Update from Qudus' blog

Jun 17, 2010

Re/Presenting dance practice in its whole nine yards

At this critical moment of the Nigerian cultural industry's reformation, little I wonder if re/presentation or re-branding will lead to any favourable end, the situation at hand is more than an academic matter. I foresee a fledging state to disorderly growth with fundamental deficiencies. Here already comes an era where there is near to an absolute absence of such thing as "the practice". Every individual now struggle for his or her daily loaf, and the driving force of every practitioner has been tainted by the survival game, the scarcity of sincerity to one's self and commitment to one's art can now be explained, due to the sole fact of being true to one's needs, wants and societal pressure in a nation that cares less whether you live or die. It sincerely makes no difference.

It is therefore, no news that the Nigerian dance landscape has been less than unfortunate in its guild legislation and the leadership of the numerous dance companies. In spite of conventional opinion, the basic element of this misfortune is the seminal absence of dignified artistic upbringing with intellectual rigour, in the social and cultural thoughts of our founding fathers, also the absence of dance literature and think pieces published in dailies and the corruption of other gatekeepers of culture who speaks for, about and around art gives no headway.

These little precisions are often ignored when we appraise the disinteresting art of Dance practice in Nigeria. More suicidal is the weight of reality in the contemporary development of this trade, suddenly growing at a period when there is a tendency to pious materialistic woolliness that clothes self centred opportunists, who for all they care, is to make themselves materially formidable and make all the money that is possible, for mortals of their calibre to make in a booming dance Market. Hence ,the Nigerian dance commerce is likely to produce more aggressive millionaires than selfless pioneers of the practice, and in such misdirection, the poor-at-mind who lack history and profound conviction, again and again become the visibles in public.

Could one be exact, if we point fingers at art journalism and the media for such misdirection, because against these threads of mediocre, are a hand full of sincere practitioners who defy popular opinion and thus, don’t make headlines, defaced by invisibility and anonymity. These few had become a coconut in cultural and economic terms; one can see a peculiar kind of coconut perpetuating the if-you-can’t-beat-them-join-them phenomenon. Art journalism in Nigeria has been plagued with all the identifiable ills that faces today's Nigeria, the economic situation of the country and the absence of self worth, has left a wide range of practitioners with the 'survival instinct' resolution, when journalists are called upon to play their “third party” role in the making of an equitable art practice, the question of financial recompense instantly weighs more than a revolution.

Despite the "dance boom" and the grand illusion of reality TV shows that is presently sweeping over reality itself, dance aesthetics have begin to take a huge backslide. This single condition facing the subsistence of a genuine dance practice in Nigeria, points out the failure of art studies and the complicity of the critical process: how observations, analyses, literary interpretation, reviews, criticism and a serious academic readership of dance is so nonsensical. These questions have found their ways from dance into the art world at large, and this eventually call into serious concern of how dance continues to denigrate unto a realm critically disconnected from the rest of the arts, and the art world drastically disconnected from the social world.

I am particularly tired of Nigerian dances, because I think Nigerian dances are tired, I think they are all at a point where they are played out, or at least this phase of it. What we today refer to as cultural or traditional dances within the professional context, are in a complete fallow period, and continue to put me in confusion of definition. Many a time have I heard scholars and lecturers in the humanities, scold those of us involved in contemporary dance practice, as to how we have sheepishly followed the white man to forget our cultures.

However, one is tempted to ask if these numerous sub-styles (or to use the popular word; de-constructions) of the original traditional dances that they – most Nigerian dance scholars and proponent of "Afro-centric" ideals clamour for - a result of creative diversity or keeping traditions alive? Then, how come our so called traditional dances are only useful for cultural tourism and social events, peopled by pot-belly highly polished uncultured lots, who have no single clue of their own cultural significance. And how are these socialised and economically significant versions of our traditional dances useful for the emergence of critical discourses and a dignified dance practice? Dance literature to me seem to be a discipline that has been so busy trying to rewrite its past that it often overlooks the challenges of the present, which eventually leads to the disinterestedness of what constitutes "dance" in recent times, even in our own context and the very status aiding a true practice of it.

The primary value of academic studies of dance in Nigeria seems to be in their ability to build dance talkers, who will come on stage to mouth off their articulatory features of dance. Meanwhile dance occupations available out there for dancers, has nothing to do with pen and paper. Following the development of contemporary dance in Nigeria, then it was that dance practice began to trail new paths, a dance revolution began and practitioners began to understand that, dance movements may be without significance in themselves, and have gestural vocabularies without crossing into the borders of literary drama or pantomime. That dance can singularly embody or express ideas, emotions and tell stories without being taken over by other art genres. That dance as an art form, can be a case study for intellectual and critical discourse.

Today however, the possible growth of such critical discourse is thwarted by a near absence of publishing opportunities and related common grounds. Some of our most brilliant articles and reviews have sought refuge somewhere within the new media revolution, they are either found on facebook, on our blogs or other on-line platform for specific audiences. They cannot find a willing publisher and the numerous journals in Nigeria takes forever to publish a very-short review from independent writers, one can imagine that the space for analysis is downright anorexic. The Nigerian Guardian is a journal that will occasionally publish my often cerebral articles and interviews, but not when it's on debates pertaining to dance and criticism.

One cannot apportion blames in that direction, because come to think of it, where is the readership, who are those who patronises the cultural magazines of this world if not the cultural players and professionals, but here we are in a situation where there is an absence of objectivity and intellectual rigour in the industry. If the piece written on dance is not eulogising the personality of the dancer or choreographer, if it's not a promotional interview for cheap PR - that might possibly interest a wider range of Nigerians who might see it as an inspirational story - it might never find its way into a Nigerian journal. How sad. Although not absolutely, we occasionally come across overnight reviews that can be short lived; shallow, repetitive and overtly cliché-ridden, the best they do is to describe or re-narrate the performance at hand through the choreographer's note and intent.

However, dance practice cannot be developed without dance literature growing side by side, and dance literature cannot be developed without think pieces and essays relating to dance practice, which on the contrary tend to be absolutely absent in this country. Engaged critique and criticism that speak to the social, political and economic content of art (or to the absence of such content) are rare: writing that addresses the relevance of works of art in a world of global flows and interactions are rarer. That so little is published on these and related questions, points out the contribution of art journalism to the failing state of the arts in Nigeria.