Distant gaze downwards, slightly tilted head, lips tightened into a bitter curve – it’s the face of someone remembering hard times. Without a single word spoken, Escape by Joanna Puchala confronts us with the literal embodiment of one long memory of exhaustion, doubt, fear, endurance and hope, a refugee’s journey searching for freedom. Hidden just around a corner in Camberwell, the Blue Elephant Theatre is currently affording us an ocean of emotions, wrapped up in a fusion of aerial performance and dance.
Home is comfort, both for the body and the mind. We were born there, we grew up there, and it’s a place we can return to after we’ve embarked on our lives. But not for everyone. A woman (Joanna Puchala) lying curled up behind a plastic curtain slowly starts to move with flashlights in her hand as a video of the sea is projected behind her on the wall. Her movements are soft and delicate, as if carefully trying to familiarize herself with a new situation around her. Synchronized with the rhythm of both music and picture, as she pulls herself up into a suspended loop of elastic material we know her escape is beginning. Leaving behind what was once her home as it starts to rain, she’s joined by another woman (JC Bailey), who seems to fill the air with compassion. Alternating between air and ground, their complementary movements further enhance the depths of their struggle.
Escape engulfs us in the current reality of millions, an elusive but enduring dive. The ever-changing form of the suspended material acts like a cocoon of one’s inner self. It guides us through every phase of a refugee’s hardship from the moment they board a boat till they reach a new land of hope. The emotional journey reaches its climax when one dancer creates a giant pulsing heart out of the suspended material, leaving the whole audience breathless for a moment of pulsing reality. Their gentle, slightly stiff movements accompanied by a tense, firm expression painstakingly portray someone who’s just lost everything. In their affectionate entanglement, we also learn about how drifting in this nightmarish journey can bring us closer to each other and take our humanity to a whole new level. Throughout Escape, Stefano Guzzetti’s soft melodies slowly inspire our compassion and leave it lingering there long after the play ends.
As Escape opens a passage to a displaced heart we share a question with the refugees – where are we? Though the video playing occasionally in the background nicely frames the story, it also leaves us in doubt whether the escape still takes place on the sea or they’re already marching on land, climbing barbed wires fence or getting lost in the labyrinth of bureaucracy. A seemingly small detail, but for someone wishing to be truly in tune with the story and understand the swift change of emotions, it’s essential. No words can possibly describe one’s whirling feelings during this forced runaway, and it should have been left like that. When a series of recorded testimonies start to play at the end of the show, their broken words just echo what the dancers have already delivered with a powerful and delicate silence.
Yet, the 50 min dive into the dark depths of human struggle leaves many in tears. After a long spell we emerge to the surface gasping for breath, but more alive than before. We see two people portraying what it means to lose your home. And home is fluid after all. Home is where the heart is. Escape take us on a journey where people forced to cross physical, emotional and social borders. We can see their heart is painfully present: now let the home arrive as well.
LCP Dance Theatre’s Escape previewed at the Blue Elephant Theatre Camberwell, and can be seen at the Edinburgh Festival (Greenside/Nicolson Square, Venue 209) from 16 t0 20 August.