The image of three-year-old, Alan Kurdi, lying lifeless on a Turkish beach in September 2016, became overnight the defining image of the current refugee crisis. How do we explain to our children the desperation that drives parents to risk everything – even the very lives of their family – to escape war, torture, and persecution? How do we help them to understand the complex issues around open and closed borders, psychological trauma, the mountainous obstacles of starting again in a new country – with a new language – and the challenges that integration poses to individuals, societies and economies. A new dance-in-schools project called ‘Lysa’ (an anagram of the German word for asylum) attempts to do just that.
“When I saw that picture, as a father I couldn’t help but think what if it had been us? Trying to save my family, and losing them all in the attempt to cross the Mediterranean into Europe and safety as Alan’s father did,” said Sebastiano Bonivento, of Ballett-Freunde Regensburg. “I couldn’t stop thinking about it, and began to discuss with fellow choreographers, Martina Feiertag and Alessio Burani, the concept of creating a project that broaches the complex topics of migration and integration with school children from nine years old using the universal language of contemporary dance.
The moving and impactful 30-minute dance is the center point of a teacher-assisted project that allows the children to reflect on, discuss and react to migration and integration topics in a safe environment. Teaching staff introduce and follow up after the performance, which often takes place in the school gymnasium. The five amateur dancers from Ballett Akademie Bonivento Dazzi (aged 15-17, and themselves all school pupils), together with the powerful choreography, convincingly express a wide range of emotions through dance – fear, uncertainty, determination, despair, kindness … and finally connectivity and hope.
Lysa was premiered at schools around Neutraubing in Germany in July 2016 to much acclaim. “I recommend the Lysa dance project to other schools,” says Susanne Anker, vice-principal of Josef Hofmann Elementary School. “The topic of migration and refugees is all over the media, and so known to the children. Television news in particular graphically shows the life-threatening circumstances that force people to leave their family and home to go to a foreign, safe country. The Lysa Project is a whole new way to address this issue, and to show how it affects the individual fleeing war and persecution.”
How do you get 100 young boys and girls to sit quietly and watch a contemporary dance performance? With surprising ease, it would seem. The choice of music which ranged from soundscapes of a stormy sea, rock anthems, percussion, just a touch of mesmerising opera, and a cacophony of voices in a range of languages, caught and maintained the short attention span of even the most restless. While some of the younger children’s highly-engaged questioning focused on the nationalities of the dance team and the ‘sport’ of dance itself, the older children were quickly able to grasp the imagery and meaning of the performance. For example, the role of a long piece of white cloth to form the sea, a wall or border, or the fabric of society that binds every one of us together.
“I was amazed how effectively movement and dance communicated the fears, struggles and difficulties faced by people on the run, and how much concern it can trigger in its audience,” says Ms. Anker. “The children were captivated, and I am sure also to some extent surprised by what can be expressed with dance and body language. During the dance performance it was obvious that the children were highly focused, and actively asked questions afterwards.”
Lysa is initially being developed by Ballett-Freunde Regensburg as a Bavaria-wide project, partly funded by the Cultural Department of the City of Regensburg. The first performances will take place in schools and at cultural engagements, such as dance festivals. Those interested in booking a performance, or who would like further information, should contact Ballett-Freunde Regensburg at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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