masculine forms such as Krump and Breakdancing. In trying to work with these female spirits there was a complicated negotiation between physical memory of dance technique and the femininity of the spirit he wants to channel. It is not generally acceptable in his culture for male dancers to embody female characteristics.

Because the women he is using as reference were historical figures, he wanted to be respectful of the spirit of each person. “It has been so intense because I feel like I need to take permission… to permit her spirit to enter me.” and also allow the flow of energy to create a transformative dance and the imagination that was required to embody historical figures he had never met.


He created costumes for each woman he was researching. Every day, he would wear one of the costumes to help him to channel character and aspects of femaleness and then try to invoke her presence through dancing.

For the final presentation at Choreographic Marathon, Emmanuel made an altar and invited the group to participate by repeating a phrase in invocation for/of the Lioness of Lisabi that became an improvised sound score for his highly physical performance.

In preparation for the performance, he sat all morning in front of the altar, he imagined we were all there.


Ways to play with disrupting perception, “Standing in the place of knowing and not knowing, I see but I don't see… being comfortable to stand in that space and enjoy that moment.”

Development and Skill-building

Slowing down his pacing in the dance and working with poses in order to really feel through this embodiment of the person he is trying to evoke, e.g. “It takes me a lot of time to get started. And then … [the dance] starts moving fast… and is really intense… Not trying to force it.”

Finding a way to interact with audience, by inviting a participatory improvisation of vocal repetition to become his music.

Questions from mentors

What are you moving in relation to?

  • My body becomes a space.

  • Movement starts inside and moves outside to audience.

What is your dream?

  • Spaces are containers of memories.

  • A process of moving from mind to feelings.

  • The unconscious surrender to the movement.

  • Understanding self.

  • The space in-between.

  • Being yourself in the place understanding wherein you can’t control the way others respond to you. Surrender to the moment even when we disrupt the space.

  • How the place inspires the movement. Starting dance from internal space (within). Surrender to the moment. Confidence. Mind aligned with feeling the body with audience.

As he evolves his sense of self, his movement changes.

General observations

His generous desire to include us in the invocation was an insightful strategy. I experienced a rhythmic pulse in my body as he danced and we made sound. I felt myself being ‘pulled’. I felt the spirit of the woman he was calling in was asking for more – more energy; more time.

Bringing spiritual ritual into the public view as performance carries responsibility and awareness of the power of spirit energies. Knowing the boundaries between what can be exposed and should remain private or unknown.

I hope his explorations help him access the creative energy, physicality, and permission he’s looking to express to the Lioness of Lisabe.

Incredible participatory engagement. I loved creating a collective choir of invocation for the spirit of a woman I know only through your story. I appreciated your way of describing the ritual, giving us context for what we were participating in, e.g. you wished to “permit her spirit to enter me.”

This did not feel like a solo, you engaged everyone in the room, spirits included. It also forms an inventive comment on zoom, where we are not in the same room in body but we are in the same room through voice… The zoom audience are one step away from the spirit world. We see you in gestures of prayer and channelling electric current, struggling to contain the energy provoked by the spirit world. Your drop from the feet to the knees jumps were like small miracles that made me gasp - like a kind of penance to show the spirit that you were fierce enough to dance with the spirit of the Lioness of Lisabi.

I saw you looking into the screen as if you were diving into the water. Your movements for me were about swimming in the water of the screen but the water had multiple meanings, like swimming through the cosmos above at the same time as the underworld. I really felt your humanity here as a suspension between heaven and earth.

The range of movements were always spectacular, symbolic gestures flowed easily with the clear actions of running, removing clothing, dancing with a partner and fighting to contain the more than human dimension. I loved the way you took moments to shake your head as if to reorient yourself.

Discussion points things that came up in general discussion

  • To practice

  • Taking time to honour and use research methods.

What next

  • Finding ways to develop these investigations into full performance works that resonate with his community, including the youth who he is encouraging to incorporate traditional ways of knowing into their choreographic concepts.


Invocation, ritual, remembrance, transformation, historical figures, honouring the dead, powerful women, black women heroines, revolutionaries, embodying female characters, gender representation, femininity,movement-based storytelling, oral storytelling, Igbo traditional practice, improvisation, engaging youth, teaching, energetic communication with spiritual realms.


Emmanuel Ndefo (b.1991, in Kano Nigeria) lives and works between Lagos Nigeria and Toulouse France. He is a performance and dance artist/researcher who uses his body as a tool for creative process and to imagine how performance can contribute to larger contemporary conversations. He is interested in how bodies use space in liberatory and transformative ways. Though inspired by a wide range of forms and practices, the bulk of his work is rooted in dance and performance art. He combines his formal training in dance research with knowledge gained from the practice of various traditional dances from Africa, and with urban dance styles like hip-hop, krump and house dance.

Ndefo was a recipient of the African no filter storytellers fund (2021) and the ACCR Odyssey artist grant by the French ministry of culture in (2022). His notable works include "Traces of Ecstasy'' and "the Passage". Ndefo has undertaken residencies, presented his research and shown his live performance at other prominent institutions like; Across Oceans Arts Choreographic Marathon (online from Canada 2021), Center for Contemporary Art Lagos, Nigeria (2022). Centre nationale de la Danse Paris, France (2017), Transformatorio art festival Sicily, Italy (2018), Villa Karo Benin republic (2022), Kampnagel Hamburg, Germany (2023), Kunstwerk Koln, Germany (2023), Pact Zollverein Essen, Germany (2023), Turku new performance biennale (2023), Raid festival Salerno, Italy (2023) etc.


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