Magnus Eze, Enugu
The Ezeagu Atilogwu debuted in Lagos in 1948 and became the most talked about traditional dance in Nigeria for many years because of the style, sequence and eloquent movements of the dancers. The group was so popular in Lagos then that it was called the “Famous Ezeagu Atilogwu”, and even the legendary Mazi Mbonu Ojike described the dance as “Something to talk about”.
Despite its fame round the world, Ezeagu and indeed Enugu state were yet to benefit maximally from this rare cultural export to the world.
This came to the fore, recently, as the Federal Government indicated its resolve to change the narrative by floating a dance academy in the community in recognition of Ezeagu’s contribution to the nation’s cultural development.
Artistic Director/Chief Executive Officer, National Troupe of Nigeria, Comrade Tar Ukoh, who disclosed this at the maiden Atilogwu festival, held January 11th to 13th, at the Enugu State Polytechnic, Iwollo in Ezeagu Local Government Area, said Government has decided to positively affect the ecosystem of the origin of Ezeagu Atilogwu.
Ukoh who noted that culture is life, said the three-day programme was part of the government’s efforts at developing community theatre across the country.
“Atilogwu is not only a type of dance; it’s an embodiment of a people. All over the world, when the people want to see Igbo dance, they ask for the Atilogwu. That’s why we have chosen to come to Iwollo, the root of the Atilogwu to celebrate,” he said.
He further disclosed that the national troupe has commenced the process of setting up what he called Royal Atilogwu cultural academy for the Under-10, boys and girls, Under-15 and Under-20.
He continued: “The National Troupe of Nigeria are touring kingdoms, visiting kings with rich history so that we keep our culture. We will set up a royal troupe, prepare them to always represent Ezeagu and Nigeria. We want you to go out of Nigeria and exhibit the Igbo culture. The only respect you can get abroad is that you are yourself.
“Atilogwu is a wonderful acrobatic dance, a scientific dance, without knowing, the originators were using the African scientific application of kinetics. They build the pyramid with some balance and that is physics. There is no magic in it; you can’t dance Atilogwu when you take drug or alcohol.
“I will personally provide this royal troupe with very befitting costumes. I congratulate the State and Local Government Area for this synergy. We will build from it and promote Ezeagu, Enugu state and Nigeria.”
Ukoh also said that the Federal Government as part of the package will train at least 200 youths in various skills including production of cultural costumes and provide them with starter packs.
Promoter of the event, Dr. Ferdinand Anikwe who set the stage for the dance competition proper, in an address described Atilogwu dance as Nigeria’s best troupe in the past 70 years.
“Today, we all are gathered here to watch and appreciate the magnificent dance steps, displays and acrobatic performance of the best troupe in Nigeria for the past 70 years. Atilogwu Dance is made in Ezeagu and exported to other parts of the Nigeria,” he said.
He explained the meaning of Atilogwu which if translated in English, literally means “Is there any magic or charm?” The above question arose out of the curiosity of people to unravel the myth behind the artistry and acrobatic display of Atilogwu dancers during their performances as they mesmerised watchers with their breath-taking acrobats.
The cultural enthusiast disclosed that most of the elements of Atilogwu were adapted from other dance patterns like Anaku; Ochefulu, Ochanja, Adinjanja, Akadi, Mgbanga and Ogwulogwu; which had been in existence in Ezeagu and its environs for a very long time.
Daily Sun gathered that the Ezeagu people were the first to choreograph and present Atilogwu in functions; to the point that the dance brought them fame even before the nation’s independence in 1960.
It was further gathered that the 8th leader/director of the Ezeagu Atilogwu group, Innocent Ozoeze under his watch incorporated young girls into the group and introduced many variations; formation, and acrobatics to maintain their leadership in cultural dance throughout the country. The girls, apart from Atilogwu dance, perform other dances such as the Nkwa Umuagbogwo; the maiden dance from Afikpo, Ebonyi state, Ikorodo dance from Nsukka, Ode dance from Cross River state and the Hausa/Fulani dances.
In fact, Ozoeze, who was part of the organising committee, said the Ezeagu Atilogwu has remained the most popular dance from the Igbo culture.
According to him, “It has indeed swallowed the names of the other similar dances across Nigeria,” to the extent that “any exquisite, speedy, smart and or acrobatic dance is merely nicknamed Atilogwu dance.”
In addition, Secretary of Ezeagu Local Government Area, Cajetan Agu, who declared the event open on behalf of the council boss, said that it was a great day in the history of Ezeagu and thanked the leadership of the National Troupe of Nigeria for the promotion of his people and culture.
Before the competition commenced, one of the three-man panel of judges; Silas Ogbodo- a retired Director of Culture in Enugu state, spelt out the criteria. He said they would pay emphasis on entry, discipline, instrumentation, costume, stage performance, variation in dance steps and exit, among others.
About 17 dance groups including Ugobueze cultural troupe Awha, Ndiagu; Holy Child cultural dance troupe, Iwollo, Ebubechukwu dance group, Obeleagu Umana, Ezeagu, Lauda Jerusalem, Sacred Heart Parish, Iwollo, Umu Mary Block Rosary dance group, Akama Oghe and others participated in the contest.