By HENRY AKUBUIRO
The first set of kids, who took to the stage, belied the art of sublime entertainment. Aged between three and six, their dance steps lacked ardor and harmony, with some standing sentinel absentmindedly. It wasn’t part of the script, though.
It was melodramatic curtain raiser that sent the jampacked Banquet Hall of the National Theatre, Lagos, last Sunday, quaking with laughter –a lighthearted way of flagging off the finale of the 7th edition of The National Troupe of Nigeria’s Creative Station Workshop for children before relishing a mixed grill.
It turned out to be an evening of traditional and contemporary dances, a showcase of traditional ensemble, and a dramatic swansong that kept the audience on the edge of their seats as the command performance of the play, The Dented Anthill, unfurled.
It was a day for kids, but not everybody present was a kid. Parents, arts denizens and the media teemed in the hall. Dignitaries included Prof. Duro Oni, the Deputy Vice Chancellor, Management Services, University of Lagos; Frank Aig Imoukhuede, elder statesman; Engineer Solomon Uwaifo, playwright; Mrs Mosun Belo-Olusoga, Chairman, Access Bank; Tunde Sotomirin, University of Lagos academic and theatre practitioner; ace Nollywood actor, Ramson Noah, among others.
“This gathering has been made possible only by the grace of God,” began the Artistic Director/ CEO of the National Troupe, Mr. Akin Adejuwon, in his opening statements. “I thought it was not going to take place, because there was no money in the parastatal,” he lamented.
It was a revelation that underscored the worsening poor funding of the arts and culture sector in Nigeria. Thanks to the perseverance of Mrs. Josephine Igberaese, the coordinator of the programme, it was able to hold, said Mr. Adejuwon, who, however, added that “this year has proven to be the year of renewal”, as he acknowledged the supports of donours, including Access Bank, MTN , Wapic, Promasidor, etcetera.
Shaibu Husseini, NTN spokesman, wetted the appetite of the audience when he hinted, “What you are going to see today has a touch of class.” But it wasn’t the class expected as a group of kid mimics mentioned earlier faltered on the stage.
Welcome to the Creative Station proper: like a colony of ants, another group of kids in their numbers, dressed in blue jean trousers and white T-shirts, appeared on the stage to welcome the audience with a variety of folk songs in Hausa, Ijaw and Yoruba langauges.
A representative of Wapic, one of the event sponsors, Ogunleye Rotimi, said, even as “we invest on children, it has to be done consciously, stressing that “we cannot toy with their education,” assuring the children of a bright future.
The preliminaries over, it was dance galore at the climax of the Creative Station Workshop. Aged between six and fifteen years, the audience applauded endlessly as the children ended a modern dance with acrobatic displays. That performance was followed by another set of dancers, a group of two boys and two girls, dancing to hip-hop tones with electrifying dance steps reminiscent of break dance of the 1980s.
Traditional dances followed hence, reflecting the diversity of Nigerian cultural heritage. They included Asama Dance from the southeast, Orukoro Dance of the south-south (a dance of procreation), Obitu Dance of the southwest and Marada Dance of the north. The traditional dress codes of each region were reflected in the costumes of the dancers.
Mrs Olusoya, the Chairman of Access Bank, in her speech, said she was impressed by what she had seen so far. “It has shown that, in Nigeria, we have a solid future ahead of us,” she declared, adding, “I believe in bringing up very culturally aware children.”
The Children’s Creative Station Workshop, said Mrs. Igberaese, the Director of Drama of the National Troupe of Nigeria, was meant to encourage and nurture talents in young children and youths, who “otherwise may not have an avenue to develop their talents outside the walls of formal school.”
As designed, the station is a collection of children from all backgrounds. Mrs Igberaese hoped that the bond of friendship and teamwork achieved in the course of the programme would create a lasting, positive impact on each child. “This project fosters friendship, inter-cultural appreciation, cultural orientation, team work, creativity, confidence building, public speaking skills, etcetera,” she informed.
When the director of the command play, Peter Badejo, was invited to the workshop, he saw it as an opportunity to allow the voices of children to be heard directly through their input in the medium of theatre expressions.
Thus, the curtain for the 7th Creative Station was drawn with the enactment of The Dented Anthill, a play created by the children of the station and directed by him. It was a culmination of a workshop that began on July 25th, 2016, for the benefit of holidaying students from across the country.
The Dented Anthill is metaphorical for the building and dent in the structure of Nigeria and the need to rebuild and restructuring the country borrowing from the tradition of the ants. He explained: “In their ever busy work routine, ants work tirelessly in social groupings constructing what might be termed the ants-city. This could be expanded to a city or nation of humans. When this fortress is disturbed, it disorganises the social setup of the ants and sends them helter-skelter.
“If a dent occurs to this design, it affects the entire existence of the ants. From the dented part of the anthill emerges a brigade of ants struggling to defend and form themselves into a working group for reconstruction/restructuring.” It was an evening to remember.