Malaria, Kidnapping, Jewels

Eye of the Tiger
Photo courtesy of Dance & Art Alive

After Music & Dance on the Lagoon, Buddy and I were full of energy and couldn’t wait to design our next production. My goal was to write a showcase for dancers—singers had musicals, classical dancers had ballet, but where were the stories for ballroom/Latin dancers[1]? Buddy was insistent that we incorporate a social message over and above entertainment.

One of the biggest social problems in Nigeria is malaria. Besides pain, suffering and lost time at work, the World Health Organization estimates there were 445,000 malaria deaths in 2016. One of my dear friends lost a long-awaited pregnancy after contracting malaria. She wanted her story to be told, so with her blessing, I incorporated a similar tragic loss into my storyline for The Eye of the Tiger.

On a more up-beat tone, I created fun characters to suit my two dance instructors, Buddy and Ice. The concept was as follows:

Con men, Max and Greg, want to steal a precious jewel called the eye of the tiger. They plan for Greg to seduce the owner, a wealthy widow called Tiffany, but this goes awry when Greg falls in love with her for real. To compound matters, the bungled theft of the gem leads to Tiffany’s abduction.

This chaos, combined with Max’s wife losing her baby to malaria, gave the opportunity for a wide range of emotionally charged dances. We included Nigerian cultural dance, paso doble, hip hop, disco, salsa, Argentine tango, rumba, cha cha, waltz and contemporary dance.

With the story complete, we pitched for corporate sponsorship. To minimize production costs, I kept the cast small and the staging simple. As luck would have it, several key players from ExxonMobil had seen Music & Dance on the Lagoon. They were enthusiastic about sponsoring the arts, but making a decision took months.

It felt even longer to me, as my time in Lagos was running out. My family had already been in Nigeria for four years, and we needed a change—to get off malaria medication, to leave behind our constant security fears and for new work challenges for Barto. We pressed the company for a decision before the end of the US school year, so we could move over the June-July vacation, but by the time school broke up, we still didn’t have an answer.

Two weeks before school resumed, our next assignment was confirmed. Houston. Visas weren’t approved in time for the start of the school year, so our children had to start in Lagos and then change. And it was too late for the show. Even if it was approved now, I wouldn’t be part of it.

I returned to Lagos for our last six weeks, ready to shed buckets of tears. Although I knew it was time to leave, I had unfinished business. The show was in limbo. My friend who’d inspired the story was pregnant again and I’d be gone before the baby was born. Above all, I dreaded saying goodbye to friends, colleagues and dreams.

We were in the middle of packing when we received the go-ahead. The Eye of the Tiger would be performed in early December—without me. It was a bittersweet victory.

Next time: A Week in Lagos

[1] Royalty costs for music are higher if they are used within a dramatic context than independently. This may explain why dance spectacles such as Burn the Floor don’t incorporate an overarching plot.

4 thoughts on “Malaria, Kidnapping, Jewels

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