Refusing to be refused

4 December 2022

Incorporating a set and cast of six dance artists, Refuse is Chameleon’s most ambitious outdoor production to date. In this stimulating Q&A, our Co-Artistic Director, Kevin, tells us more about his new work and how he is shining a light on migration and asylum through the theme of refusal.

Hi Kev, you’re busy at the moment creating a new outdoor choreography called Refuse. This is exciting and we’d love to know more…

Q1: What is Refuse about?

Refuse is a work exploring the world of migration, asylum, and the stories and experiences of those who are forced to make such a perilous journey. A play on words, Refuse explores the lives and experiences of those of us who are forgotten, powerless and not permitted to cross invisible lines on a map. Those who are unwanted, unvalued, removed and blocked. Those of us who are refused and treated like refuse.

Refuse will explore the human condition and what we will do to survive. Investigating ideas and notions of displacement, migration, asylum and the monumental journey they take.

Themes will embody performances of desperation, survival, hope and the enduring human spirit. The piece will ask questions that have not been asked enough.

Where is the humanity? When do we lose our humanity and how do we lose it? Who decides who is of value?

Q2: What inspired the piece?

The inspiration for Refuse came from the painting The Raft of the Medusa (1819) by Théodore Géricault (pictured). It made me think about migration and displacement and the extreme lengths people go to for safety, hope and a future. Refuse will follow the journey of those people clinging to a raft, hoping to be saved, ravaged by elemental environmental forces.

We are all on that raft metaphorically and the only thing that will save us is the humanity expressed in the image. These were the departure points for the work and my approach to making Refuse, as a powerful and provocative dance theatre piece, which explores the human condition and what we will do to survive.

The work explores global and relevant themes, and what we hear about in the news. Dinghy’s carrying vulnerable and exploited people to the UK shore each day, Brexit and tensions with France (the country where ‘Medusa’s Raft” is held in the Louvre). The war in Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Yemen and the subsequent human cost. The toxic rhetoric from the media and government around migration/asylum.

For the audience, they will step into a world you hear about but rarely see.

Is this an alternative reality or is it what goes on, unseen?

Is it the darkness we dare not speak of or is it a dream where characters turn from people to objects to elemental forces?

Is this some future landscape of disaster, or is it happening now?

With all the situations in the world right now, the past foreign interventions and wars. The climate and discourse on refugees and asylum seekers are toxic and the camp in Kent criminal. These are important relevant ideas that need to be explored and expressed within the work.

Q3. Who is involved from a creative team perspective?

The piece will have a core cast of six artists. I’m collaborating with a wonderfully talented set designer, costume designer and composer to create original music. The set will be designed in a way that it can be manipulated and in a way that the artists can interact with it in a variety of ways.

Q4: Tell us about the creative process so far.

This Autumn I have been in the studio with the dance artists, researching movement ideas and developing the vocabulary of the world we are striving to create. We are excited for the next stage of development when we will have all the set and props to explore, experiment and create with.

During the research and creation phases we are working with local Refugee communities to learn from their lived experience, making sure their authentic voices and experiences are present within the work. The work with this group will be done with the upmost care and respect for them and their lived experience.

Having humbly spoken with those with lived experience I cannot begin to know what it is like. I am respectfully exploring the stories and ideas shared with me and those created in the space with the company with the intention of inspiring thought, feeling awareness and change around an important issue.

Q5: How would you describe the choreography and movement style?

The movement language will be richly diverse, athletic, nuanced and absorb you into the characters and the world they inhabit. It draws upon Chameleons language of Contemporary, B-boying, capoeira, hip hop, circus with African influences underpinned by a theatricality driven by the ideas.

Q6: What can audiences expect from a performance of Refuse? What experience do you hope it gives them?

I find this a hard question to answer as I don’t want to be too prescriptive in the work.  My best answer would be that I hope the audience will be moved by what they see and seeing the work encourages them to think about the journey and hardships that refugees and asylum seekers experience and face, as well as their indomitable strength resourcefulness creativity and nobility.

Q7: When and where can people see Refuse?

We will premiere the work at our home in Openshaw, and then go on to a Greater Manchester Tour in June 2023. I am really looking forward to sharing the work with my city before taking it nationally and internationally. Watch our channels to see when we will bring Refuse to festival near you.

Images: No 1: The Raft of Medusa by Théodore Géricault (1791–1824) | No 2: Kevin Edward Turner captured by Joel Chester Fildes | No 3 & 5: Extracts for Kev’s research | No.4 & 6: Set design in development

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