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When artistes made singing, dancing … acrobatics easy At Carnival Calabar

By Gregory Austin Nwakunor
13 January 2018   |   4:22 am
Each ethnic group or nationality has its own forms of entertainment. Whether dance, music, bullfights, jokes, songs, cabaret, banquets, striptease and vaudeville what have you.

revellers enjoying the beat of Carnival Calabar

Each ethnic group or nationality has its own forms of entertainment. Whether dance, music, bullfights, jokes, songs, cabaret, banquets, striptease and vaudeville what have you. It’s always difficult not to admire the chimera set-up to generate emotional conundrum in the altar of performance. Sometimes, you soak up the piece wholeheartedly, sometimes, grudgingly. But each show, however, ends up adopting any of the two chromosomes.

The last International Carnival Day, a programme in the 2017 Carnival Calabar, was one where the adopted chromosome was excellence. The narrative, and whose comic tapestry climaxed in three days different altars of performance — Lagos, Uyo and Calabar — fittingly provided snarky remarks, jokes, banters and hoorays as the artistes scraped a denouement.

You wouldn’t think that an inclement weather, cancellation of flight would provide ingredients for a tour de force of mingled comedy and the burlesque. But the plot developed at the departure hall of the domestic wing of the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Ikeja. turned on fine, and as the venerable writer William Shakespeare, aptly tagged it, ‘all’s well that ends well’ such that if a genie had sprung and offered to grant one wish, impulsively, the answer would have been more and more performances.

As a hybrid form of entertainment, each sequence, in truth, left the mind in eclectic contemplation. From the dancehall to the circus, acrobatics to esketa, there was a ‘convoluting concourse of variegated actions’ — an amalgam of pieces, which aimed to provide the expected anagnorisis.

The prospect of the 2017 show leaving a bitter taste set the heart racing with thoughts. However, the almost six-hour performances defied any dour expectation.

The over 200 artistes from 17 countries across the globe thrilled the audience at the full capacity Margaret Ekpo International Stadium with unique performances.

There were cultural dances from Ukraine, Mexico and Ethiopia, acrobats from Senegal, Croatia and Kenya, as well as flag twirlers from Italy. The mind boggled at how some of these twirling act developed.

The team from the US supported by representation from neighbouring Caribbean nations like Belize, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, St Kitts and Nevis and others, while it mostly sticks to the formulaic pattern of the event, it also joshed the somewhat exhausted conventions with a breezy dance that looks like dancehall. However, the almost 15-minute piece adroitly, but not exhaustively, exploited opportunities to indulge revellers.

When the Ethiopian contingent took centre stage, there was a tacit exploration of the country’s dance history. It was a veritable apotheosis of touchy-feelyness. With a culture that marries dance and music, there was a glut of dancing together with captivating charm and vivacity.

From esketa to Wello, Guragigna to Tigrigna and Wolaita, the troupe navigated the 84 Ethiopian dances from different tribes in different regions of Ethiopia. The nature of the dances varied depending on themes such as war, hunting, love, religion or work.

The dancers were graceful, no thanks to the gabi cloth —made of cotton and painted with various colours. This traditional garment makes for perfect dancing costumes as they allow ample movement and expression.

Loosely translated to ‘dancing shoulders’, the eskista, this incredible Ethiopian dance set the pace for the canonization of the dance tradition, which usually places emphasis on the feet and legs.

To audiences outside of Ethiopia, eskista may look very similar to the East African country’s other main dance, Tigrigna, but the two are distinct from one another in that the latter is not as static when it comes to the use of the hands and feet.

Eskista is well known among the various tribes in central and northern Ethiopia, one of them the Amhara. The dance is performed by men and women, this time 14 of them, and is characterised by rolling the shoulder blades, bouncing the shoulders and tilting the chest.

The Croats were wonderful in their costumes, but more importantly, showed knowledge of circus performance and stilt dancing. Musically, the 15-minute piece was powerful and startling impressive in tonality. The traditional circus skills, the swift succession of acts and shtick were repackaged with a desire to have a soiree.

France was also represented by a colourful dance troupe while Lithuania stole the show at a point, with two fire performers wowing the audience with their fearless display with flames and fireworks.

Numerous African countries were represented through ensembles who brought a lot of traditional dances under the lights of the stadium to entertain as well as educate on each country’s history.

The Ethiopian troupe explored the country’s dance history, with the upper body being the most used.

Tanzania, Kenya and Swaziland and South Africa, with two different sets of performers, performed. The South Africans displayed energetic Zulu war dances.

The chest-baring and solid voices provided a nifty bit of wonder for the magic carpet, which appeared to float softly around the action without benefit of stage.

Still, this isn’t the most impressive feat of trickery on display in the international carnival.

The Ghanaians were especially engaging, with a combination of female dancers and drummers, and male acrobats and magicians.

That would be Ghana’s inexhaustible determination to a trademark slant on the musical formula.

Obviously, the production’s relentless razzle-dazzle and its anything-for-a-laugh spirit also infuse the show with a winking suggestion: If you can’t be yourself, just be fabulous.

But everybody’s heart, especially the judges, belonged to the Brazilians, who came just a few hours to their performance. As immaculate as they were in their in their implausible costumes, the Brazilian team did not fail to impress.

The growing cultural relationship between Calabar and Brazil was again on display as a masterfully costumed Brazilian band kept the audience on the edge of their seats with a combination of music, dance and acting.

This partially due to a brilliant enactment of Capoeira, an Afro-Brazilian martial art that combines dance, acrobatics and music, developed mainly by African slaves in the 16th century. Known for its quick and complex maneuvers, predominantly using power, speed, and leverage across a wide variety of kicks, spins and other techniques, Capoeira was developed in Brazil mainly by Angolans, at the beginning of the 16th century.

Despite the fact that Brazil’s representation came from the city of Rio de Janeiro, they still kept the audience engrossed and ended up winners of the competition with 790 points. South Africa was second with 757 points while Ghana came third with 742.

The International Carnival as the climax of a series of activities that attracted more than a million revellers over the previous few days in what the Carnival Commission described as an unprecedented shutdown of the city.

Far from the sumptuous trajectory, the 2017 event owes an inspirational debt to Governor Ben Ayade’s cumulative portraits of the culturally rich state. In the affecting narrative of Migration, there’s attempt to pontificate continental with ravages and also its consolations.

Speaking on the carnival’s theme – Migration, Ayade said Africa is the future and encouraged the youth to “put an end to migration, and should rather come to Calabar as we have provisions for jobs and have created opportunities as politicians and people in government, for you to have good jobs so that you can stay back here.”

Ayade stated that the carnival’s theme — Migration — was timely at a time African youths were seeking greener pastures outside the continent “Sometimes we begin to wonder why we have young Africans going through Morocco, Mediterranean Sea, Sahara desert and all the difficult routes to find themselves in Libya and being used as slaves and as sub-human beings.

He said the theme was geared towards ending illegal migration, by creating awareness on the dangers of engaging in such act through difficult routes.

His words: “Today in Calabar, we have people from the United States, Germany, Mexico, Sweden and others celebrating with us in this carnival; we want to tell them that Africa is so rich.”

“Today, we are here to tell a story in form of a drama and procession, a story of migration, the problem of Africa. Colourful display at the 2017 Calabar Carnival

“Our young men and women take risk through perilous roads finding themselves in Europe and America in search of greener pasture.

“Today’s carnival is to tell the world that Africa is the richest continent. Africa is blessed, we have everything; and we have no reason, as a young man or woman struggling, to leave African continent. Breathtaking costumes were on display at the 2017 Calabar Carnival “We are telling this story of pain, melancholy and frustration that indeed, the best place you can be is Africa.’’

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