Countdown to Show Day

Part three of four in the Music & Dance on the Lagoon series. Continued from part two, Blame It On The Tango.

Music & Dance on the Lagoon was set for Saturday February 2, 2008. Most of my Lagos friends planned to be there. If it flopped, I’d have to go into hiding. Or skip the country.

One month to show day.

So far, no group dance rehearsals and few music rehearsals. Situation: panic.

I returned to Lagos from vacation on January 5, itching to rehearse. There were seven dancers: Lilian Yeri, Jennifer Ohia, Edet Asher and Gbenga Yusuf, as well as Buddy, Ice and me. It was a pleasure working with the new dancers. In future years, I collaborated with Gbenga on several projects, but all I knew at the time was that he had a killer smile and was handy with a mop—more on that next time.

Our first hurdle was finding rehearsal space. Our only option was the compound squash court—ideal when available, but when it was in use, we moved to the patio outside. For those who haven’t visited Lagos, it’s so hot and humid that walking feels like swimming. We sweated buckets, but nobody complained.

Watching Buddy and Ice develop choreographies was like viewing time-lapse photography of a budding flower. Unlike my writing process, which was quiet and private, this was physical and interactive. In my previous choreographies, I didn’t interfere with the creative process, but in this case, I needed input to ensure they matched the storyline. And here is where my long-awaited tango ran into trouble.

Ice was driven by the aesthetics of dance, but my focus was on the story, oh, and minor production issues, such as budget. Problem one: Ice wanted me to wear red for the tango, but we only had money for one costume and my character was slated to wear silver and black. Problem two: Ice’s character, Rico, was a two timing rat, who played my character off against Lilian’s character. My character won, but Ice wanted Rico to end the dance with Lilian’s character, which didn’t make narrative sense. Problem three: Ice wanted the three of us to dance together, but I didn’t want even a hint of a ménage à trois. Explaining this should have been a laugh, but my sense of humour took a vacation and I couldn’t see the funny side.

These issues compounded and I morphed into a bona fide temperamental artiste, tantrums and all. Cruela de Vil eat your heart out. I even scared myself. Fortunately, my dear friend and collaborator, Lindy, attended many of these rehearsals and kept me calm. Without her, I’m sure my sanity would have packed its bags and run off to join my sense of humour in Hawaii.

Two weeks to show day.

The yacht club committee handled the logistics. Tickets sold out. There was no backing out; tango or no tango, things were getting real.

Seija Knight, our opera star, was due to arrive a week before the performance to rehearse with the rest of the cast, but days before she left, her visa still hadn’t been approved. If something didn’t happen, and happen fast, she was going to miss the event. Remember the budget? This was a charity event, and our funds were limited; we didn’t have the luxury of understudies. Who could take Seija’s place? With show day looming, we recruited a local female singer, Francesca Boyo, to learn the part, while desperately trying to secure the visa.

One week to show day.

Cruela de Vil finally got her way, and the tango choreography was complete—with a silver costume and the storyline intact. Just as it looked as though the dance was back on track, Ice had an okada (motor bike taxi) accident and sprained his left wrist. For our last week of rehearsals, we couldn’t dance in hold—not a bad discipline—but seriously, what else could go wrong?

At last, some good news. One of Barto’s (my husband) Nigerian friends with important embassy connections saved the day—Seija’s visa was issued and she arrived three days later with four days to show day.

The dances were finished. The music was ready. All that remained was to put it all together. The barge delivery was scheduled for Friday morning, allowing time to set the stage, sound and lights before our dress rehearsal on Friday afternoon—the only time we had the entire cast and crew together for a run through.

One day to show day.

Friday morning dawned bright with high hopes and a strong sense of pending disaster.

We arrived mid-afternoon to find that the barge had arrived late and the stage wasn’t set. The eventual layout, from front to back, was a stage, a raised platform for the band, the backdrop (formed from two shipping containers that doubled as our dressing rooms) and open space beyond. While we were waiting, we rehearsed in the open space. Meanwhile, the sound and lights took even longer than expected.

The dress rehearsal finally started as the sun set over the harbour. It was stop-start while we figured out the mechanics, but the puzzle fit together: the musicians nailed it, Lindy was perfect, the dances matched the story and Seija was truly magnificent—definitely worth all the heartache. But could we run it seamlessly from start to finish

We finished in the early hours of the morning. With less than twenty-four hours to go, we were running on hype and adrenaline.

Next time: part four, the grand finale of the Music & Dance on the Lagoon series, Show Day



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