A dance drama, staged for the Nigerian 52nd Independence Day celebrations, carries the message of peace to its audience. Yinka Olatunbosun reports
The audience that arrived in trickle at the National Theatre, Lagos for the National Troupe of Nigeria’s performance of the musical dance drama, The Bridge must have wished they had paid to watch. The 55-minute intense dance drama which was staged in commemoration of the 52nd Independence Anniversary of Nigeria centred on the theme of national unity and peaceful co-existence. It was indeed very apt as it is set against the background of social-political breakdown that has degenerated into incessant killings, bombings and insecurity of lives and properties in some communities in Nigeria.
The Bridge tells the story of a man who gets promoted to the position of a bank manager. The entire village celebrates this in grand style with dance, music and merriment. The celebration is cut short when the news of his transfer to Tanfo arrives. The dance floor is submerged in tears of sorrow as friends, families and well-wishers empathise with the man whose wife is heavily pregnant. His kinsmen and his wife tried to stop him from going to Tanfo because it is notorious for insecurity, corruption, civil strife, bloodshed and power tussle. With little or no choice, the bank manager leaves for Tanfo with the hope of restoring peace and making positive change in the lives of the people living there.
Order is restored as the bank manager makes effort to build peace amongst the people of Tanfo.
The tone of the dance drama is optimistic. Its ending, by implication, gives the Nigerian the hope that the nation will not disintegrate. The choreographer, Arnold Udoka employed the use of puppetry in creating the scene for the newscasters and the effect was humorous. Many people in the audience had not seen puppets on stage in recent time and were caught off guard when the puppets were speaking in a well-coordinated effort. The use of costumes were mostly appropriate asides the ones designed for the lead actor which made him sweat profusely in his first two appearances and the three hefty ladies, who had to dance in very short wrappers that barely managed to go round their wide waists.
Minimalism is another technique used by the choreographer to actualise some scenes in the drama. For instances, the people of Tanfo were clad in torn blood-stained clothes to illustrate the devastating effect of violence in the community. The sound of gunshots were also sufficient in demonstrating to the audience that Tanfo is indeed a dangerous place to live because the gunshots drove away the rescue team who fled in fear of being killed.
The drama was said to have been first performed in Abuja at the African First Ladies’ Forum and had been given more flesh in its independence production. The question of national unity is a recurrent issue on Nigeria’s independence and it is suitable for the choreographer to showcase dance and mime as alternative means of national reorientation to promote peace and to discourage corruption.
The play, however, started about one and a half hours behind schedule. The side attraction that kept the audience calm was a fascinating xylophone performance by Udoh Mariha. Xylophone performances are generally not as popular as keyboard, saxophone and even harmonica but the passion with which Udoh dazzled the audience with his sticks earned him thunderous applause and audience sing-alongs when he played some popular contemporary tunes.
The music band featured Femi Ogunrombi otherwise known as Papa Ajasco who was not quickly recognised by the audience until he removed cap to reveal his trademark hair cut.
The choreographer is one of the nation’s finest dance exports who became a dance lecturer and choreographer at the University of Calabar and a sessional dance teacher at the Laban Centre at the University of London between 1979 and 1991. Udoka had won a number of scholarships including Commonwealth Academic Scholarship, United States Information Agency Sponsorship to International Choreographers Residency Programme of the American Dance Festival and Voluntary Visitors Programme.
Udoka’s creative works include Song of the Sea, Fire of Peace, New Frontiers, Flames of the Niger, The Water Basket, One Earth One People, Rites of Passage as well as poems and scholarship text books on dance.
The production is one of the ways of revitalising the theatre culture which had been demonised by rumour mongers who often transmit terror message around watching plays at the National Theatre. Being a no-fare play, enormous crowd was envisaged and some even thought it would be rowdy and uncontrollable. There was order and the footlights in the auditorium were on and the usual power interruption was very brief, less than a minute.
The artistic director of the National Troupe of Nigeria, Martin Adaji who had earlier assured the audience that they would be entertained also expressed hope that the play would make the impact on the public for whom it was produced.