In my last blog, I wrote about Music & Dance on the Lagoon and the myriad of problems we encountered. Many of those difficulties were beyond our control, but some were self-imposed. A more sensible person might have decided that writing, co-directing and performing in a show was too much, especially for someone with little experience. I could have relinquished being on stage, but I really wanted to dance.
According to family folklore, I came home from kindergarten everyday with a picture of a ballerina. Even now, I vaguely recall the satisfaction of drawing the criss-crossed satin straps of the ballet shoes. I read The Splendour Book of Ballet, by Shirley Gouldon, a thousand times. It still sits on my bookshelves, the cover torn and pages dog-eared. Sadly, I brought my ballet career to an abrupt end in primary school when I quit my lessons because the teacher intimidated me.
For years, my fascination with dance lay buried. It wasn’t until I took up salsa in Lagos that my interest rekindled. I felt as though I’d woken from a deep sleep and wanted to dance all day, every day to make up for lost time. My instructor, Buddy, couldn’t meet the demands I placed on his time, so he arranged for Ice Nweke to teach me other ballroom and Latin dances.
Ice was a brilliant performer and choreographer. He went on to become the first fully-accredited Dancesport teacher in Nigeria. About six months after we started dancing together, he went to France for training and came home inspired by Argentine tango. The sultry, plaintive feel of this dance couldn’t be more of a contrast to fun, sexy salsa. Even the hold is different, a much closer embrace. I couldn’t wait to learn this technique. At that time, Ice and I were the only tango performers in Lagos—an important fact in regard to casting understudies.
Tango is deeply embedded in Argentine culture. The music usually features the bandoneon (a type of concertina) along with piano, violin, guitar and sometimes flute. It is performed in milongas (nightclubs specializing in tango) by tangueros (tango musicians or dancers). Diehards argue that only Argentinians can fully appreciate the tango sentiment. It holds a deep sense of nostalgia and a longing for something out of reach. The lyrics often speak about a burning desire to return to the South, which represents home for an Argentinian. Consider these lines by Astor Piazolla, the great master of tango music.
Vuelvo al Sur, I return to the South
como se vuelve siempre al amor, as one always returns to love,
vuelvo a vos, I return to you,
con mi deseo, con mi temor. with my desire, with my fear.
Tango music spoke to me; perhaps because I, too, experienced the pull of home. Throughout my expat travels, nothing has ever diminished the draw of my hometown, Melbourne. Tango could well be the expatriate’s dance.
When I wrote the show for Music & Dance on the Lagoon, I incorporated different dance styles to reflect the emotions of various plot points. I chose tango for a poignant moment about jealousy. The heart-rending choreography was clear in my mind and I longed to perform it. Even though Ice could (and did) teach someone else, I had the excuse that I was best trained for the job. So, despite multi-tasking and knowing that being on stage would place me under additional pressure, I took my part.
As it turned out, it was just as well, because while I was itching to start rehearsals, the other dancers were gearing up for the inaugural Celebrity Takes Two—the Nigerian equivalent of Dancing With the Stars. We had seven dance numbers to prepare and the only one that progressed was my solo jazz piece. My precious tango went on ice—pardon the pun—along with the salsa, jive, rumba, rock ‘n’ roll and contemporary numbers.
My loyalties were torn; of course I wanted Buddy or Ice to win the competition, but they couldn’t start training for our show until they were voted off. Every week they survived meant another week without progress. I could write a whole book about behind the scenes at the reality TV show, but that’s not my story to tell. Suffice to say that for every episode, Buddy and Ice stressed about creating a new choreography, managing their celebrity partner and getting votes. They had no room to think about Music & Dance on the Lagoon.
September, October and November slipped by without a single group rehearsal. The butterflies in my stomach grew increasingly manic.
Meanwhile, the musicians told me they were preparing, but when I called a rehearsal in November, it became clear that they still had miles to go. With my background in engineering, I was used to project plans, schedules and regular updates. This fly by the seat of your pants caper wasn’t working for me. The musicians needed direction, but I wasn’t equipped to give it. I needed help, so I called on the previous organizer. Thankfully, she stepped up and pulled the music back on track.
December. At last, Celebrity Takes Two finished. But I left the country for vacation, so we still couldn’t start work.
When I returned in January, we had one month to go. It was time to pull out all stops. We had fought so hard for this show, we couldn’t screw it up. Queen had it right; we were under pressure.
Next time, an interview with author, Gail Cleare: From Ad Executive to Novelist.