“Everything changes but everything remains the same.” This point about the country in the dance drama ‘Nigeria the Beautiful’ highlights how frequent changes in government have not solved prevalent social problems including corruption and injustice.
The interesting dance drama, written by poet and essayist, Odia Ofeimun and directed by Felix Okolo, was staged recently at Agip Recital Hall, Muson Centre, Lagos, some two months after its premiere. As the title suggests, ‘Nigeria the Beautiful’ alludes to the beauty in the diversity of Nigerian culture.
The music, colourful costumes and graceful movements of the dancers portray the rich cultures of groups including the Igbo, Yoruba and Hausa amongst others. The performance, however, offers more than just entertainment.
With a cast including Nissi George, Efe Mayford Orhorha and Ombo Gogo Ombo, the dance drama takes the audience on an interesting voyage through Nigeria’s history. The pre-independence, independence and post independence era are artistically revisited with their features highlighted in poetry, music and dance. The vivid portrayal of leaders from Lord Lugard, Ahmadu Bello, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo, and Ibrahim Babangida to the incumbent Goodluck Jonathan is indeed insightful.
The dancers, who deployed their skills to successfully tell Nigeria’s story during the course of the play deserve commendation. George’s imitation of the legendary Fela Anikulapo Kuti with his dancers on stage also deserves commendation. In fact, it is hard to miss the artist’s energetic display as he gets into Fela’s character. His uncanny mimicry of the Afrobeat creator elicited awe from the audience.
The excellent acting also enhances the dance drama as the artists’ ability to get into different roles almost effortlessly and their excellent delivery of lines made the audience forget that it is only a cast of three. Makeup and costumes depicting different ethnic groups, also helped in making the actors look convincing.
Sound effects and lightning are well deployed in the play. Though the setting of the stage is the same throughout, it does not affect the periods depicted. And while the setting does not change, costumes change with the turn of each era such that it is obvious that a particular year is being depicted.
The intertribal war of independence, civil war and ‘correcting coups’ alluded to in the play further reiterate that the frequent changes in power have not entirely succeeded in bringing about peace and stability.
Nonetheless, the play ends on a optimistic note when President Jonathan played by Orhorha says, “I believe that our country is/ eminently saveable/ Only that we have not tried/ hard and organised enough/ to displace the Bigman and /Godfather view of history… to give integrity to the common good,… We shall build Nigeria the/ beautiful, creek and forest/ Savannah and Sahel, lagoon/ and Delta to the plateau/ Cross River to Lake Chad, it/ is a duty that we owe/ To build the country/ beautiful, lift Africa, unite/ the world: / it’s not life that matters but /the goodness we bring to it.”