Staging Ghana: Artistry and Nationalism in State Dance Ensembles

Staging Ghana: Artistry and Nationalism in State Dance Ensembles

Staging Ghana: Artistry and Nationalism in State Dance Ensembles

Staging Ghana: Artistry and Nationalism in State Dance Ensembles

Synopsis

The Ghana Dance Ensemble takes Ghana's national culture and interprets it in performance using authentic dance forms adapted for local or foreign audiences. Often, says Paul Schauert, the aims of the ensemble and the aims of the individual performers work in opposition. Schauert discusses the history of the dance troupe and its role in Ghana's post-independence nation-building strategy and illustrates how the nation's culture makes its way onto the stage. He argues that as dancers negotiate the terrain of what is or is not authentic, they also find ways to express their personal aspirations, discovering, within the framework of nationalism or collective identity, that there is considerable room to reform national ideals through individual virtuosity.

Excerpt

With a luna, “talking drum,” under my arm, I stood on a large auditorium stage, surveying a sea of primary school children and their teachers who were awaiting a performance of “African culture.” It was the spring of 2002, and I was poised to lead the University of North Texas (UNT) African Drumming and Dance Ensemble for the first time without my mentor – Ewe master drummer Gideon Foli Alorwoyie. I was anxious but not about the execution of the performance itself, for I had participated in this group for nearly four years, meticulously learning supporting and lead drum parts to various dances, and was confident in my abilities to perform its small repertoire. Draped in kente cloth, as I readied the students of the ensemble, memories of my first trip to Ghana the previous summer flashed across my mind. Thunderous echoes of brekete drums accompanied images of twirling spirit mediums in gorovodu possession ceremonies. Filling my consciousness too were drummers and dancers performing at all-night wake-keepings, children playing clapping games, and fishermen singing over polyrhythmic bell patterns as they pulled in their nets. I began to recall the many disparities I had noticed between staged dance performances of the unt ensemble and their counterparts in Ghana.

These differences invited a host of questions about the representation of Africa and African dance on stage, in the West, and in an academic setting. Such questions brought me back to the performance at hand, begging further inquiries. Who were we to represent this music and dance? We were a group of mostly white, middle-class American students, most of whom had never been to Africa. Like David Locke . . .

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