Darkness. Loud noises. No escape.
It is incredible to think that in this day and age there are still men, women and even children who are going through the physical and emotional abuse of living in solitary confinement. Some of them with no hope of ever seeing a glimpse of natural light ever again.
The first performance of Sliver of Sky was a truly powerful and immersive experience; a rare performance that brought together three of the major London dance companies (English National Ballet, the Royal Ballet, and Rambert) as well as freelance dancers, which was all made possible by choreographer Ludovic Ondiviela.
Sliver of Sky was inspired by Ludovic’s close involvement with Amnesty International and their work on human rights campaigns focusing on prisoners held in solitary confinement, who were often held in minuscule cells for decades without a court judgement. To create awareness of this issue, Ludovic worked in partnership with both Amnesty International and Inspiration in Motion on Sliver of Sky.
From the moment the performance started, it became clear the audience was supposed to be immersed in an intense experience echoing what solitary confinement prisoners go through. The room was pitch dark and loud noises echoed across the space, coming from everywhere, while recorded voiceovers of prisoners speaking about their experiences of life inside set the tone for what the audience was about to see. After the performance, Ludovic mentioned that the recordings that we heard throughout the show were actual sounds of prisoners held in solitary confinement. As the audience’s eyes adjusted to the darkness, lights slowly started to go up showing us a 6 foot by 9 foot cell block of light projected on an otherwise dark stage, with a prisoner in a chair, unmoving, as if all hope was lost.
The dancers began to move across the back of the stage in an orderly line, their postures and the mindless way they move suggesting a routine of hopelessness, which was to become a powerful motif used intermittently throughout the piece. There were solos, pas de deux and pas de trois between dancers as they broke off from the back shuffling line. All of the these were unique and suggested strength, but an underlying fragility as they folded and collapsed against one another; supported by their partner but never for long.
It is unnecessary to pinpoint which dancer was the star of the evening because each of them brought something different and wholly unique to this piece; and although they are from different companies, they all danced in unison with complete cohesion, channeling what prisoners go through when they are locked up alone with seemingly no hope. Luke Ahmet and Hannah Rudd danced as if the music came out of their bodies; Francisco Bosch danced as he was free and always falling in the prison of James Forbat’s arms, his pas de deux partner before turning into a pas de trois with Begona Cao; and Kesi Rose Olley Dolley Dorey and Russell Fine did several pas de deux, being free, while being observed with despair by their fellow dancers in the background. It was a truly cohesive piece and it is amazing how the choreographer was able to bring all of this together.
Midway through the piece, the music changed and became more uplifting, and Lauren Cuthbertson from the Royal Ballet ran on to the stage joyfully, looping around the stage quickly, her run interspersed with jumps and jetes that seemed spontaneous. The prisoner’s expression completely changed for the first time, and though he was still in his chair within the cell block of light, his face lit up in joy and hope. Lauren was the first dancer to step into the block of light, interacting with the prisoner, representing the all important Sliver of Sky he saw through his cell block window; a small sliver of hope. This was a very emotional piece, with Lauren Cuthbertson’s solo providing the relief just when needed.
Ludovic has emphasised that he wanted to raise awareness of the issue of solitary confinement, and in our point of view he did a fantastic job. Throughout the performance we noticed there was a concurring theme where the dancers port de bras were open simulating them wanting to be free, but their efforts seemed crushed by their partner or an unseen force. This was very noticeable in the last pas de deux between Lauren Cuthbertson and Matthew Ball; as Lauren kept distancing herself from him. Matthew would entwine around her around capture her in his arms again and again. Towards the end of the piece were powerful images of where all the dancers were positioned close together in front of the cell, doing quick movements with their arms which you could be interpreted as them hopelessly, almost mechanically reaching for freedom.
Throughout Sliver of Sky the audience was taken on a quest where freedom is taken, hope is slowly lost, your sanity starts to suffer; but sometimes there is that sliver of sky shining in your eyes through a tiny window, and you know that there is still hope.
If you want to learn more about Sliver of Sky, please read our exclusive interview with choreographer Ludovic Ondiviela. For information about how to be involved and help this project, go visit the Crowdfunding page for Sliver of Sky.
Note: This article was written by both Morgan and Andre.
Featured Image Credit: Sliver of Sky. Image © Andrej Uspenski.