Nigerian dancer picking up new dance moves in Prague
Sanusi Ayomide is a 24-year-old professional dancer from Nigeria. For the past year, he has lived in Prague as part of a Nigerian mission established by Czech artist and UN Goodwill Ambassador of the Czech Republic Yemi Ayinkemi Dele (professionally known as Yemi A.D.)
Out of 200 applicants, Sanusi was one of four students selected to have one-year residencies at the Czech Dance Conservatory in Prague, with the support of the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Interior.
As he wraps up his time here, Sanusi shared his experiences with the Prague theatre scene, what dance means for Nigerians and Czechs, and the importance of authenticity in art.
“I think dancers are just free souls. They have the most difficult demon in them and they just want to let it out because, you know, they are dancers, they're entertainers, they are pastors. It's a very big responsibility for you to be able to control crowds. To be on stage and [to have] thousands, hundreds of people coming to watch you dance. I see dancers as gods, like small gods.
“Every dancer I’ve actually met in Czechia, that I've worked with, they are more like family to me. We exchange, everybody's humble…Of course, from the beginning it's always kind of uncomfortable because I come from a space where I have my style of dance and then when I came to Czechia the first thing I was learning was ballet. I've never had any experience ever in my life in ballet!
“I prefer when I can dance and I feel free because, imagine me dancing trying to impress somebody. I'm not dancing to impress you. I'm dancing because I want to know myself and I want to be free. So that's what dance has always been for me.
“So working with the Czech dancers, they've been really open-minded, maybe because there's been good communication as well, it's not so hard for me to find friends in them, or family. Whenever we're together, we forget whatever is happening outside in the world, you know? It's just those people that exist.”
For you personally, how has your dancing style been affected by being in Prague? You’re far away from home, you probably miss family and friends…Does that come out in your dance more?
“Definitely, the culture here has affected my life. Actually, it's through the style of dance I came to learn, which is ballet. Of course, from the beginning, I had the problem of the teachers speaking Czech in class. They weren’t teaching in English.
“It was painful because I had to start learning not just from words, but from body language - trying to see the tensions of the muscles, to see if I am doing it properly. I know if I'm doing it badly, if I'm ruining your work, you wouldn't be happy with it. I would see it in your muscles, you know, probably from your facial expression as well, even if you're trying to be nice you know?
“I try as much as I can to read these things. And in this sense, it's very interesting for me because then it's not just about the classes itself. It's about everybody around me.
“It’s helped shape my reality. I became more mature, even when I was not ready for it, because I had to pick up responsibilities. I've always come from [the kind of] family where we don't have everything, but I've always been comfortable, you know, always happy. And then coming to this place, it was quite different, but it's been amazing. It's been amazing because even my style of dance that I have always been doing in Africa, it's formed it. You know the kind of projects I've done mixing around dancers who are professionals. [For example] I worked with Yemi on a project as an assistant choreographer on his last project Bohemian Gravity.”
At the National Theatre right?
“Yes, at the National Theatre. It's a very big opportunity for me, because I learnt from them. I learnt from the dancers who have been doing this job professionally for years. So, I learnt from them, the way to be open-minded.
“So for me, it's also humility, you know? Dance is not just about the movement on stage, it's the lifestyle behind it. How do you present yourself on stage? You’re looking so amazing, soft, calm. People are chilled when they're watching your piece, or if it's a fast song, people are happy. They’re joyful! You're giving them the mood, you're giving them the emotions you want them to be in.
“You're creating the ambience for them, which is power. So how do you treat this power? Are you just being nice on the stage? Just because you want to receive applause? Are you really yourself? Are you really original? Do you still have this authenticity? I believe that's the most important thing for artists, the authenticity. This has helped me as well to shape my thoughts about life.
“And that's why every time I am taking a space in a dance space, I do not abuse that power. Nothing is easy. But I mean if there's clarity in it ….my father is always saying a proverb which is like [speaks Yoruba].
“That's Yoruba. “What that means is: any child who works, if you truly work, definitely, you must get a result that will feed you properly”. So if you want to do the work, do the work. If you don't want to do the work, just don't do it. Don't waste your time. So, every time I'm taking a position in dancing, I know the importance of that position.
“It's not just about the skill itself, it's about the presence, your presence on the stage. Are you holding the space properly?”
Sounds like you've done a lot of work living up to your father's proverb.
“I mean, it's pretty easy now because, to some extent, I already know my way around. I have my friends around me. I'm so glad that it was more of a mentorship. It was more of, “I want to do this, what do you think?” And Yemi has never once told me not to do anything. Whenever I tell him, “I want to do this”, he was always like, “Are you sure? Do you think you can do this? Do you think you can handle it? Do you think you can hop on that stage to do this right now? Ask yourself, why do you want to do it? What's the intention? Are you just doing it because you want to make people see this, like I did this?
“You know, it's very nice. It's always taking me back to my training, which was dancing for a reason as well, you know. I'm not forgetting my home trainings, you know, just from the conversations. So it's like you really have to do the work. It's amazing. It's really been interesting for me.”