Nii-Yartey’s Personal Creative Vision
“As a principal advocate of Ghana’s new concept for African dance, my creative vision and challenge are to ensure a good marriage between my personal experiences and my culture. My artistic life came out of my background as a royal born and bred in a crowded area of Bukom in Accra. Bukom provided an environment full of activity, colour and excitement.
“I was immersed in such activities as children’s games, music, dance and rituals, as well as traditional group fighting competitions and, of course, boxing (which incidentally has produced a number of world champions from the area). I could have become a boxer or something else. These experiences have helped shape my artistic thinking in many respects.
“My formal choreographic career began under the tutelage of the late Emeritus Professor Albert Mawere-Opoku, the founding artistic director and choreographer of the Ghana Dance Ensemble. My strong traditional background, studies – both in Ghana and abroad – and exposure to dance during my world travels profoundly helped shape my creative vision. I succeeded Mawere-Opoku as the artistic director and choreographer of the Ghana Dance Ensemble in 1976, a position I left in 1993 in order to found the National Dance Company at the newly established National Theatre of Ghana.
“From my perspective as a choreographer living in Africa, I have drawn on a spectrum of creative impulses based on my experiences and perceptions of the world. I begin by creating a safe world in which I get lost allowing my imagination to float in different directions. Strange as it may sound, in many cases, I am able to operate simultaneously on both the conscious and unconscious levels. Every so often I drift off into my creative mode, especially when involved in a production. Sometimes this leads to random thoughts of moving images and ideas of unknown origin. At the same time I am conscious of activities in my surroundings. My response to stimuli and these spontaneous ideas gradually merge to become snippets of artistic interests with which I build an artistic product. Often this process is full of restlessness and anxiety.
“In many situations, I feel as if I have internalised the opposing forces of my conscious and unconscious mind: being an African on one hand, while acknowledging the influences from my experiences outside Africa on the other. This conflict sometimes lingers until I reach what I call the core factor. The core factor is a segment of an idea so concrete, so clear, that the movements, the dance, the staging and the lighting, all crystallise. I integrate as many core factors as I can generate, until they are not core factors so much as the embodiment of the production. I sketch out composite images of body posture, props, floor patterns etc. It is only then that I begin to apply the elements of space, style, dynamics, levels, and other details of dance creation. I also pull much from the collaborative efforts of dancers, musicians and lighting and scenic designers to give form to the final dance I create.
“As director of the National Dance Company of Ghana, my involvement in one-on-one, choreographer-to-choreographer co-productions offered me the privilege to work with some of the most creative, crazy and kind artistes from other cultures. They included Louise Akin of Cote d’ Ivoire, Jean-François Duroure from France, Monty Thompson from Trinidad/the US Virgin Islands, Germaine Acogny from Senegal, Nana Nilsson from Sweden/Denmark and ‘H’ Patten from UK/Jamaica, Bob Ramdhanie from Trinidad/UK and others. I discovered from them and others’ collaborations that the creative process always requires a paradigm shift.
“Egos and uninformed perceptions can obstruct the artistic process. It is always difficult initially when one deals with the other person’s preferences, perspectives and cultural nuances. However, when both artistes discover common ground everybody begins to relax. Each progressively learns to accept the qualities the other brings to the process. Both finish the collaboration richer than when they began. What I have learned during my many years of involvement in co-productions living and sharing with people of different cultures is that the more exposed one is to other cultures the easier one can deal with the problems associated with such complex artistic collaborations.”
The above is an excerpt from chapter 6
Foreword by J H Kwabena Nketia
Chapter 1: The People of Ghana
Chapter 2: Traditional Dance: an Introduction
Chapter 3: Choreographic and Aesthetic Principles
Chapter 4: The New Paradigm
Chapter 5: Creativity and Technique
Chapter 6: Challenges for the Creative Artiste
Chapter 7: Safeguarding Ghana’s Cultural Future
Chapter 8: Selected Productions
A Tribute to Nii-Yartey by his Children