Reviewed: Uropa – An Asylum Ballet
The stage is in darkness. Facing the stage from three angles, the audience waits silently in anticipation. At the stage the performers are already in their act when we enter. In the background the text on a big screen explains how two out of the nine from the original cast of the ballet was deported from Denmark shortly before the premiere. They were asylum seekers whose asylum was refused.
The performance is called ‘Uropa – en asyl ballet’ (an asylum ballet) and is shown at the Royal Theater’s old stage in Copenhagen. The choice of the title and the theme is not accidental. This is a show that aims at joining the already messy debate on refugees in Europe and immigration into Denmark. The medium is ballet/ modern dance, the arguments are delivered through a symposium of music, dance and poetry and the messages are as clear as any other. The refugee crisis is explained from the perspective of refugees from all over the world through a universal medium: art.
In Uropa we are introduced to six very different asylum seekers who share one common fate, seeking refuge in Denmark. Their complex backgrounds and stories are slowly revealed throughout the performance, aided by professional dancers and the tones and rhythms of a talented musician. We learn about these individuals’ situations and are introduced to some of the dilemmas and challenges they are facing. They arrived to Denmark fleeing their home country and what they met on the way was resistance and skepticism.
We are led into the ballet with a mechanical voice-over addressing the immigrants and the issues of the influx of refugees to the country. The red thread throughout the performance is a familiar message: There are many of you, we cannot take you all, so why should we take you? What do you have to offer? The voice commands and insults the protagonists throughout the performance and ensures a steady progression through the story-lines with a smooth transition from one story to another. We are bouncing between the refugees’ heart-breaking migration and their horrific experiences on the way.
We slowly start to understand the bigger picture, as the protagonists are introduced: Ali, who was forced to leave his home in Pakistan due to his homosexuality; Jesca, who was prosecuted in Uganda because she is lesbian; Samsun who had to flee Eritrea due to a violent regime; Salam and Elian who fled Syria after the start of the civil war. Their stories compete for the audiences’ and symbolically the asylum authorities’, attention, sympathy and empathy. One horrible story precedes the other as you try to process the details. The theme is dark and grim throughout and it will not exactly lighten your day. It does however give you perspectives – and provides refreshing inputs regarding the debate.
And this is most likely the ballet’s main strength. It evokes emotions, challenges stereotypes and questions our assumptions on this very familiar topic. As the message of the horrors of the refugee’s situation literally “dances” around on the stage, the strongest part of the performance culminates when the protagonists are gathered around a table. As the different refugees (performers) point out the deficiencies of the current immigration policies around Europe a repeating question comes up: “What do we do?”, “What can we do??”. The ballet concludes it does not seem to have the answer. It does however, in my opinion, bring us one step closer toward seeing the true nature behind the causes and consequences of the current refugee crisis and it also demonstrates how some of the myths and popular beliefs spurring and resurfacing around the issue are wrong. Once and for all.
Read more about the ballet, the people behind the project and look out for future productions from the team, at: