Celebrate courage, or “célébrons le courage,” reads the tagline for Ghosts of Violence by the Atlantic Ballet Canada, directed by Igor Dobrovolskiy.
“Ombres de violence,” (Ghosts of Violence) focuses on real stories of women killed by intimate partner violence. All of the ballet’s elements were intricately crafted in an attempt to depict women’s happiness, anguish and courage. With help from the Mi’kmaq-Wolastoqey Centre, the ballet was upgraded to include elements from the Indigenous community.
In the playhouse’s lobby, a small exhibit about the collaborators and the Red Shawl Campaign was set up. The Pointe Shoes on display were blessed by symbolic art related to Wolastoqiyik elements like the Sacred Fire, Sunrise Ceremony and Fiddlehead Ferns painted by Samaqani Cocahq (Natalie Sappier).
At the pre-show, I was enthralled by the sound of drums from the Wolastoq Song followed by the entrance of two jingle dancers. The jingle dress is also known as the healing dress and to Amanda Rogers, a jingle dancer at the ballet, it is a source of pride that provides more meaning to Indigenous women.
“My dancers were lucky to have live vocalists from the indigenous community,” said director Dobrovolskiy at the panel prior to the ballet show. As the room filled up with honored guests and spectators, I settled down to take in every minute of this collaborative tribute.
Interestingly, the setting was partly dynamic due to the use of five projection screens. The first act opened with a visual of skyscrapers on a beautiful day while the dancers graciously floated to the middle of the stage. Despite the happy scene, I knew that the story was bound to change and aimed to prepare myself.
The ballet started with one woman dazzled by urban social life and its many “happy” couples. She dreams of the same closeness with a man and finds it—but the relationship rapidly ends, shattering her self-esteem and leaving her feeling guilty for its failure.
The well-choreographed dance movements and the dancers’ emotions were very poignant and intrinsic to the show. The switches from a positive to a negative environment were executed smoothly as well, relating to the dangerous and short-lived joy sometimes portrayed by victims of domestic violence in public.
Each couple in the act led double lives. In the social milieu, all couples were perfect together—but once the screens would project the visual of one room, the real relationship was put on display.
It was the reality where the woman tried to be logical about arguments and disagreements, thinking the violence was only a phase. Her concerns and thoughts are constantly met with criticism and angst, leaving her dejected and voiceless while she concludes that this is her fault.
It was close to the end of the ballet and we all knew what would happen, but how?
She would learn a new defense mechanism each day, all in order to survive the abuse.
In midst of this despair, she saw a ray of hope and started running towards it. She was escaping from pain and torture—but little did she know that her nightmare would follow her. The wisely designed chase using projected silhouettes and dancers built in suspense and hope. Maybe—just maybe—she would find a way out?
Red scratch marks appeared on the screens, indicating the chase’s end, the end of hope and the end of a life.
As the red color spread over all the screens, the Acquin sisters and Sappier sang the “Red Shawl Song” with pain and hope resonating in their voices.
This performance reminded me that while we should celebrate courage, we also have to voice out the horrific truth about domestic violence and acknowledge the need for law enforcement and education if we hope to stop it.