What can this performance tell us about the refugee crisis?

As an explosive new contemporary dance performance is set to premiere in the capital, we talk to choreographer Aakash Odedra about exploring conflict and misinterpretation through movement

 

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Conflict, violence and oppression: these are a daily occurrence in the world we currently live in, one where human displacement is at an all-time high and we struggle to make sense of a never-ending newsreel of destruction and desolation.

These uncomfortable truths are something that the Aakash Odedra Company is hoping to confront as it brings the world premiere of #JeSuis to Abu Dhabi from 7th to 9th February.

Performed by Turkish dancers and headed by choreographer Aakash Odedra, the contemporary dance show explores the every day narrative of violence, conflict and diaspora of Turkey through the lens of the people who live there, and how what’s going on in places far away relates to us more than we realise.

Taking steps

“It means ‘I am’,” Aakash tells us. “The piece is really in some way about identity – of people, of humanity, that it’s not just numbers or puppets. I took Turkey as a microcosm, but the enlarged picture is one of the world.

“We’re seeing this country which is right on the border of east and west; it’s right in the middle,” he adds. “At the moment, we’re all standing on that fence and not knowing which way we’ll fall – either politically or spiritually. When we generalise a place, we misinterpret it, and that is exactly the complex nature of what we’re all facing in the world.”

But if the performance’s title is a reference to our increasing reliance on social media for what’s happening in the world, it’s also a reminder that a retweet or hashtag does not constitute meaningful action.

“In the beginning when #JeSuisCharlie happened, the title came from that and it was about standing together,” Aakash explains. “But as we’ve done our in-progress performances, the title has become a mockery – because are hashtags really going to save the world?”

He has a point; in a world where no sooner has a story broken than something new has taken its place, we’re all at risk of becoming desensitised – and that’s exactly what he’s aiming to change by using deeply personal stories danced by those who live them.

“These dancers have lived with the change in their country, they’ve seen things first-hand,” Aakash explains.

“We’ve used their experiences to bring the physicality of this change, to the sense of oppression, their restraint. It’s not like we need a revolution, but there is a micro-revolt happening, and it’s within them. There’s this constant feeling of life preservation in this one country.”

Cultural exchange

As the dancers have their own personal revolt on stage through movement, Aakash is quick to remind us as an audience that even though we’re sitting still, we are active participants in the bigger picture: “The audience has a responsibility. I didn’t want to spoon-feed everyone; we’re all responsible for what’s going on around us.

“We’ve all become disconnected,” he continues. “You see these situations on the news, Facebook, everywhere. In the beginning, you feel heavy-hearted and angry, but by the end, you know it’s dangerous when you see something and it no longer means anything to you.

“Nowadays we have such quick ways of getting information out there,” Aakash observes. “By the time the news has gone through our eyes and registered in our brains, the picture has already changed. We don’t get to understand the full context and it has become sensationalised.  That’s problematic.

“As artists, our responsibility is to share, and if one person walks away and looks at something differently, then we’ve done something that has actively caused change.”

The Aakash Odedra Company will be performing the world premiere of #JeSuis from 7th to 9th February. Tickets cost AED 105. The Arts Center, NYUAD, Saadiyat Island. 8pm. For more information, visit: nyuad-artscenter.org

WORDS Camille Hogg

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