By Luca Silvestrini and the Protein Team
I want to have a normal life, like anyone else in this country.
I want to go to university.
I want to see my seven grandchildren.
I want to have a business and employ people.
I want to meet people and be together.
I am 70 and I still live in a room.
I just want to enjoy my life and learn English.
I would like my freedom, stand on my feet and be treated with dignity.
I want my passport.
In April this year, Luca Silvestrini’s Protein ran a performance project with and for refugees and asylum seekers and the above are the answers to a simple question: what is your ambition at this specific moment in time? These lines and the rest of the cast’s wishes were voiced over and projected on the back wall of The Place theatre as performers stood with pride in front of a moved, packed house.
There and Here, a 45-minute dance theatre piece, did more than highlight the urgent desires of 21 adults seeking sanctuary to rebuild their lives in the UK. Through dance, live music, singing, storytelling and humour, the performance was a celebration of their identities and cultures and of their creativity, resilience and contribution to the cultural life of the country they have arrived in.
This project is part of Protein’s inclusion programme, Real Life Real Dance, which is based on an intensive period of creation leading to a public performance. This offers participants an empowering platform to create and share a piece of art, creating pathways into the UK arts scene as well as an integrated way of working.
With funding from The Rebecca Dykes Foundation and with invaluable support from The Place, Woolwich Works, Migrant Help UK, Berkeley Group and Snow Creative, we recruited participants through new and existing partnerships, arranging meetings at hotels where asylum seekers are placed, running taster workshops in multiple locations and attending existing groups to invite people to the project. We partnered once again with the Islington Centre for Refugees and Migrants, offering weekly dance classes for their clients who were slowly returning to the centre after two years of online activities.
Over three and a half weeks, the participants came to The Place each day for a programme of creative activities and opportunities to meet new people, reflect and improve their English. We facilitated a space in which each one of them felt invited to share and teach various skills to the others, allowing a sense of collaboration and mutual support. It was lovely to see new friendships appearing and their confidence growing. Through a successful crowd funding campaign, we were able to support them with a hot lunch each day and contributions towards their travel expenses and childcare. The central and iconic theatre that is The Place became their new working, creative and social hub, a welcoming resource that helped shift their understanding of what living and contributing to the life of London can be.
“I am very happy to be with you for a while and I learned a lot from you. This was a very successful and excellent project.” Project participant
From their ongoing comments and final feedback, we gathered the positive impact of the project on their physical, emotional and mental health:
“I used to never exercise and now I do. My body is much better. When I first started, I had lots of pain and now only a little.”
This theme of this year’s Refugee Week is Healing and now more than ever, given the added struggles and isolation of two years of pandemic, it feels that interventions like There and Here can greatly contribute towards a long and not necessarily linear healing process. Feeling valued, being able to access resources and rebuilding a life through creativity are significant parts of this process and arts and culture have a big role to play in helping to cope with a difficult and increasingly hostile asylum system.
It’s vital to seek continuation paths for those attending. We are very happy to see that some of the performers have been offered a place at other companies with opportunities to develop and present their artistic work.
Working towards a final performance is incredibly important and goes beyond the sense of achievement that participants gain. It’s also important and life-changing for those who come to see it and that’s the best way to shift perceptions and narratives influenced by stereotypes.
“This was an incredible, important piece of work that really moved me to tears.”
“It’s beautiful to see high quality multi-generational participatory performance, whilst poignantly humanising refugee people and celebrating a multitude of cultures.”
There and Here ended with an invitation to the audience to come on stage and dance together with the performers. What better way to bring people closer than to dance, celebrate and knock down visible and invisible borders, for greater empathy, understanding and equality?
Luca Silvestrini is the Artistic Director of Luca Silvestrini’s Protein.