Mr. Tunji Ojeyemi, a senior lecturer in the Department of Dramatic Arts, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ife, is a versatile actor, choreographer and dancer. Born into the family of the alarinjo, the masqueraders, Ojeyemi, an indigene of Osun State, has been a dancer from youth. Dance is what he inherited from his lineage and has made up his mind to pass it on to future generations.
It started in 1973 when I joined the old Ori-Olokun Theatre or Unife Theatre now Obafemi Awolowo University Theatre. There was an audition for dancers and I was successful. Kola Oyewo and I joined the theatre on the same day in 1973 before the Department of Dramatic Arts was established in 1977. We were also the first set of school of drama at Ife here. Since then, I have been in the theatre.
Before coming to the theatre
Before I came into the theatre, I have been taking part in festivals, masquerade dances and bata dance generally. But when I came into the theatre, I developed myself by learning other dance steps from other tribes, including Atilogwu and other dances from the north, east, south and west. Also, I was trained as a choreographer and right now, I am the choreographer in the department.
It is not an easy thing to dance. And being the oldest among other art forms, Dance is a kind of art that takes one's soul. One has to put everything one has into it before the dance could be seen. It takes a lot of energy and concentration. A lazy person cannot go into dancing because all organs of the body are involved in dance performance.
Origin of Dance
Dance is as old as man. When the first man on earth woke up and discovered strange things that he could not understand, the first thing he did was movement of the body to express his feelings and praise God. Later, he developed it and introduced music into it by clapping of hands. He then started moving to the sound produced by clapping. Dance is the oldest among other art forms.
How to know a good dancer
When you see a good dancer, you will know because he won't be repeating the same movement. He is equipped with variety of movement. One will also see elements of dance employed in his movement.
Instrument of dance
As a dancer, you have one instrument, which is your body. Like a pianist would do to tune his piano, a guitarist would also tune his guitar before he can use it. As for dancers too, we tune our body into shape by engaging in physical exercises. Every morning, I jog about three kilometers so that my body will be ready to work. If you are too stiff, you cannot dance. You must be flexible.
Dance as healing balm
When you are into dance, you will be kept fit because it is a kind of drug. There is no way one will fall sick. There will be no malaria because one's sweat will remove these things while dancing.
Dance as a tool of communication
Dance is a strong non-verbal instrument of communication. When one is dancing, one is not just dancing for its sake, we communicate with people and to people using the body instrument. In a dance drama, we use non-verbal language to express our inner feelings we use body to communicate to the world.
Dance and scripted plays
In other civilized societies. Some people prefer watching a dance to seeing a scripted play. This is because they understand body language more than words. It is really a non-verbal cue for communication.
Dance as a watchdog
It is not everybody that will put ink down on a paper to express his feelings, I can use dance to satirize against the ills of society or to comment on prevailing situations for change.
My dancing career
I hope to dance till old age. When I am too old to dance, I will sit and teach others.
I call them OAU outreach dancers. It is a group made up of young dancers. There are some who are under 10 and some who are are in JSS1.
Between choreography and dance
Choreography is the assembling of various movements to form a body. Someone who works on dance is known as a choreographer and not a dance director. We don't use director in dance production. This is because what you are working on is dance. You are choreographing dance, you don't direct dance. A dance drama is a production that has a plot. You have a story and you plot out the events in the story using body movement to tell the story instead of allowing the actors to go on stage and be saying it verbally.
Between dance and acting
In dance, one is not learning lines, no dialogue. This is why dancers are different from actors. Actors have two instruments- voice and body- but dancers have just one, which is their body.
One can write a story and tell the dancers this is what I want to do. It is the duty of a choreographer to make use of the dances of these dancers to tell his or her story to bring out the inner feelings by merging movements together to form a body that tells a story.
Dance appreciation by students
It is part of our curriculum and a good number of students get registered to study it yearly.
I have been travelling to different states and countries for performances. In 1979, I was in Germany for Horizontal Festival with Prof Akin Euba. In 1980 and 1982, I was in New York with Prof. Wole Soyinka. In 1984, I was in Chicago. I was in Japan with the National Troupe representing Osun State. So, I have travelled widely as a dancer.
I create my movement. As somebody from a dance lineage, there is something that I have really taken upon myself and I don't want to deviate from it, that is to keep and sustain our traditional dances. I want to retain those taditional dances and pass them on to other generations.
Other Nigerian choreographers
I respect Prof Wole Soyinka, Peter Badejo, Arnold Nduka, Rasaki Bakare and many others.
When I get on stage, I may not have a preconceived idea of what I want to do, but when I close my eyes, it will come. Sometimes I ask the drummers to beat or singers to sing and the movement will come. It is always good for a choreographer to go into music department to get good musicians or drummers so that they can perform what you want. When I am doing a dance drama, I keep changing movements till after the production.
Relationship with dancers
A choreographer does not have to be too harsh. When you take things easy, your dancers would work. If you notice that they cannot cope with a particular movement and it will waste your time, you can create an easier one. In every dance/theatre production, human beings are like clay. We mould them to fit what we want.
What l look for during production
In my case, what I look for are good facial expression, the phisique and general outlook. If I am to work with girls, I look for beautiful girls because the audience are not interested in haggard looking people. They want to see beautiful faces- both men and women. A hungry dancer may not be able to perform. I look for those who are well fed but not too fat. I prefer the slim, fine looking artistes who have the body for the work. Above all, trained dancers are usually the best for dance productions.