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Dance show tells emotional story of refugees’ plight

Dance show tells emotional story of refugees’ plight

by Sarita RAO 3 min. 17.09.2021 From our online archive
Message in a Bottle uses modern renditions of Sting classics to tell the story of a refugee family
A joyous life before displacement choreographed with fluid synchronicity
A joyous life before displacement choreographed with fluid synchronicity
Photo credit: Helen Maybanks

The disorderly flight of thousands of foreigners and their Afghan staff from Kabul inspired choreographer Kate prince to send a timely message with her dance show "Message in a Bottle".

This joint Sadler’s Wells and Universal Music production uses a modern take on The Police's 1979 hit to tell a highly emotional story of a family displaced by war, as they embark on a journey of loss, fear, survival, hope and love.

Fans of The Police will hear all Sting's classics specially recorded for the show, sometimes with a modern touch of orchestral strings, acoustic guitar or African and Arabic beats, along with other vocalists such as Beverley Knight

This alone would make the ticket price worthwhile, but in actual fact, the dance performance is what has you mesmerised.

Environment and gender

A family leading a happy village life provides for the show, to the upbeat song Desert Rose. It seems like they are doing a dance to bring on the rain, a reminder that environmental disasters as much as wars, can displace people. The dance is joyful and exuberant, with 20 or so performers on the stage, bringing this feeling of community with vibrancy to life.

The lighting and costumes change to monochrome with the refugees are in a holding camp
The lighting and costumes change to monochrome with the refugees are in a holding camp
Helen Maybanks

But when “a little black spot on the sun” appears (to quote the songwriter), we see a country descend into conflict. Time is taken to also remind us of gender inequality to the tunes of “Don’t stand so close to me”, sung by a female voice, as the women stand up to anonymous soldiers.  

Dance a perfect medium 

The fluid movements of the dancers, peppered with acrobatics and breakdancing, change into more tortured movements of subjugation and despair. Dance is exactly the right medium to communicate this story, precisely because every movement is filled so poignantly with emotion. We instantly recognise pain, love, sadness, anger and even defiance in the movements, which have far more impact than the spoken word.

We follow the family as they embark on a perilous journey across the sea to the lyrics of Message in a Bottle, and then find them in a refugee internment camp. The lighting cleverly changes from a golden glow to individual spotlights, while a golden ball of sand representing the sun becomes a dark circle illuminated by fluorescent strips. The costumes also change to reflect the story. Bright and exotic, they turn to grey prison uniforms, as the family wait for a stamp on their papers and a chance for a new life.

Love is at the centre of this story and of the performance. There is a tenderness to the choreographed movements, and a sense of affections rekindled and the loss of loved ones reconciled in the song Fields of Gold.

Diversity of dance troupe

Acrobatics and break dancing from a multi-ethnic dance troupe
Acrobatics and break dancing from a multi-ethnic dance troupe
Photo: Helen Maybanks

The choreography is both random and synchronised. What hits home however is the diversity of the dancers. Not only do they reflect different ethnic backgrounds, but they are also varying heights and body shapes. This is just the reminder we need that the world is more diverse than what is often represented in art or advertising.

This is not a performance to watch if  you are feeling overwhelmed or emotional. It’s a timely reminder that now the worst of Covid appears to be out the way, we must return our gaze to the horrors that afflicted the world before the pandemic diverted our attention – wars, famines, and subjugation. 

You will also be amazed just how many of Sting’s songs you know, and this familiarity plays well into the storyline and the emotions expressed in the dance. There are times when you might think the odd song has been crowbarred in, but the flow is seamless and the storyline does not feel forced. If you are worried that you’ll leave the theatre feeling sad – don’t. The ending is uplifting, giving the audience hope. It’s a reminder that conflict is not about guns and tanks, but is ultimately about the people displaced.  

You can catch a performance of Message in a Bottle on Friday and Saturday (17, 18 September) at the Grand Theatre.

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