Creative station… National troupe’s talent grooming gift for children, teens

SO, how did you spend your long holiday as a child in primary school and a teen in secondary school? And parents and guardians, how did your ward spend his or her long holiday that will soon come to an end? Was it in another round of summer classes or lessons after a whole session of academic work, doing the same thing all over again? Summer classes elicit the question, what has happened to the spirit of freedom associated with holidays? How do summer classes impact learning fatigue?
It is this summer lesson bubble that National Troupe of Nigeria (NTN) tries to burst, and has successfully done that during long holidays, in the past seven years. That is, to give children another life and take their attention from class work during holidays, the very objective holidays are designed to achieve in the first place.

And so, the NTN’s 7th Children and Teens Creative Station (…for development and progress) that climaxed in a command performance of The Dented Anthill at the Banquet Hall, National Theatre, Lagos, last Sunday, had all the making of children and teens’ performance class act. In fact, children and teens, whose parents and guardians are in the habit of hauling them off to summer classes, should loudly protest it come next holiday, if parents attempt to make straight-jacketed academic pupils and students lacking any other innate abilities worthy of development.

The Creative Station groomed the children for about six weeks and coached them in the various Nigerian ethnic dances, contemporary dances and acting live on stage. And so, there were dances from the South East, South South, South West and the North. The dances were enhanced with a complementarity of costumes and songs from these regions that further learnt charm to the performances. It also gave the children opportunity to learn the dances and songs of other ethnic groups apart from theirs. And for children in homes where their mother tongues are not spoken, the Creative Station enabled them to learn a thing or two about their origin, where their parents had failed.

Perhaps more scintillating was the rendering of the national anthem, through instrumentation that prepared the audience for a great evening of performances from the youngsters. Through the talking and conga drums and the xylophone that was expertly worked to produce the complex, rising and falling notes in the anthem, the audience was simply blown away in excitement. This was followed by a hilarious moment, when children under six, who had insisted on accompanying their older siblings to be part of the Creative Station, took to the stage for a dance. Compere Mr. Shaibu Husseini called them mogbo moya (uninvited guests); they were in a world of their own and rendered the audience in stitches of laughter.
Artistic Director/CEO of National Troupe of Nigeria, Mr. Akin Adejuwon, paid glowing tribute to the troupe’s Director of Drama, Ms. Josephine Igberaese, for her doggedness that helped in pulling off the show. Paucity of funds, he noted, would have scuttled this year’s Creative Station, but Igberaese’s persistence eventually paid off. He also expressed gratitude to National Theatre management for allowing the troupe use of the banquet hall. Other supporters of the show were Access Bank, Wapic Insurance, MTN, Chevron, Mimee, Zmirage among others.
“This gathering has been made possible by the sheer grace of God and the dogmatic nature of Josephine,” Adejuwon said. “But for the faith and sheer doggedness of Josephine, we would not have done this. I dedicate this presentation to Josephine. This seventh year turned out to be the year of our renewal in spite of donor fatigue that has worn out sponsorship.”
Then came the choral performance, where the children sang in Hausa, Ijaw, Yoruba and English songs complete with a conductor directing the performance. This was followed by modern dance performance and hiphop. Thereafter, traditional dances also followed. From the South East came Asama dance; from South South came Orukoro dance of progress and fertility; from South West came Omitu dance, showcasing the Osun goddess and her female, acolytes clad in all-white, paying homage to her.
Chairman, Access Bank Plc, Mrs. Mosun Bello-Olusoga’s commendation of the children for their spectacular creativity in the dances brought this section to a close. She also praised NTN for “bringing up culturally aware children in an era, where we are losing our culture. The performance is worthy of a Broadway show”.

However, Bello-Olusoga failed to pledge continued support of the performance in coming years, or indeed, other performance projects by the troupe so as to raise the profile of her bank as a culturally conscious organisation and friend of culture.

DIRECTED by acclaimed dancer, Sir Peter Badejo, The Dented Anthill, is a parable for Nigeria, performed by children, to draw attention to the union that came out of the ethnic nationalities brought together by the amalgamation of 1914. Prior to the amalgamation, the different ethnic nationalities had busied themselves, like the ants, in building their own enclaves and helping to also shape the destinies of neighbouring and other nationalities in harmonious ways.
With a video in the background showing an ant republic in their ever busy ways in seemingly disorganised movement that ultimately yields order, the children perfectly simulated the ants. The over 200 children, in choreographed, continuous movement, in and out, in their black, ant-like costume, simulated a vast colony of ants – gathering, building, storing, fending off enemies. It was sheer marshal synchronization as they weaved in and out from different exits and entry points in the vast hall, exactly like the ants in the video playing in the background, the real ants building their anthill just as the actor-ants were building their own hill as well, and then installed their queen, clad in white. It was a wonder to watch.
On the face of the hill were written such legends: peace, justice, progress, accountability and love, as the abiding virtues that enable the ants achieve their ultimate aim of building a hill from their seemingly chaotic enterprise that eventually yields order.
For the actor-ants and Nigeria, this is as far as their unity of purpose begins and ends. With the amalgamation that leads to independence and the emergence of party politics, the usual diseases of religion, ethnic cleavages, corruption and nepotism that have come to define the country, begin to rear their ugly heads. With amalgamation came alien values and orientation that negated native norms, which inevitably set the stage for the country’s anomy from which it seems stuck. These lead to cacophonic voices that would later drown the singularity of purpose earlier displayed by the ants and which enabled them to build their hill, a habitable abode for themselves. The yoking of disparate peoples together to satisfy British imperial power, without the ethnic nationalities coming together to reshape the anomaly of imperial Britain imposition is what eventually leads to a dented Nigerian anthill.
Although the play ends on a note of hope, it leaves it open-ended for the Nigerian audience and polity to ponder. How do they hope to mend the dented anthill? What options are there to do this? Are they willing to do it for the sake of these child actors so there is a country they can call their own? Do their parents think of them when they engage in bitter, acrimonious, ‘do-or-die’ politics that has impoverished the country?
Badejo’s resourcefulness as a dancer came to the fore, as the director in the child-focused, but intense performance play with national significance. Organising over 200 children in one seamless, breathless, choreographic marvel the way he did is a feat that can only be applauded. But he was quick to deflect the accolades from himself to the children, whom he said were not only willing to learn but also contributed to making the performance splendid.
As he noted, “National Troupe of Nigeria made it possible for the voices of the children to be heard. I’m usually glad about anything that has to do with the future of this country. We should all be proud of these children. I like it when I work with children because children teach you how to teach”.

Badejo, who earned Officer of the British Empire (OBE) award for his achievements as a dancer in Britain, and who is yet to be recorgnised in his own country, enjoined parents to desist from all forms of lying. He noted that the vice of lying was already robbing off on their children, who will be leaders after them. Badejo also pointed out that the lying vice was responsible for many of the woes Nigeria was currently going through, adding, “Today, we all see the crisis of lying in Nigeria”.

Award-winning writer, Pa Solomon Uwaifo described the performance as a great show. Also, Mrs. Ndidi Aimienwawu said the children were excellent performers and that it was a thoroughly enjoyable show.
Dignitaries at the show included former Culture Director, Pa Frank Aig-Imoukhuede, Prof. Duro Oni, Mr. Solomon Uwaifo, representative of CBAAC Director-General, Sir Ferdinand Anikwe, Mrs. Ndidi Aimienwawu, Mr. Tunji Sotimiri, Ramsey Noah, Ndidi Dike, Francis Onwochei, Chairman, Access Bank Plc, Mrs. Mosun Bello-Olusoga and Permanent Secretary, Office of Secretary to Government of the Federation, Mrs. Ibokun Odusote.

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National Troupe of Nigeria
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