Sunday 29 June 2014

Unchaining Soyinka's A Dance of the Forests for 80th birthday

By Tajudeen Sowole
As events leading to the 80th birthday celebration of Prof Wole Soyinka on July 13, 2014 unfold, a 1960 controversial work of the Nobel Laureate is scheduled to climax the 80-day long programmes.

Titled A Dance of the Forests, the play, which was  rejected by the Federal Government during Nigeria's independence in 1960, according to the artistic director of the WS80 version of the work, Dr Tunde Awosanmi, prescribed solutions to the Nigeria nationhood question.

    Executive Producer of Project WS80, Teju Kareem (left), Edmond Enaibe and Dr Tunde Awoyemi during a press conference on the 80 th birthday celebration of Prof Wole Soyinka in Abeokuta…recently.

Speaking at Ijegba, Abeokuta, Ogun State residence of Soyinka on the preparation to stage the play, Awosanmi noted that the contents of the play is more relevant, particularly at this period of the National Confab currently going on in Abuja. He recalled that the work was the winning play of a drama writing contest organized for the commemoration of Nigeria’s independence in 1960, but was rejected by government as the play of the event “for fear of the truth.”

In April, Project WS - a Platform for International Cultural Exchange - flagged off Soyinka’s 80th birthday celebration with a touring portrait exhibition of the celebrant at the Cultural Centre, Kuto Abeokuta, Ogun State.  Shortly before Awosanmi disclosed the plans to unchain A Dance of the Forests, the Executive Producer of the Project WS, Teju Kareem, formally rolled out the remaining programmes of the celebration, which hold in select cities across Nigeria.  

Earlier, Mrs Yewande Amusan, Ogun State Commissioner for Culture and Tourism had, in her welcome address described Soyinka as an "untiring fighter for social justice and a democrat." She argued that in documenting the history of Nigeria's democratic struggle,  "Kongi would be at the top," in the list of “heroes.”
 About the participation of Ogun State in the WS80 project, Amusan assured that the government will continue to support the two companies Zmirage Multimedia and.
GlobalNewHaven.  "We have resolved to partner with these two companies as the project, for us, symbolises a continuation of the life of an inspirational man who has fought, and still fighting for the dignity of man, the rights of individuals, unity and security of his country."

The Secretary to the State Government, Barrister Taiwo Adeoluwa noted that Soyinka 's "joining the club of the Octogenarian is significant for us in Ogun State." He stressed that for relentlessly committing his resources for the country, "Soyinka deserves the support of all." 

However an alert came from Mrs Bolanle Austen-Peters, CEO at Terra Kulture, Victoria Island, Lagos.  While commending the organisers of Project WS80, Austen Peters urged Nigerians "to own Soyinka." She noted: "We refused to own Fela Anikulapo Kuti; foreigners have taken up the responsibility." She made reference to the hit musical, Fela on Broadway. She therefore urged Nigerians to support the iconising of the Soyinka, a fearless playwright.

Kareem gave a background of the five-year-old Project WS by stating that The International Cultural Exchange (ICE) programme shares something in common with it. The project, he explained, "comes under the framework of The Open Door Series, an initiative designed to yield platform for the best of our artistic, cultural and intellectual productivity and expression."

Among the focus of the project are to combat fear, violence and its contingent reactions through the use of education, arts and culture; and engrave in the hearts of the youths the belief that education, arts and culture are panaceas to the reign of fear.”

Listed among the promoters of the project are Olusegun Ojewuyi – Co-Executive Producer/Artistic Director; Adeola Kareem – Financial Director; Lillian Amah-Aluko – Producer; Jahman Anikulapo – Consultant Media And Adjudication; Lynda Amadi – Associate Producer (Children’s Segment; and Shabaka Thompson – Associate Producer (Diaspora).
Awosanmi, in his presentation titled. Performing Soyinka A Dance of the Forests; A Rite of Beautification argued that Soyinka’s play was futuristic. " In the area of relevance, the strength of the play as an archaeology of history, a revision of the present and a prediction of the future has been authoritatively established by numerous critics of, and commentators on Soyinka’s works.”

However, Awosanmi appeared to have unearthed additional values of A Dance of the Forests. He noted what he described as 
oyinka’s laying of a “foundational structure”, which he argued “has been understood today as the phenomenon of ‘truth and reconciliation commission’ through the ‘Court of Aroni.”

Awosanmi therefore stressed that Soyinka in 1960, “when he was barely 26, foresaw a time when the oceans of iniquity of humanity will overflow their banks to the extent that mankind will seek resolution of their self-inflicted crisis in the strategy of commissioning truth and reconciliation panels.”
  As Awosanmi disclosed that the play will be presented in non-traditional or formal stage, he refused to be specifics on the location and other details of the proposed play for fear of another government clampdown to stop it from being staged,

Awosanmi insisted that Soyinka’s work has stressed the contribution of art in nation building. “The point being made here is that in Soyinka’s A Dance of the Forests, the structure had been constructed for all these ‘new’ human society reconstruction and re-engineering strategies that have been globally applied in crisis-ridden regions of the world. So, who says that art does not stock in its womb solutions to the eternal problems of man?”

Mrs Yewande Amusan, Ogun State Commissioner for Culture and Tourism (left); Secretary to the State Government, Barrister Taiwo Adeoluwa; and Mrs Bolanle Austen Peters, CEO of Terra Kulture during the press conference.

But the various structures of government put in place from 1960 till date in the area of conflict resolution, Awosanmi stated, have failed. In fact, the ongoing confab, he predicted is not going to be any different. “Only if humanity, especially, in Nigeria, could just pause for a moment, to think and be wise! We all know what became of the ‘Oputa Panel – a mere jamboree just like all the others in Nigeria before it, including the on-going national conference (Kutigi Confab?).”

If politicians, in collaboration with technocrats have failed the people, the theatre stage could make a difference. “Therefore, as a theatre director, I will, through this performance, be instituting the real ‘truth and reconciliation commission’ where the ultimate parameter for such acts – “truth is the only condition for justice”, and put in the vintage Soyinkaresque words – “justice is the only condition for humanity” – will be affirmed. So, an audience must be ready to submit him/herself to this pre-condition. Therefore, what is happening at the moment in Abuja as ‘National Conference’ is a mere mockery of the original template provided by Soyinka in the institution of the ‘Gathering of the Tribes’, which A the Dance of the Forests had futuristically prescribed.”

 In his paper titled Homage to the Quintessential Artiste,  Anikulapo described Soyinka as “the Quintessential Artiste.” He noted that the playwright “has remained a source of inspiration and contentment on the potential role of the Artiste and thinker (philosopher-Artiste) in the Society.”

Anikulapo urged artistes to use the Soyinka example to be relevant across the board. “The Artiste just as our conscientious comrades in other professions in the larger society must continue to interrogate the words and actions of the seemingly un-rescue-able power elites. That is the only way we can remain relevant to the needs and aspirations of our people, who like a tiny percentage of us, are not as privileged to be endowed with intellectual or vocational resources with which they could challenge their oppressors.”  For the sake of literary proficiency, 80 Essayists, according to Kareem will “witness presentation A Dance Of The Forest’ at Ijegba.

Other features of the WS80 rolled out by the orgaisers include Essay competition among Secondary Students from all over the country; Children’s creative and cultural expression presentation; July, 11 and 12, a conference The Soyinka Impulse:(Art, Humanity, transition and permanence: calibrating Soyinka at 80); opening performance of Death And The King’s Horseman, directed by Femi Osofisan with the assistance from Bisi Adigun; July, 13,  Essay writing  Education: Path to Freedom and the Future; 80 Spoken word performances. Theme: The Soyinka Impulse And EducationPath to Freedom and the Future; and July 14, Dialogue Through Spoken Words.

Kareem explained that given the significance of the 2014 edition of the project, several universities abroad will join their Nigerian counterparts in the educational and cultural fiesta. The participants, he added will perform in poetry, drama, dances, spoken words and songs. Countries listed to participate include Ghana, Trinidad and Tobago, Belgium
U.K and the U. S.

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