I’ve visited over 67 countries through dancing —Adepoju, dancer
Liadi Adepoju is a renowned dancer. Popularly known as Ijodee, the well-travelled dancer shares his ups and downs in the dance industry with TADE MAKINDE in this interview. Excerpts:
Why did you decide to make dance a career choice?
I am from a family of dancers. It wasn’t hard for me to dance because everyone around me was into it. It was in my younger years that I discovered dance. Dancing at all times gives me pleasure, joy, fulfilment, and it clears my heart’s worries. That’s how it became my passion.
What has dance done for you in life?
Dance has given me everything, including success and good health.
In the countries you have been to, which of them has dance culture built into its societal fabric?
I have been to 67 countries in total. I actually lost count after the 67th country. I cannot remember all but I know of France, Germany, Netherlands, Austria, United Kingdom, South Africa, Rwanda, Mozambique, USA, Latin countries (South America), South Korea, Burkina-Faso, Senegal etc. They all have a dance culture.
Compare Nigeria to these countries and tell us what we are missing by ignoring that sector?
Nigeria is far behind the countries I mentioned because we don’t have the structure that can sustain the art industry. Our government keeps talking about art and culture without investing in it or promoting it. Our government still thinks dance is a hobby instead of classifying dance as a profession.
Dance unites; it heals the society, it connects, it promotes the rich culture of all societies, it promotes tourism, it engages the mind and gives good health and sound mind, it educates, it gives countless opportunities and it creates employment.
At the 10th edition of your annual Truefest International Dance festival, you announced that it would be the last. What informed your decision to end it?
The festival is ending but also not really ending at the same time because I have other ambitions to realise and that’s what I am trying to focus more on. I started the festival in 2006 with my personal income and with the help of foreign art funders from the Western world. Till date, my country has never given any kind of support to the festival’s success. I am about to start building new art projects in Nigeria and in France with the assistance of my wife. I am proud to say that the festival has improved many lives, created opportunities for youths nationally and internationally for many years. The festival has helped in discovering and promoting talents.
The festival has helped many young Nigerian dance artistes to gain local and international recognition and it has also helped many to see that they can do the same as I am doing without waiting for the government. Now we have many young dance artistes investing their money and energy into making dance a career. When I started, it wasn’t like that, but now, they can feel, and can see hope. That gives me joy to move to the next level I am aiming for because I can’t focus all my energy on one project for too long. Change is important in life. The next level is very essential.
Almost all of the great dancers in Nigeria today have, in one way or the other, benefitted from TRUFEST dance festival. It’s either they were involved directly or indirectly.
Would you say that the purpose for its creation has been achieved?
Yes….by God’s grace. At least 90 per cent of its purpose has been achieved between then and last year.
You call it an international festival but the last edition featured only dancers from Nigeria. What happened to dancers from other countries because none showed up?
All were well-organised and ready to roll when the xenophobic attacks in South Africa broke out. That prevented South African artistes from getting Nigerian visa. It is very unfortunate that France, Haiti, Ivory Coast delegation couldn’t come because of last minute changes in schedules due to a serious issue between sponsors and the dance troupe. The same issue happened with the Republic of Chad. The one that baffled me most was Benin Republic. The dancer had a motorbike accident a day before her trip to Lagos for the festival. But then, I can never be discouraged because things like this happen and still, the show most go on; but we are happy that the Austrian artistes could make it down after much stress.
Do you think things would have been different if you had sponsors?
We had good supports but no major sponsors for sure. It’s possible it may have been different if we had major sponsor, but sponsors can’t stop unforseen circumstances like accidents, sickness, riot, misunderstanding issues amongst partners, attacks, etc. The issues that came up at last minute were beyond control.
Without corporate sponsors, how did you manage to pull off something this huge for a decade?
When God is your backbone, you can do anything. As long as you are focused, you believe and are connected with God, nothing is impossible to get done.
From your point of view, have Nigerians accepted dance as an important part of our cultural life?
I will say yes to that because things have improved seriously compared to 15 or 20 years ago. We now have more people interested in dance because of its health value. Well-being is very important if anyone truly wants to live long. We just need to continue as we have been doing with the hope that more sponsors and government would support the future editions.
Jahman Anikulapo made a surprise revelation on stage at the festival when he said you repaired Nigeria’s broken image at an event during the despotic reign of General Sani Abacha. What was he talking about?
It happened in Antananarivo in Madagascar in 2003. I represented Nigeria at the only international dance competition platform in Africa at that time. Among the 52 countries and contestants that participated, my solo and group performances came first in Africa. At that time when no one was interested in anything from Nigeria, God took us there safely. We went, we saw and we conquered. Our success at the competition got many Western nations’ dance festival organisers towards Nigeria.
Then, many from the Western world had not seen Nigeria as a country to reckon with politically due to the military regime that was on for many years. But to our surprise, God used us as a tool to correct many wrong impressions about Nigeria. That was also a big success that opened countless international connections and multiple tours for Ijodee Arts. But unfortunately, our government did not see us! We came back to Nigeria and no welcome party or presidential handshake. Everything was like we hadn’t done anything worth noticing. It was like we sent ourselves to the event. What a country?
After your participation in the video of “Olorioko” by Infinity, no musician has done something like that, that is feature dancers like you. Why is your style of dance not attractive to the present popular musicians?
I understand that Nigerians love entertainment a lot. Due to my trainings abroad for years, I do creative dances (contemporary dance). You would have to task your mind before you can understand my interpretations because I am trained to tell stories with my entire body and not just for entertainment alone. Olorioko is just one out of many that I have done in and outside Nigeria. Before that video, I had done several projects and tours outside Nigeria, but Olorioko opened people’s eyes and minds to another idea of dance, which is more tasking if I may say. But today›s dancers would rather do the easy, fast and popular dance steps because they want to make fast money via musical video without much tasks or researches.
To do my kind of dance, you would need serious training for years (not just months). That›s why many wouldn’t want to go into it. But I am happy that some dance artistes and dance scholars are researching my style of dance at different universities as a major project for the Masters, PhD etc. That gives me joy and that means I am already passing it on to the next generation. Fortunately, we now have more shows in Nigeria like we also have overseas. To me, that is success and that›s how God crowns efforts after working hard.
If you were not a dancer, what would have been your opinion?
Wow! I would be a sportsman 100 per cent because that was always my first career option before dance got me completely. I love all kinds of sports because I love physical activities. As you can see, dance is also a kind of sport.