By John Owoo
A Ghanaian dance colossus has fallen – Prof. F. Nii Yartey, the recent past director of the Department of Dance Studies, University of Ghana (Legon) and the acting Director of the Ghana Dance Ensemble – passed on last week at the age of 69 -after a short illness during a national assignment in the Indian capital, New Delhi.
An astute dancer, choreographer, academic and arts administrator, his contributions to the development of dance in Ghana since the 1970s can simply not be overstated. Undeniably – he died as he lived – a selfless devotee to the enhancement of dance studies and performance in Ghana.
Also the director of Noyam Afrcan Dance Institute, a school he set up in 1998 to admit talented dancers who cannot meet the basic requirements for tertiary education, his choreographic works of over forty pieces include “Musu-Saga of the Slaves”, “Asipim”, “Solma”, “Legend of Okoryoo”, “Sochenda”, “Bukom” and “Fire of Koom”.
A former director of the National Dance Company, he will be remembered for widely effervescent dance pieces that are definitely on the contemporary tip but with their “hearts” firmly embedded in traditional Ghanaian and African dance forms and movements.
Easily the father of Ghanaian contemporary dance, Yartey is the author of several publications. These include “Contemporary Transformations of African Dance in Ghana”, “Creation and Presentation of Traditional African Dances” and “Development and Promotion of Contemporary Choreographic Expressions in Ghana”.
He has been involved in the choreographic components of the opening and closing ceremonies of all international football tournaments Ghana has hosted since 1999. These include the opening ceremony for the World 11 versus Africa 11 football tournament that commemorated the 2011 Africa Union Day celebrations.
Easily the father of Ghanaian contemporary dance, Yartey is the recipient of diverse local and international awards including the Grand Medal (Civil Division) in 2000 for his contribution to choreography and dance development in Ghana. He has also been listed in the 28th Edition of Dictionary of International Biography, which was published by the International Biography Centre in United Kingdom.
He has left an indelible legacy of robust, articulate and creative young men and women who have excelled not only in academia but also in choreography and performance. His footprints are dotted over several universities, colleges and theatres in the United States, Europe, Asia, the Caribbean and other parts of Africa.
Though he describes his work with Noyam as contemporary African dance, Yartey finds the label somewhat limiting. Indeed, his experimentation has been in response to the choreographic heritage he received from the late Prof. Mawere Opoku, who was the first artistic director of the National Dance Ensemble and a pioneer in the development of African dance theatre.
An apostle of collaborations, Yartey has engaged in extremely fruitful partnerships with diverse institutions and choreographers throughout the world including Nana Nilsen (Denmark), Monty Thompson (Virgin Islands), H. Patten / Harley Matthews (United Kingdom) and Meno Preto (Cape Verde).
Others are Reginald Yates / Jeanine Osayande (USA) and Jacque Van Meel (The Netherlands), Germaine Acogny (Senegal / France), Mundial Productions (The Netherlands), DANIDA (Denmark) and United Cultures for Development Network (South Africa) among others.
He will be profoundly missed in lecture / rehearsal halls, theatres and research centres in many parts of the world. May his soul rest in perfect peace.