Stories About Homecoming Told In Simple Terms Of Dance, Music, Poetry And Documentaries

Modern dance festival Zelyonka FEST presented a performance titled "The Sand. Homecoming". It's an interdisciplinary and interactive project with the engagement of dancers, singers, musicians and journalists covering geographically the vast territories spreading from Eastern Ukraine to Western Africa. The author of the project Oksana Rozumna and its performance director Anton Ovchinnikov explained why talking about homecoming can be a risky and painful experience and how art can help soothe this pain. Moreover, what does Africa have to do with it?

"The Sand. Homecoming" is a logical continuation to the last year's performance The Sand where poems by modern Ukrainian and African authors were combined with modern choreography by the Modern Dance Platform along with the songs performed by Dyvyna Ethnotheatre and music by AfriKAN music band.

"The idea of The Sand was to tell the story about those people who were forced to abandon their homes. However we wanted to deliver it based not on the documentary material, but rather poetry instead," – explains Anton Ovchinnikov, the show choreographer.

The new performance on the contrary will feature interviews and documentaries. The project team recorded a number of conversations with IDPs in Zaporizhya, Lutsk and Mariupol – the cities where integration processes for these people are quite different.

They interviewed about 30 people who were forced to flee their homes because of the war in the East. The questions addressed to them were about the so called "new life", integration into new communities, their everyday life, habits, new neighbours and friends. This was done to get an insight into their present thoughts, attitudes and feelings.

Different reflections were voiced, such as:

"In the past I used to enjoy gardening, but my flowers wouldn't take. When I moved to Zaporizhya I desperately wanted to get myself something I could love... well, now I have my plant; I even named it as a real human being..."

"Now it's easier for me to let go and say goodbye to the stuff I don't like or that remind me of something negative or do not touch me at all. I leave only those I like or which excite and inspire me. For instance, take this candlestick shaped like a little house. I bought it in Mykolayiv. I look at it and it makes me feel warm and cozy inside".

Some extracts from different interviews will form the audio backgraound of the performance. They are combined with the dance and African poetry – both to do with the feeling of where is your real home.

"Migration is all about the modern world. Homecoming theme is vital and timely not only for Africa, it is similarly acute for Europe. Those migrants who moved to Europe – will they ever be fully integrated into the society? Will they be ever able to make their input into the development of their new communities? As for Ukraine, we are able to give a positive answer to this question. For we know about a certain percentage of people who relocated from one region to another and they are already changing our society," – says project author Oksana Rozumna.

We have loads of material written and produced about IDPs, and it's quite logical. However the main focus of these media products is with the question of how to adopt to the new conditions, find a new job, home and friends. There is not much said about homecoming," – says performance director Anton Ovchinnikov.

Yet homecoming is indeed a theme that runs through the whole performance. And here we are not talking necessarily of a physical return to the places left behind. This is also about returning to your inner self, the search for yourself in another society, in another city, in another profession...

"We are raising awareness about the need to talk to these people about their understanding and vision of a homecoming. This performance is about working with your trauma. Personally for me, I believe it was quite risky as I'm not a psychologist and I have no personal traumatic experience of this nature. On the other hand, this is a challenge. Perhaps this is one of the reasons I work with performing arts. They have some extraordinary curative powers that can sooth pain with those sore places," – explains the director.

"As for the traumatic effect of our interviews and the fact of dealing with those traumatic experiences...  Here we trust in the healing powers of the art. During those interviews, we were asking questions focusing on the positive emotions. I was quite careful planning this side of the project, as I do believe that the positive impact of this project will be seen translated into the positive changes in our society in general and particularly in the mentality of certain people. It was rather important for us to show that despite all that traumatic experience our society had to go through, still the humanity and lust for life win over. Whereas in the text part there was no way avoiding the issues that hit those hidden painful strings. Poetry in any case should hit those and excite us as it works directly with our feelings. It's all about getting us to feel empathy," – explains the project author.

The performance is an opportunity not only to tell about, but also sing, dance, hear and feel this trauma. Donetsk-originated Dyvyna Ethnoband sings about the processes of relocation that lasted for a whole century, whereas the drummers from AfriKAN together with their singer from Congo Dieudonné Ngeleka add their art, as they are well aware of its healing powers that can be applied to mend personal and social traumas, unfortunately so widespread and typical to modern Africa.

"Often, when I come home from a long trip or an evening practice I think about my home, and what makes it so special to make me think about it at that moment. What I know for sure is that it is an integral part of my life. It constitutes that very thing without which the life looses its sense. The moment I loose it or simply forget this strange feeling of home, it seems to me that I become a piece of algae doomed to float forever in the open ocean waters without any evident purpose in life," – explains about his vision of homecoming the performance director.

The authors hope for the performance to turn after its presentation into a mobile platform for discussions that would travel around Ukraine to show and help its audience discovering the new dimensions of home. And help them to keep it and not lose it.

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