Escape: A journey into migrants’ hopes and fears
London - Concern for refugees trying to reach Europe by sea inspired Polish choreographer Joanna Puchala to direct a powerful dance performance showing the migrants’ emotional and perilous journey.
Puchala used an aerial sling on stage backed by carefully composed music and video projection to evoke the migrants’ feelings of nostalgia, melancholy and hope in her production Escape.
“It is all abstract and the fantasy element is brought about by the fabric, movement and the audio-visual experience. All fused together makes it appear as if it was a dream, sometimes a nightmare,” Puchala said.
“While developing the choreography, we created the storyline to bring an authenticity to the visual aspect of the performance. Each scene and movement comes out of the physical narration we have created.”
Composer Stefano Guzzetti was a relevant choice for the production as he shares with Puchala a deep connection with the sea, being a native of Sardinia.
“As I was working with our composer Stefano, our thoughts synchronised and followed a procession of similar images of nature such as a calm sea, a raft, a storm, rain, moonlight and the night,” Puchala said.
A refugee from Poland, which she left at the start of the transformation from communism to democracy, Puchala, like many refugees from the Middle East and Africa struggling to reach Western Europe, has travelled the world looking for freedom that was missing from her life.
Puchala ended up in London, which, she said, was the only place that provided rights, freedom and equal treatment as any British citizen would have.
“I found a home in London but I kept up my love for sailing, especially in Italy,” she said. “I’ve been to Sicily, sailed around Aeolians islands, visited Lampedusa and there I was introduced to the refugee situation.”
For 15 years, Puchala has travelled around developing countries in Asia, Africa, Central and South America where she was exposed to poor living conditions and violations of human rights experienced by the inhabitants.
Her work with LCP Dance Theatre, a troupe designated to raise awareness of human rights issues, encouraged her to engage audiences in discussion and to inspire them to help others.
“I was very lucky because I found my place and I was offered a very good education, so I could realise my dreams and create art,” Puchala said. “Not everyone has had such an opportunity. Therefore, through the performing arts, I try to talk about the difficulties of being not accepted in your own country and how, if we are lucky, we can find happiness in another culture, like what happened to me.”
However, Puchala said she realises that the reality of other refugees can be much harder than her own experiences.
“By leaving your own home you might find conditions worse and often violent. The price of becoming a refugee can be very high. Escape shows the general issues of refugees no matter where they come from, what colour they are, what religion they believe in or their gender,” she said.
The performance is simple and is left intentionally open to interpretation, Puchala explained. “We don’t want to revel too much. We leave it to the audience to go on their own journey as they watch the show. We hope they can find the value in what we are doing and exchange opinions with each other, about their experience and point of view.”
Aside from the clips of refugees sharing their experiences in the video projection and a few statistics of the situation, the performance has no dialogue.
“The aim of working on social issues in dance theatre is to let audiences reflect on the situation of others,” Puchala said. “It is meant to encourage them to make their own changes in their communities and the areas they live in and to inspire them to treat other nationalities equally and tolerate their cultures. This works in both directions: from the viewpoint of the refugees and that of the nations that welcome them.”
Deeper aspects of human rights violations, including social, economic and cultural diversity, female abuse and racism, are highlighted in the choreography.
The performance shows happiness while living at home, then struggle while crossing the sea and almost being drowned in a storm and unexpected circumstances leading eventually back to happiness by reaching the “promised land”, then nostalgia and sadness of feeling isolated from the community that it was hoped would welcome refugees with open arms.
Escape was performed at the Blue Elephant Theatre in London and also at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Greenside/Nicolson Square August 16th-20th.