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Making Dance Out of the Unspeakable

In a telephone interview from Portland, Ore., where she was presenting “Unwanted,” she spoke about her belief in the body and movement as repositories of meaning and about bearing witness to the Rwandan tragedy.


Holland Andrews, left, and Ms. Munyaneza in “Unwanted.”

Christophe Raynaud de Lage

Below are edited excerpts from the conversation.

The Rwandan genocide is clearly a difficult subject to tackle, particularly in dance. What made you go back to it in “Unwanted”?

Rwanda is in me, it’s very deep. My creativity is linked to the past, my childhood there. There is much to be said and told, not just through dance and music, but that is one way to address it. It’s a question of creating, mending, performing, witnessing, sharing.

This piece was also fed by stories of other women — from Congo, Chad, Syria, the former Yugoslavia. It’s true that men who invade territories also want to annihilate the physical body, the social body. But I decided to zoom into the stories of the Rwandan women and let that spread out and speak of the others.

How did you approach the subject of rape with these women?

The women I met surprised me. They have been wounded deeply and violently, and they were my elders, so I thought they might not confide in me. But they completely opened up. They spoke of how hard it was to love their children, how hard it was to live alone, because most were rejected by their families. They, and their children, who are now young adults, offered me their most painful moments.

But there were also wonderful moments: I would ask if I could take a photo after talking to them, and most would change into a beautiful dress. They wanted me to carry beauty and hope with me.

How have you used these experiences to make a dance piece?

I recorded their voices and really tried to capture how they held themselves, how they walked, how they wiped away their tears. It all became physical, choreographic, material. We hear some of their testimonies in the piece, and I had to find a way for the body to navigate through these spoken words.

30 jan 2018 – Unwanted – Dorothée Munyaneza – TPE Bezons Video by Théâtre Paul Eluard

At first it was going to be a solo piece, but I wanted music to play an important role. When I met Holland Andrews, I knew she had the vocal qualities I was looking for: a high soprano voice which would resonate above a multitude of sounds and voices, but the ability to also produce deep guttural sounds.

Was it difficult or redemptive to work with this material?

For me, the journey has been painful, even physically painful. The choreography was about digging into the physical memories of these women’s tension, their rage, their sorrow. I tried to honestly remember my feelings and the emotional journey I went through in their presence.

I am not trying to reproduce rape; I want to cut through the trauma so that people can receive and understand these experiences. The body speaks when testimony has been suspended.

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