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REVIEW: Jaberi Dance Theatre's 'NO WOMAN'S LAND'


Production photo by Wayne Eardley

Based on real stories of women in refugee camps

Toronto Premiere


Presented by DanceWorks

Choreographed and directed by Artistic Director Roshanak Jaberi


By Joe Szekeres, Chief Toronto Critic for www.OnstageBlog.com and contributor to www.slowcity.ca.


‘No Woman’s Land’ celebrates the invincibility of womanhood in the face of devastation


I can’t recall if I have ever seen a ‘dance drama’ so I was intrigued when I had received the invitation to attend the opening night performance of ‘No Woman’s Land’. I had taken a friend with me who has background in dance so I could turn to her if either I was puzzled or needed some enlightenment about the art of dance. My friend had given me a gentle nudge about the importance of the near 15-minute dance in ‘Oklahoma’ last fall and why it is necessary to that production.


So, on a rainy Thursday evening, off we went to the Queen’s Quay Harbourfront Centre Theatre.

The press release stated the production reveals the plight and resistance of refugee women who have fled poverty, natural disaster, armed conflict and/or war only to encounter the constant threat of physical and sexual violence along their journey. All the themes and stories in this work are based on true accounts, derived from interviews conducted with Syrian, Tamil and Somali refugees, among others.


The approximately 60-minute production does introduce these terrible and tragic themes as listed in the press release. After a lengthy discussion with my friend on the GO home, I firmly avow that ‘No Woman’s Land’ celebrates the invincibility of womanhood given the fact there are survivors among these committed atrocities who unite to tell us their stories. And what makes this production so incredibly touching and poignant to witness is its simplicity in design which leads to a layered depth of understanding.


It is a blank stage with a lone spotlight on an unfamiliar object up stage left that I can’t quite make out what it is from my seat in the house. Thomas Ryder Payne’s terrific haunting soundscape of a woman asking questions, but no response kept my ear tuned to hearing if there might be an answer to all these questions. Jerome Delapierre’s lighting visual design was striking throughout for me particularly near the end with the projection of wave currents and wondering if there might hopefully be peace for these refugees.


Cheryl Lalonde’s costumes allowed for ease of performer fluidity and movement. Again, from my seat in the house, the use of the colour yellow on the dancers’ dresses was visually fitting for me. Since the colour yellow is warm and inviting, I was assuming these women in wearing the same looking dress had hopefully attained some sense they are at a place in their lives where they feel comfortable in their surroundings.


The visual effect in this production is lovely, but I must acknowledge the outstanding six performers, five women and one male, who captivated me immediately. These graceful, agile and buoyant performers immediately focused my attention to the action on stage and used the playing space to its maximum. While I did feel uncomfortable in some of the extremities in which the women found themselves at the hands of the male (solid work by Ahmed Moneka who never crossed the line into the barbaric), those moments where the women found comfort and peace with each other were unforgettably soothing to the eyes.


The unfamiliar object at the top of the show became an important prop used throughout to heighten the intensity in each story – at one point, it became a boat with the refugees. At another, it was used as a cage and a few minutes later, an enclosure. What was interesting about this prop was the fact that it was never even keeled. There was always an element of imbalance and imperfection that offered physical impediments to the women.


To watch these six performers on stage was magical and electrifying. Their carefully stylized choreographed movements are visually thrilling to witness as I saw lifting, tossing, punching, and throwing sometimes with a violence in their lashing out to the environment in which they found themselves. These six gelled together magnificently as a tightly synergistic ensemble; however, I must refer to Nickeshia Garrick who kept me spellbound each time I saw her on stage. Ms. Garrick had written in her programme bio, “let the art speak through you. Mind, body and soul converging before hungry eyes. This is my vulnerability.” Ms. Garrick wondrously performed and lived her statement to the fullest each time I spotted her.


Final Comments: Ms. Jaberi wrote in the Programme Choreographer’s Note that she hoped ‘No Woman’s Land’ would evoke greater discourse among those who are in the position to influence change. This change and discourse must begin with us first and foremost. Since I am new to viewing dance dramas, I’m not certain if talk backs would even be considered as they are in comedies, dramas and musicals. I wish there might have been an opportunity to discuss this work with these performers as they are wonderful to watch.


‘No Woman’s Land’ runs to Saturday March 16 at 8 pm at the Harbourfront Centre Theatre, 231 Queen’s Quay West, Toronto. Entrance to the theatre at 15 Case Goods Lane. For tickets call 1-416-973-4000 or visit http://danceworks.ca.

Running time is approximately 60 minutes with no intermission.


Performers: Victoria Mata, Irma Villafuerte, Nickeshia Garrick, Drew Barry, Denise Solleza and Ahmed Moneka.


Artistic Team: Choreographic Mentor and Artistic Advisor Karen Kaeja, dramaturge Soheil Parsa, Sound Designer and composer Thomas Ryder Payne, Scenographer and visual designer Jerome Delapierre, Costume Designer Cheryl Lalonde, Set Creation Peter Benedetti, Technical Director Gordon Simmons, Stage Manager Tara Mohan.

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