By Ilemona Oseni
With its huge and diverse culture, Nigeria and its crowd of dance practitioners joined the rest of the world penultimate Tuesday to mark the World Dance Day. The day was declared in 1982 by the International Theatre Institute (ITI), an affiliate of UNESCO to celebrate the practice of dance as an art form and also to commemorate the birthday of the legendary dance reformer Jean
Georges Nouverre who was born over 240 years ago.
The Dance Guild of Nigeria (GOND), the professional body for dance artiste in country which has marked the day since the inception of the guild in 1996 staged a grand performance and award ceremony at the Main Auditorium of the University of Lagos on Tuesday April 29 to commemorate the day, which Secretary General of GOND Ebi Pre-Bai say was also declared to sensitize the public about the potential of dance to the entertainment industry and to nation building.
Also the leadership of the guild coordinated series of activities including major dance performances and road shows that were organized across the country to commemorate the day
But it was in Lagos that the guild, an affiliate of the National Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners (NANTAP) and the International Dance Institute (IDI) staged what many described as a grand performance. The performance attracted dignitaries including the Honourable Minister of Culture High Chief Edem Duke who was represented by the Assistant General Manager Events and Business Development of the National Theatre Mr. Biodun Abe and the Director in charge of Dance of the National Troupe Mr. Arnold Udoka. Various dance troupes drawn from within and outside Lagos put up performances that showed the beauty of the dance movement. From traditional to contemporary dance traditions, the dancers showed skills and through the fluidity of their movements proved that it was one thing to dance and it was another to do so in time and space.
Even though the dancers smiled so gleefully as they performed, they had regrets, which they expressed through their President Mr. Steve James. First was the issue of the lack of training facilities for dance artistes in Nigeria. According to James ‘’our greatest pain and regret is that our efforts and desire to build or facilitate the building of a befitting and standardized dance studio across the country especially in a country of over one hundred and seventy million people have not seen the light of the day. All we have to show for it have been promises from successive administrations particularly the Ministers in charge of Culture and Tourism’’.
The other concern the President expressed is the lack of interest that the Ministry of Culture has shown in matters concerning the ‘core arts’. James noted that much of the concern has been on tourism promotion than the growth and development of culture, which he said ‘’tourism needs to survive’’. According to James ‘’culture is what make tourism thrive. If you don’t have anything to show people when they come, they will not visit the next time. We must pay attention to culture as we are paying to tourism. The
ministry is for culture and tourism and not tourism alone’ he lamented.
The GOND President also finds it lamentable that the World Dance Day ad other relevant culture and arts related days as declared by UNESCO are not in the ministry of culture’s calendar. ‘’This is in contrast to what obtains in the Ministry of Health where they mark all health related days including World Aids Day’’ James said.
The issue of recognition for dance artiste who are non-members of the state arts councils and the National Troupe of Nigeria also featured in the GOND’s President WDD address. According to him ‘’our records show that the various Ministries of Culture and Tourism both at Federal and state levels do not care about the freelance dancers. Fact is that the dancers at the state arts councils are not the only dancers in Nigeria. We have over 12 million people-practicing dance outside these establishment. So there must be a sustained programme targeted at their development’’ he said.
Similarly, James decried the ill treatment dancers are subjected to at major events. He wants the abnormality corrected soon. He said: ‘We also want to bring to the notice of the government that our members are ill-treated each time they are invited to state and national assignments like the National Festival of Arts (NAFEST) and at events like the annual Abuja Carnival. They are kept in mosquito-infested schools, fed in very unhealthy manner and paid stipends that are not commensurate with the work they put in. We feel this is not proper and must be looked into’’.
Heavy drumming and dancing continued after the speech by the GOND’s President, which was greeted with a resounding applause. Groups like Crown Troupe of Africa, Afrocentrik, Pacesetters and the SPAN troupe took turns to entertain the audience who kept calling for more performances.
The high point of the 2014 edition of the WDD commemoration was the presentation of awards to some distinguished dance personalities. The choreographer of the Ogun State Dance Company Abel Utuedor, versatile total theatre artiste and Nigerian consultant for Badejo Arts UK Isioma Willams, and three dance lecturers Victor Thompson of the University of Uyo, Terkula Adaa of the Benue State University and Yeside Dosumu-Lawal of the Lagos State University were presented with the Nigerian Dance Ambassadors Award. The next category of award was for fellows of the dance profession and this year, the GOND decorated seven dance personalities as fellows of the dance guild. They include foremost choreographer and dance scholar Professor Bakare Ojo Rasaki, the dance major Muyiwa Osinaike, Chief Victor Ukanwata, Dr. Edward Denen Gondo and Yemi Ibikunle Akiremi who is popular as Yemi Remi. Other inductees are the first elected National Chairman of the GOND Shaibu Husseini, Special Assistant on Culture and Tourism to the Executive Governor of Benue State Catherine Ommi Eche, and Mr. Fredrick Orodi.
Professor Rasaki and Muyiwa Osinaike were later specially decorated as the WDD personalities for the year. Muyiwa Osinaike is best known as the head judge of the yearly Maltina Dance All television reality show. A consultant to the Ogun State Arts Council, Osinaike has put in over three decades as a theatre practitioner. A founding member of the GOND and a member of the guilds advisory council, Osinaike is a member of International Organization for Folk Arts and Folk Festivals and International Organization of Folk Arts (IOF).
The Aramoko-Ekiti born Professor Rasaki who is simply called ‘Dance Rasaki’ by close friends needs no introduction in the Nigerian theatre space. He is a quintessential choreographer, theatre director, dancer, playwright, designer, songwriter, instrumentalist, arts and culture administrator, scholar and Professor of Theatre aesthetics and choreography. Rasaki is reputed as Nigeria’s first Professor of Choreography and he is currently the Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences of the Federal University, Oye-Ekiti. He is also the Artistic Director of the annual Abuja Carnival. In his career, Bakare who is undoubtedly a leading Nigerian dance scholar, a most sought after Nigerian choreographer and dance adjudicator and trainer has directed over 200 major theatrical performances. He has worked directly with and influenced most Nigerian dance practitioners, taught and trained many of those who teach and intellectualize dance and choreography today. His numerous choreographed works are found in the repertoire of most dance troupes in Nigeria and beyond. An astute administrator and manager, Bakare has consulted for most Nigerian and foreign arts organization at one time or the other. He has been acting Assistant Drama of the National Troupe of Nigeria, Performance director of the National Troupe of the Gambia and visiting trainer of the National Dance and Theatre Company of Jamaica. Bakare in his post award speech promised to continue to do his best to elevate dance practice in Nigeria. He acknowledged that it is in the area of dance that he has achieved his most enduring legacies.