By Anote Ajeluorou
Last Friday at the amphi-theatre at Freedom Park, Lagos, dancers and drummers held audience spellbound with vigorous dances and drumming. It was so intense that the celebrant, Mr. Ben Tomoloju, could not help himself as he went on stage to also show that he was at home with the dance medium as a form of artistic expression being held in his honour art his 60th birthday celebration. On the bill were several groups led by Guild of Nigerian Dancers, Ijodee dance Group, Sight and Sound, Footprints of David, MJ groups and Dogumbas.
Although many dance groups performed, it was Sight and Sound and Ibadan-based ballerina dance group, MJ Groove that obviously stole the show in the unusual dexterity of their drumming and dancing. Sight and Sound was unusual in every department. First was their costume- a blend of red and white as if they were worshippers in a shrine. Sound and Sight has complete music set, but with drums are giant-sized as well to lend ample rhythm to their performance.
Perhaps, more significantly were the three young women that make up the group, who are not just mere dancers as is often the case with most groups. The three women drummers drummed with such energy and style and possessed so much expertise that they inspired with their act. They weave a tapestry of drumming pattern that was stunning. Both on the big drums in choreographed rhythms or the use of pestle and mortar to create syncopated rhythms of beating either pepper or millet or with beaded calabashes, the girls drummed with such fanfare.
In fact, there was something sexy about their drumming and wooing smiles that the audience wanted more from them. Sight and Sound’s ability to transit from one drumming pattern to another was its big advantage; from the kakaki horn, on the guitar or the jazz drums or the big African drums, Sight and Sound stunned the audience with its enchanting drumming performance.
Dogumba group, a hunter dance group, also came on, but the group’s performance was shallow for hunters wielding guns and shooting them. When the four-man piece with one female among them came on stage with a decorated pot of charms, there was some expectation that they would give Sight and Sound a run for its performance. But progressively, it fell far behind.
But then came on MJ Groove, a boy and a girl group, doing European ballerina. Such performances often don’t live to hype for a lack of that magical flare. But the duo turned out a marvel on stage as they glided effortlessly, heaved each other up and down in response to the music with perfect aplomb. They told a unique story with their performance, of a tragedy and pain, even kidnap, rescue and finally of triumph and celebration. Indeed, the sheer sublimity of their dance was such they had the loudest applause.
Perhaps, more disappointing was established Ijodee Dance Group. There just wasn’t a pattern to their performance. The group possibly needs to start reinventing itself; it cannot live on past glory as last Friday’s performance obviously showed. It was lethargic performance with no innovation whatsoever. Crown Troupe of Africa’s one-man performance rescued the audience from boredom. It’s one-man act also told a story, Africa’s story of pain and under-development and the attendant suffering of her peoples, who need redemption. It was heart-wrenching performance.
Although Shelter group was called, it didn’t perform as Tomoloju and all dancers were invited on stage. They honoured their mentor with a dance. Former editor of The Guardian on Sunday, Mr. Jahman Anikulapo, also joined in and showed that he is as much an actor as well as the meritorious journalist that he was.
Tomoloju confessed to having had real fun dancing on stage with those whose lives was wedded to the stage. He said what was offered the audience in celebrating him was “a whole collage of dance and artistic experience”, and noted that it would be immodest of him to claim all the accolades alone.