A small crowd of students and dance enthusiasts gathered on May 24 to watch Sunday Israel Akpan’s ARALAMO at the University of Lagos Arts Theatre. The performance, which took place on Thursday evening, was the outcome of a three-day workshop preceding the main event. The dance was also an amalgam of the many influences the artist had picked up from colleagues and mentors in Nigeria, Germany and France among others. Ute Fricke of the Melting Pot Foundation, which supported Israel’s solo performance in ARALOMO, revealed this much before the performance. Also there to support one of their own were Adedayo Liadi, CEO of Ijodee Dance Centre and Steve James, chairman of the Lagos chapter of the Guild of Nigerian Dancers (EKOGOND).

Israel put up a powerful, emotional and enthralling performance using spins and pirouettes that saw him throwing and slamming himself forcefully on the dance mat.  As usual, the dancer took his art to the extreme leaving the audience in no doubt of the risk attached to it. The risk however did nothing to diminish the beauty of his routine.

Israel Akpan performing his dance piece ‘Aralamo’

He begins the performance standing upright and in the spotlight. Hand gestures correspond to the dirge-like tune that accompanies his movement until it all dissolves into silence and the main performance begins. Asides Israel, two drums filled with water are the only other things adorning the stage. Making very good use of space and with every step in place, the surprise comes only when Israel dips his head into first one drum of water before traversing the stage and fitting his whole body into the second drum.

There is no missing the fact that man’s strife and suffering are a huge motif in this performance. At some point, the performance is infused with a multimedia projection showing rows of corpses. Israel’s flips and body slams do little to ease the emotion his performance evokes.  Muttering phrases in his mother tongue spice up the action on one hand and add to its overall eeriness.

The performance might have started with Israel on his feet, but it ends with the performer crouched on the floor. Still the audience leaves with the impression that man’s travails may beat him endlessly but they never beat him down: Man always overcomes.

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As the short blurb introducing the programme explains, “the thing that breaks a man is the same that makes a man; to break a stick is to be broken by the stick. My mind is deep but my body is weak…ARALOMO… judge me not by my face.”

Israel Akpan’s ARALOMO was performed with support from the TanzWerkstatt Berlin, the Kultur Project, the Goethe Institut and the Alliance Francaise.

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