New Internationalist

Dancing for a change – creating awareness through art

On 5-7 May, London’s Sadlers Wells theatre hosts Breakin’ Convention, an international festival of hip-hop dance. Kwame Asafo-Adjei is founder and artistic director of Spoken Movement Company, a group of young people aged 16 to 22 specializing in tap, ballet, modern and street dance. It will be performing a piece called ‘A Perfect World’ at the festival. Here, Kwame explains his motivation.

I decided to touch upon the sensitive subject of human trafficking in my piece because I want to educate and engage the audience. Although human trafficking has been happening in Britain for many years, I truly believe people are unaware of its severity both here and around the world. So I want them to witness and almost feel it onstage, to experience a roller-coaster of emotions, so that they will really grasp the essence of the problem.

I came across a Guardian article about 17-year-old Marinela Badea, who had been trafficked from Romania and brought to Manchester by a guy called Nejloveanu; he forced her into doing things against her will by raping her and threatening to kill her. The article went on to describe the events that took place while she was being trafficked. Marilena stated: ‘I said, “I want to go home”, so they beat me up. After half an hour they brought his friend in and they forced me to sleep with him.’  Reading these words, learning that women of such a young age were suffering in the country where I live – this had a profound effect on me.

A documentary called ‘Ross Kemp Extreme Worlds’ similarly caught my attention. It focused on exploitation and the effect it had on females in Britain. The presenter made clear that human trafficking is dominated by men who abduct women from foreign countries, then exploit and rape them, and use them to push class A drugs. Because the women are foreign and unable to speak English, they are alone. They have no family or support in their new environment.

Many of the women are arrested and taken into custody. In Marinela’s case, custody was the safest place she had been in six months. Prior to that, she was raped by different men, often violent drunks, 50 times a week on average. I find it hard to believe our society is letting such a thing happen, without immediate justice. The government should definitely be taking harsher measures to deal with this problem.

As I began to develop my piece, I tried to relate movement to the emotions I was feeling. This was a challenge, but an exciting one. I used the concept of creating a perfect world, then suddenly watching it crumble. My piece focuses on three sisters from Congo who live a respectable God-fearing lifestyle and are suddenly abducted by a south London traffic gang called ‘Dem man’. I created an exercise with my dancers called ‘hot seating’, where they had to be in character and I had to interview them. The idea was to make my dancers acknowledge who they are within the piece, and their purpose. I told them: ‘Don’t perform to the audience, live within the piece and let the audience be a witness to what is happening.’

Overall, the process has been an immense challenge, taking my dancers out of their comfort zones, both mentally and physically. But it has all been worth it, creating art while also creating awareness of the issue of innocent women being trafficked.

I believe everyone in this world is an equal. No-one deserves to be treated like this.

www.breakinconvention.com

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