[Warning: the following review contains spoilers and disturbing subject matter. Reader discretion is advised.]
No Woman’s Land is a dance production created by Roshanak Jaberi and performed by the Jaberi Dance Theatre. They performed this show in Toronto from March 14 to March 16. Before the performance, audiences are given a program which explains not only the show, but also unfolds to reveal a map which highlights prominent refugee camps and where rape is used as a tool of war.
This performance was conceived on the actual testimonies of refugee women. The show combines light, sound, narration, dance and props to bring a harrowing tale that won’t be leaving your psyche anytime soon…
Before we get started, I would like to add that unfortunately, audience members were allowed to take photographs during the production, so there won’t be any in this post.
I loved the way they set the mood of the performance. The theater where the show was performed was constructed with a lot of metal and bars on the boxes. Throughout the space, echoed whispers and voice interrogating those whispers with the cold, unfeeling questions of: Where is your husband? What language do you speak? Have you ever suffered from mental illness?
I highlight that question because it struck a powerful chord with me, as a person with a mental illness. The notion that someone could be denied entry into the country for something that is beyond their control, or something that may have been induced by the traumas they’ve faced is disgusting.
The special effects during the presentation were off the charts. They used a projector to simulate crowds, words and water. They only used a few props while onstage, but all of them were used so effectively. Silk streams turned into a swing, a womb and a waterfall before your eyes. A metal cage turned into a prison and then into a boat.
The dancers were dressed in combat gear for most of the show, to represent the war zone and violence that refugee women have to endure.
The one scene that I’ll never forget and which has been burned permanently into my eyes and mind is the scene with the madwoman. In it, one member of the company is dressed in white. She sits on a silver bucket, twisting and trembling. As she moves around the bucket, her dress falls partly off, revealing her breasts, while her eyes twitch. At one point during this scene, the madwoman goes behind the metal cage and wraps her arms in the silks. She then moves open-mouthed and spins around in a circle, while over the loudspeakers a voice moans.
It is a beautiful and haunting performance.
In addition, before the performance, the audience members were given cards where they could write their own review of the show’s subject material, which demonstrates an openness by the company to improve and reinvent their material. There was also a talk-back on the night I attended -sadly, I had a train to catch- which makes a more productive and interactive experience.
This play isn’t meant for everyone. Viewers with sensitivities to rape, violence and trauma as well as partial nudity should approach this production with caution. This play also uses special effects that could trigger epilepsy and vertigo.
That being said, they did have a counselor on-hand in the audience, that audience members could talk to about what they saw in the show after the performance.
While the production is beautiful and moving, there are a few moments where what the dancers were trying to go for isn’t clear at all, for example, the scene where the twelve-year old is getting married and she’s painfully walking on silver buckets.
I walked away from that performance asking myself a lot of questions that I don’t think will be answered anytime soon.
God instructs us in His Holy Word to treat strangers and foreigners with dignity. He also tells us to love our neighbours and help those in need. That night, watching this performance, I found myself convicted and tried. I don’t do much to help refugees and I don’t think about their plight at all.
That is something that needs to change.
This performance has motivated me to spread the word about the suffering of refugees (for example, posting this review). It has also motivated me to try and step up where so many of my brothers and sisters are failing.
We as Christians need to do more to help these people. We need to help them find shelter, counsel them, comfort them and treat them with dignity. How many times have we looked on the refugee as “the invader” or “the other” or “the thief who takes our jobs”, not realizing that it is our heavenly duty to provide for and care for those in need.
[Please note that the featured image in this post comes from the Harbourfront Centre website. All other photos were taken by me.]