A Participatory Performance

"How beautiful it is to see our footprints in the snow?

The secret is

The white track that one of us leaves behind."

(Poem by Nader Alkasem)

A pilgrimage you are invited to take as if to find a common refuge(e) that walks. In here, histories of alienation shall subside.  A participatory performance about extending the concept of refuge(e). This performance was developed in part as a result of the attendance (Sall Lam Toro) of a performance art residency workshop: Experiences, Devised and Performed at Teater Nodkraft in June 2017, created by Louis-Philippe Demers and Astrid Kensinger. 

This collaborative experience was designed as a ritual and physical pilgrimage yet also, a psychic procession where the audience got to be introduced to a series of discursive invitations in different languages. Such rendered the atmosphere towards the audience as a sense of collective since the experience was specifically designed for them and as we proceeded to give them blackboards they should wear as clothes, as a result, these items became theirs. Furthermore, a sense of procession has arisen as a sense of same historicity.

The blackboards represent a symbolic weight of their own history, a genealogy of alienation and displacement therefrom these are emotional outcomes of growing out of old skins that do not serve anymore which entails at times abandoning these familiar homes, beliefs, traditions, identities we were sure to embody in a past. Some of us experience physical displacement when embarking in new lands and adopting new identities which are doubly self-imposed and projected by others – a kind of double consciousness emerges too for the later groups experiences of alienation and displacement at two levels, an emotional-psychic and spiritual, stripping a whole universe made of refuges, those being social, economic, cultural, political, and spiritual. In such processes, we slowly personify – the refugee – that is forced to imagine herself in a new universe and to adapt to a strange world that mismatches this imagination and later forces herself to integrate and assimilate a new skin – an aspiration and oppression at once.

Through the words of Syrian political refugee Nader Alkassem and following translations of the same by Serife Kartzeger, one initiated its journey slowly through repeated, almost chanted poetry in different languages which the audience recognized. The poetry provides vivid images of these processes of personal alienation and displacement while the weight of the blackboards that the audience carried while walking by the water down the harbour, aided at the metabolization of this imagined, ongoing spiritual refuge being created in their minds, but also materializing in the atmosphere of this collective walking together. 

Suddenly, the audience started reacting taking initiative at helping the performers carrying their bags they had with them from the beginning when they were proclaiming their multi-language invitations. The audience moved as a close community whereby they related to each other and so the weight of this process of alienation and displacement became lighter because people automatically started relying and empathizing with each other supporting morally one another silently.

We, performers, have grieved in the pilgrimage silently, unconsciously together for those who have lost their lives in the sea attempting to embody ‘the refugee’ in Europe coming in boats from afar having never arrived at their promised lands. This grieving was juxtaposed to our own genealogy of alienation in the body attempting to release it through our bare footsteps on the ground.

Water was a strong element in this whole process for it represented a secondary vehicle. We dancers, had to swim in the water to reach the platforms wherefrom we had to dance always carrying our body extensions – the blackboards. This phase represented how at times we must jump into the unknown, dark corners, muddy waters, not really knowing what is in the other side taking big risks.

The last part of the performance was a physical dance embodiment of this process and release of it and it resulted in a language between the dances and the live improvised music that began during the pilgrimage walk. We spoke silently though movement echoing how we keep falling into pivotal moments of abandonment leading to displacement and how we take our time to get up again trembling on our feet attempting to strive for a brighter future, so we try several times never giving up, never stopping, undulating with strong winds that come our way, never succumbing to the ground even though we touched them…

Photo-documentation by Gergana Kurukyuvlieva