NTN deepens theatre practice, recruits new artistes
The Artistic Director/Chief Executive Officer of National Troupe of Nigeria (NTN), Ahmed Mohammed Ahmed, has said he is ready to support the creative, cultural and performing arts as part of the troupe’s established objectives of encouraging discovery and development of talents in the performing arts.
The NTN is the official and foremost performing arts institution of the Federal Government of Nigeria. Established with the purpose of promoting, preserving and propagating the Nigerian Culture, the troupe’s main operative areas includes: dance, drama, music, and children/youth theatre. Its objectives are: To encourage creativity in order to achieve excellence in the performing arts, encourage the discovery and development of talents in the performing arts, achieve high artistic productions specifically designed for national and international tours, ensure that its productions are geared towards national aspirations, encourage the development of children’s theatre, as well as to ensure the preservation of the repertoire of the troupe.
With Strings, National Troupe recently staged a comeback after about five years of being off scene. The Troupe was inactive because the former Artistic Director, Tar Ukoh, refused to stage any standard or quality performances that it was known for. He had systematically vanquished the parastatal and reduced the National Troupe to singing by the roadside in the Federal Capital Territory.
In 2019, he had controversially sacked all core artists of the Troupe. Seventeen of them in all. The artistes include, Jumai J. Buba (Taraba State), Victor Coker Charles (Ogun State), Ayuba Olayinka Thomas (Lagos State), Ruth Taye Ogbodu (Delta State), Francis Omoh (Bayelsa State) and Ihuoma Harrison of Enugu State.
Also included are, Kehinde Talatu Musa (Kogi State), Adepuju Lateefa Oguntade (Ogun State), Priscilla Okon (Cross River State), Poopola J. Osisanya (Ekiti State), Musa Oladimeji Awoyemi (Ekiti State), Funmilayo Abe (Ondo State), Ayansola Orisaji (Kwara State), Bola Moshood Adekoya (Ogun State), Johnbull Uweni Henry (Plateau State), Abubarka Damidami Haruna (Niger State) and Blessing Ikede Oreva (Delta State).
In May, the management of NTN auditioned new artistes to build a fresh crop of drummers, actors, flutists, set designers, dancers, singers, chanters and acrobats to infuse fresh life into the parastatal.
The first set of auditioning held in Abuja, when artistes, irrespective of state of origin, were in attendance. With the huge turnout of young enthusiastic artistes, rearing to represent Nigeria, it was crystal clear the nation has abundance of untapped, unused and hidden talented artistes who are in the mood to explode and explore.
From Abuja, the team moved to Lagos, the head office of the Troupe. The crowd was equally very impressive and the level of testing for every artiste was intense, rigorous and all-encompassing.
From the older to the younger ones, the level of artistic and professional displays was above average. In all facets of the stage theatre, the judges could see that they had doses of talents to select from.
Not only that Ahmad was thrilled, all the representatives of the federal government at the occasion could see at first hand, the stuff the Troupe is made off. Each artiste was given the opportunity to display, and try other aspects of the performing arts. Areas tested were in drumming, singing, chanting, dancing and in the knowledge of all sorts of cultural elements in different parts of Nigeria.
On why they had Niyi Odimayomi from the Federal Character Commission, Agom Chude Nyang from the Head of Service and Nkechi Nwokocha from the Federal Ministry of Information with us here is for them to witness how fair we are in this exercise, Husseini said, “it is good for all of us to work at it to ensure a formidable, well-selected and structured dance troupe for NTN. In all we do, we try to reflect the over all cultural character of Nigeria. This is why we are the National Troupe of Nigeria, the cultural ambassadors of the nation.”
The panel of judges equally did not want to give undue preferences to the old members of NTN. They were put through the4 same audition to see how agile and energetic they could be. And the approach worked in most of the cases.
Husseini said: “In this programme, we have 16 of our old dancers here for the auditioning. We want to see how many of them are still good for us, for the job. It is not automatic we take them all. This is why we put them through the same test we put others, even though we know their capacity. When we put out the notice for this, 415 artistes showed interest. While in Abuja for two days exercise we tested 120 of them. This was on May 11 and 12.”
He said, “what we do is to promote culture across board. This is why we often tell them here what to play, what dance steps or patterns to adopt. In some cases we ask them to choose what they prefer. But in all, we let artistes have a cursory look at the Nigerian cultural dances in their totality. This way, we have an idea of what the artiste is capable of doing when taken for this national assignment.”
On May 24 and 25 when the Lagos edition took place, about a hundred were auditioned. Each day had about 50 in attendance. In the end however, about 40 or 50 will be absorbed to create a new National Troupe dancers for the nation. Some can still be trimmed, tamed or dropped when the orientation is in full gear. It all depends on the professional discretion of people in-charge. But as it is, the National Troupe is back in full swing to continue to dish out eccentric dance patterns and displays to keep the culture sector ever on its toes.
INVITATIONS for Nigeria to participate abroad in different festivals, trade fairs and cultural exchanges also brought about the awareness of the need for a collection of different dances from the states for the purposes of honouring these invitations.
Equally too, with the advent of FESTAC ’77 and the entries of different countries of their national dance ensembles or cultural troupes, it was evident that Nigeria needed a formally established cultural troupe that will engage in international tours on behalf of the country and as well be addressed as the National Cultural Dance Troupe of Nigeria.
What, therefore, became formally known as the National Troupe of Nigeria was approved for the establishment at the Council of Minister’s meeting in November 1981. The objective at the time was to enhance the cultural development and artistic creativity of the Nation. It was also to establish a national repertory system, which was to satisfy the yearnings and aspirations of the professional theatre, dance and music practitioners.
Successive artistic directors of the troupe from Elder Bayo Oduneye to Professor Ahmed Yerima, Martin Adaji and Dr. Adejuwon made a remarkable impact in turns. They ensured Nigeria had a troupe that rivalled Ballet du Senegal, Ballet du Mali, Ghana’s Abibikroma or the defunct Ipi Tombi of South Africa.
Arts purists and theatre watchers have pointed out that a national troupe is not just about moneymaking. It is part of the country’s image-making brands in terms of internal solidarity and external intercultural relations.
Basically, exploring avenues for making money is one of its mandates, but not by demoralising the personnel.
By 1988, with the launching of the cultural policy for Nigeria, the National Troupe of Nigeria was formally included in the policy as a formal arm of Government. It was initially run as a branch of the performing Arts Division within the Federal Department of Culture under the supervision of the then Sole Administrator of Culture, Col. Tunde Akogun (rtd).
During this same period too, the government approved the appointment of Hubert Ogunde as the first Artistic Director / Consultant for the Troupe. He was to organize a formal formation of the National Troupe of Nigeria. Chief Ogunde was to also embark on what was later to be tagged, ‘The Ososa Experiment’. This later became the nucleus of the artists of the National Troupe of Nigeria.
The objective of the Ososa Experiment was to prepare Nigeria’s representation for the Commonwealth Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland and to also convince Government that a group of artistes could be put together, organised and trained for the specific purpose of performance and future representations of Nigeria in both National and International engagements.
The success of the experiment thus led to the formal establishment of the National Troupe of Nigeria in September 1989.
In 1990, a panel on the National Troupe, which was chaired by Dr. Sule Bello, made career fulfillment for the artistes a very important aspect of its deliberation. It was also recommended that top executives of the troupe like Artistic Director and his immediate deputies in the areas of Drama, Music, Dance and Designs should be employed on a contract basis, renewable only once.
So, there would be no room for complacency. Since there was no White Paper on it, our recommendations were easily sidelined and the executives embraced the regular civil service structure.
In 1991, the Troupe haven, thus, developed was granted the status of a full-fledged parastatal by Decree 47 of October 1991 titled, ‘The National Theatre and National Troupe of Nigeria Management Board Decree.’