Roni Cheesman, Director of Dance-Africa and Pamodzi Creative Productions
It seemed to crystallise people’s feelings about the refugee crisis at the time. Amid all the words spoken and written about refugees, asylum seekers and economic migrants, there was something particularly tragic about a little boy losing his life as he tried to escape from his war-torn country.
Among other things, that image prompted people to stop arguing about definitions and numbers, and to just do something to help those in desperate need.
It prompted me to think about how we could encapsulate the experience of refugees in a creative way whilst celebrating the local talent in Portsmouth. Perhaps we could help people understand the situation by telling the stories of refugees through dance and theatre.
As a Christian, I felt it was important to respond in a positive way. Sometimes it is too easy to feel fearful or cynical about those who want to come to our country. It’s harder, but ultimately more rewarding, to try to act in a loving or hospitable way.
Our organisation, Dance-Africa, has already brought young people from the UK and Zambia to work together on dance theatre performances in Zambia.
And we launched Pamodzi Creative Productions in Southsea to explore social issues through dance.
We were grateful for Arts Council funding to talk to several refugees living in Portsmouth.
It was heart-breaking to hear their real-life stories of fleeing war or persecution, sometimes having to leave their families behind.
We then worked with seven different dance groups on a production entitled What are you doing here mate? which aims to share their stories.
It will be performed at Portsmouth’s New Theatre Royal from 7.30pm on Saturday, July 23.
This collaboration celebrates local talent and incorporates ballet, tap, street, acrobatics and contemporary dance, as well as recordings from some of the interviews with refugees.
You can book tickets via the box office on (023) 9264 9000 or via newtheatreroyal.com.
Some of the proceeds will go to the charity Friends Without Borders, which helps refugees with food, clothes, and legal advice, twice weekly at All Saints Church, Commercial Road.