By Emmanuel Agozino
Prolific writer, dramatist,former President of Association of Nigerian Authors, (ANA) and foremost icon of the literary arts, Prof. Kole Omotoso recently clocked 70. He was honoured penultimate week at the Ondo State Cultural Centre at a dance drama performance put together to celebrate him by poet Odia Ofeimun. Vanguard Arts was at the event to capture the thrilling performance that moved the Ondo State governor Olusegun Mimiko.
THE assemblage of dignitaries inside the expensive hall both from within and outside the state penultimate week, to celebrate the 70thbirthday anniversary of former President of Association of Nigerian Authors, (ANA) and veteran scholar and writer, Prof. Kole Omotoso, shows the esteem with which the scholar is held even in his homeland.
It was the staging of Yes and Know to the Freedom Chatter part of the activities to mark the birthday event of the writer that made it memorable.
Written by Omotoso himself, Yes and Know to the Freedom Chatter, dance drama employs colourful costume of typical South African society to tell the story of black struggles against White supremacists rule and eventual freedom in South Africa.
In what seems an archetype of historical comparison of events, the script brings the author’s personal in depth knowledge of South Africa to tell the story from beginning of the liberation struggles in the 20thcentury, and then the story of South Africa from the era of Dingsiswayo and great Shaka the Zulu through Apartheid period, to the Rainbow Coalition that brought Nelson Mandela to power after about 27 years of imprisonment in Rode Island.
The dance title, Yes and Know to the Freedom Chatter loaded with paradoxes as part of the romance of looking homewards and in the assertion of dignity against man’s inhumanity to man.
However, the beauty of the performance lies in Omotoso’s attempt to celebrating South African rich cultural heritage and courage by playing down the view that Africans are not good or know their God-ordained human rights.
The dance offers a contrast to the popularly held view that Africa is a home to people without civilisation or people that do not know God or where nothing works or anything good happens.
It showcased the nation’s beauty in diversity and cultural differences that many consider as South African pride. As the story demonstrated, the discord often noticed during Apartheid rule in South African society was caused by divide and rule policy that can be overcome.
It is a matter of collaboration and unity among the oppressed blacks believing that there is no oppression or injustice that people cannot overcome once Africans are united.
Directed by Felix Okolo, the dance drama also meticulously brings the thought of the writer to reality with serious points to ponder, as well as great humour, especially during the various interjections by the casts.
For the audience, one of the significant aspects of the performance is that it comes at a period when Nigerians are gradually forgetting the price paid for freedom in search of selfish and divisive tendencies by politicians.
It re-echoes the price for freedom, the suffering of many Nigerians and loss of hope for the giant of Africa. But for South Africa, it is the struggle of Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, Benjamin Molasie, Steve Biko, Chris Hani and the price they paid for their country’s freedom. The play is a good example of total theatre,which effectively combined mime and dance, drama, poetry, recital, music and visual arts, alongside a wonderful costume to achieve aesthetic unity.
Though a South African story, the director also deployed Nigerian songs and dance across nationalities in order to bring the South African story alive as never told on the stage before.
His idea of creating archetypal images of African struggle for freedom and unity is excellent achievement, especially in the face of dying culture of arts.
The choreographic display of the casts reveals how talented the choreographers are. They include, Akah Austine, Steve Joe, Jude Onedeke, Ayodele Balogun, Michael Obata, Jeremiah Nwoso, Autin Ime and Asuquo Uwem. Others includes, Oyinye Nwaiwu, Anuoluwapo Akingbade, Fatimah Mohammed, Adetoun Abolaji, Onome Umokaro, Mberede Chidima and Serah Onomiwo.
In his appreciations after the presentation, Ondo State governor Olusegun Mimiko, expressed the need for youths to emulate Omotoso.
Mimiko who described the day as a sweet moment not only for himself and the Ondo people equally described Omotosho as a true son who has brought recognition to the State.
He therefore submitted that the day’s event may be the beginning of celebration of another big thing, adding that he still has much of his cultural roots attached to the State.
At the end of the sixty minutes drama, Odia Ofeimun, organiser of the event also noted that what made the drama unique is because it is one of Omotoso’s piece that tells the story of South Africa.
Ofeimun said it is one the best that Omotoso has written since his relocation to the country.