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Outstanding mental health advocacy at ‘Inside Out’
Theatre has been used for and as advocacy for decades.
It is not unusual to employ the creative and performing arts to carry society’s deepest and often obscurest messages.
But visualising mental health issues in dance was a refreshing element for me when dance as social commentary and advocacy made me sit up last Thursday, at Queen’s Hall.
Metamorphosis Dance Company (MDC) premiered its 2018 production Inside Out that night.
On the prompting of friends, while masking my (current bout of ) social anxiety and very near disinterest in interacting with people in wide, open spaces, I stepped out.
When the show began with Song & Dance of the Islands, billed as “a contemporary Caribbean Ballet” and choreographed by artistic director of MDC, Nancy Herrera, in the coolness of the auditorium, I sunk into my seat hugging my tiredness and wrapped in the solace darkness presents these days. My ability to appreciate the work, after an already tiring day, was marred with the constant prattling of the three young ladies behind us.
I was at the edge of regret that I had left home and simmering with annoyance for their lack of good (playhouse) manners—a too-common occurrence in theatre here for my liking.
That trio talked through every act, scene, and movement in that accented diction that suggests superior rearing, but alas, not optimum deportment.
This was not going well. I am thinking they should have stayed home and read the review since I made so much effort to attend.
I so wanted to scold them, when suddenly, about 50 minutes into the chattering, dancers appeared onstage “acting out”—low lights, individual movements, over-pronounced actions—to only the sound of their body movements. It was fresh drama and antics!
Then the entry of another dancer with a penetrating statement: “Mental illness is a real serious problem,” which immediately contextualised the choreographed frenzy on the stage, confirming my interpretation.
Of course, the audience, mostly quiet throughout the previous three presentations, sniggered collectively…loud. I groaned and uncurled from the scarf embracing all my discomforts.
I had been taking notes from the start not intending to do anything with it, just in the usual journalistic Boy Scout mode.
Now, I am busy scribbling in the glimmer of stage lights as the dancers launched into full, brisk commentary.
The script, presented with germane movements, highlighted depression, bipolar disorder, addiction, social anxiety disorder, and suicide among other issues.
Nothing prepared me for this.
My breath was sucked in so hard by the end of the dancers’ pronouncements on mental health and other relevant statistics for T&T.
“12,000…” said one dancer.
“…Students suffer from mental illness,” said another, completing the November 2017 news headline.
“Four per cent of the national health budget goes to mental health services.”
And, to the chants of “We Jammin’ Still” and “wine and fling it up”, we were roused to issues of gun violence, greed as the most important characteristic of leaders, sexual harassment, buggery, murders, and the homicide rates for 2017 (494 murders) and to date (145) for 2018
Right after the “Split in the middle,” the social commentary on abuse of women took the finest turn of the night yet.
“It’s a woman’s responsibility to ensure she is not abused.”/
“I’m not in your bedroom.”
“A woman must be groomed like a golf course…” “We Jammin’ Still…” “T&T is the happiest country in the Caribbean.”
The choreographer’s note somewhere in the programme said: “The process between discussing an idea and bringing an idea to life through movement can be a tedious one.”
We Jammin’ Still was presented as brilliant thought, exceptional movement, sensitive treatment of social malaise, while entertaining and never losing sight of the solemnity of the issues highlighted.
Dyad, on violence againstwomen, was presented in the second half also as a PG-13 discussion— where the under aged were asked to leave the auditorium.
It was performed to a 2016 spoken word piece “For the Rapist Who Call Themselves Feminist” by US poet Blythe Baird.
After the show, two women, likely octogenarians, paused next to me in the lobby and I unashamedly eavesdropped as they conversed. “…but never have I seen that type of social commentary in dance in all my life.”
“Me either. But it’s just marvellous how they were able to treat it so sensibly. I was so surprised.”
Thank you MDC and especially Bridgette Wilson who conceptualised this piece.
We Jammin’ Still must be employed in this year’s continuing advocacy efforts to make mental health matter as we work to create better minds.
n CAROLINE C RAVELLO is a strategic communications and media professional and a public health practitioner. She holds an MA with Merit in Mass Communications (University of Leicester) and is a Master of Public Health with Distinction (The UWI). Write to: [email protected]
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