By Anote Ajeluorou
Itoya – A Dance for Africa
It started with A Feast of Return, where he told South Africa in new poetic dance drama. He confessed to being challenged by a South African what a bloody Nigerian knew or had to say about the rainbow nation. But his adversity had emerged from the theatre in London to mumble his apology. That poetic excursion into dance drama was in far away in London before he settled for his poetry again and forgot. Or so everyone thought.
But it took several years later before he could settle down to another dance drama. This time, it’s Nigeria the Beautiful. Indeed, seeing all the melodrama that Nigeria has become, especially in recent years with the story of sleaze brazenly told on prime time TV, it’s a wonder such Odia Ofeimun, gadfly of the public space and social critic, could see something beautiful about he beloved country Nigeria.
His eminent guests didn’t spare him last Friday when he celebrated on that score. Indeed, what is beautiful about Nigeria? Ofeimu had his ready answer. So, he asked rethorically, “What is good about Nigeria? It’s the variousness that we quarrel with. There must be a reason why God made us various. If we can work it out, the world will be envy us. There are very few countries in the world where people suffer and still have hope in tomorrow. There are dreams that just won’t die. That is only possible only in Nigeria”.
It’s this capacity to see hope, light in the midst of darkness that has become the hallmark of the Nigerian writer for which Ofeimun is an embodiment. After Nigeria the Beautiful,Ofeimun’s new dance drama is the story of the origin of Africa’s problems. As literary sage, Chinua Achebe famous propounded, ‘If you don’t know where the rain started beating you, you will not know when it stopped beating you’. For Nigeria, or indeed, Africa to be the country and continent of pride, they must recognize where they are coming from, the story of the suffering and pain and blood that have become their hallmark (for Itoya means ‘I can’t tell you all the suffering I’ve been through’).
Although only a sneak preview was put on stage as teaser, it was clear that Ofeimun has appropriated the dance drama genre for himself in his masterly evocation of grand poetic idiom, vigorous dance performance and dramatic output. With his unassuming director, Felix Okolo, it is clear the future of stage or live theatre belongs Ofeimun. Uniquely also, he does not charge fees. He manages to find a sponsor who buys his performance wholesale and throws it open to the public. Certainly, it ‘s only Ofeimun who can pull off such feat in a season of drought for the live theatre.
And so between Nisi George and ????, the audience is made to experience the critical, turning point moment when the continent received visitors from faraway that turned the tide and changed the fate of a once happy people and exposed them to all manners of indignities ever a race could suffer for the greed of others. Now, with the African world so twisted out of joint, Ofeimun does not prescribe a romantic view of returning to past in Negritude fashion. Rather, he proposes a mastery of the invaders ways as a prelude to conquering both himself and the wider world!