“I INTEND TO MAKE DANCE IN NIGERIA A GLOBAL PHENOMENON”

A few months ago, Ballet Rising’s team met Segun Olamilekan Kasali, a Nigerian dancer with a dream—and a goal.

The dream? Create a wholly original dance production that merges African contemporary dance and ballet.

The goal? Elevate international knowledge of African dance and the global status of Nigerian dancers by taking the production on world tour through Europe, Africa, and the Americas.

Our core mission here at Ballet Rising is to support ballet initiatives being led by emerging artists whose work we believe in. As part of this mission, we’ve committed to helping Kasali make his dream a reality. Today, we’d like to introduce you to Kasali.

By Lindsay Alissa King

Born in Osun State, Kasali is the fifth child among seven. As a young boy, he fell in love to dancing—like so many others—by emulating his older brother. When the brothers’ family relocated to Bariga, an urban district located in north Lagos, Kasali started dancing and performing on the streets at age ten. Only shortly thereafter, Kasali got a lucky break. Anthony Oluwabiyi Boyede, the director of Theatre Centrik, happened to see the young dancer performing.

“He liked my energy and enthusiasm during the performance,” reports Kasali. Shortly thereafter, Oluwabiyi Boyede offered in a position as a company member. Theatre Centrik is a premier performing arts company and arts advocacy organization in the African continent’s most populous city, and Oluwabiyi Boyede is a long-time arts leader in Lagos. For Kasali, Theatre Centrik became a launching pad for artistic exploration.

“Theatre Centrik,” recalls Kasali, “[is] where I learnt the rudiments of dance and served as a starting point of my professional career.” His skills were recognized quickly. By 2016, he was offered the position of Chief Choreographer.

Although Kasali’s rise in the professional dance world of Nigeria happened more quickly than it does for many, his journey to becoming a professional dancer was initially a fraught experience from a personal perspective. For years, Kasali’s parents were not supportive of his decision to pursue dance as a legitimate career. Encouraging him to find a career they believed would be more reliable and lucrative, Kasali’s parents tried to forbid him from dancing. Ultimately, they relocated the family to a new city to an effort to prevent him from pursing his passion.

Still, Kasali remained committed to his dream and continued dancing despite his parents’ discouragement.

In contrast to his parents’ position, Kasali actually viewed his dedication to dance as a way to support the wellbeing of his family.

Kasali recalls telling his brother, “[Dance] was about survival. I made a promise to him that through dance, I will endeavor to make our lives better by creating an avenue for better opportunities for our family.”

The difficulties Kasali faced as he aimed to make a name for himself in the dance world while still trying to maintain good relationships with him family members provide the thematic background for his upcoming production that will merge ballet and contemporary African dance.

Entitled Realm of Life, the production will leverage the narrative capacity of contemporary African dance to tell a story of resilience and survival. As Kasali says, the production is designed to foster perseverance. “People need to understand that when they are not ready to give up, they can achieve their dreams,” he says. “I intend to tell this story through dance, through my movements, and to show people that they can achieve their dreams no matter what obstacle they face.”

Kasali’s personal training is in African contemporary dance, which he describes as his favorite genre of dance, but he has decided to incorporate ballet into the choreography in order to highlight what he sees as the contrasting strengths of both disciplines—and to stretch himself as a choreographer. African contemporary dance, explains Kasali, showcases the dexterity of performers, and ballet celebrates their discipline. Realm of Life will emphasize both qualities.  

According to Kasali, “[Ballet is] royalty, very fluid, yet stoic.” These dramatic characteristics, married with the narrative and virtuosic elements of African contemporary dance, will offer a unique and complex way to share his personal story and to offer something new to audience members who might never have seen the two dance styles share the stage.

While Kasali is excited for the creative challenge of merging ballet and African contemporary dance, Realm of Life is motivated by an even larger goal. By taking the production on tour across Africa, Europe, and the Americas, Kasali hopes to raise global interest in African dance and to elevate the global status of Nigerian dancers.

As Ballet Rising has demonstrated in our coverage of Nigerian ballet, professional dance in Nigeria is on the rise around the country. There’s a long way to go, however, before Nigerian dancers receive more global—and national—attention. Kasali hopes Realm of Life will play a part in amplifying this growing field.

In fact, Kasali’s desire to bring worldwide attention to Nigerian dancers and choreographers is how he convinced his own parents to support his career choice. Kasali reports, “I made [my parents] understand that dance gives hope to myself and other people. I told them how I intend to make dance in Nigeria a global phenomenon and Nigerian dancers more appreciated.”

This ambitious and important goal is what Ballet Rising was founded to do—and we can’t wait to support Kasali’s efforts!

Stay tuned as Ballet Rising works with Segun Olamilekan Kasali to bring Realm of Life to the stage. We’ll continue reporting on the production as it develops. If you’d like to support the production, please send an email to balletrising@gmail.com to learn how you can take part.

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