By Paul Ndiho
February 1, 2012
Amid the violence, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the National Ballet of Congo is using music and dance to inspire hope.
In a large open theatre, a dance group is determined to spread a message of peace and tolerance in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It’s just a few days before the premiere.
This production fuses traditional African rhythms with modern choreography. Its movement, music and story are designed to express the harsh reality of sexual violence in the DRC. Carmen Smith is a US State Department Cultural Ambassador.
“Dance is a strong vehicle for relaying messages like this because there’s something about movement that is older than language.”
Carmen Smith spent a month in Kinshasa learning about the culture of the DRC and creating a new ballet.
“I started reading some history and tried to learn about what kinds of issues were facing women there. We hear a lot about civil war and you hear a lot about the rapes in the Congo.”
The United Nations estimates that since 1998, more than 5 million people have died from fighting, disease and starvation in the DRC. Rape has been used as weapon of war. Margot Wallström is the U.N. Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict.
“I think it has to do with the attitudes that this is inevitable as one of the weapons or tactics of war.”
Mugolomi Solange is one of the dancers with the National Ballet.
“The gender violence that’s inflicted on women disturbs us because before we never spoke about this in Kinshasa. So it was kept in…”
Solange and dancer Akim Tsimba say there are painful inequalities between men and women in their country.
“Here in the DRC, women don’t have the same status as men. Women are people who have nothing. Their role is in the home. They don’t have the right to speak.”
This dancer, Kititoi Assina, says the ballet is a way to encourage women in the DRC to see themselves as equal and important.
“What we would really like to portray with this show is that the woman complements the man and that she is not his slave, not his inferior.”
“I asked the National Ballet dancers – I just talked to them for the first two days. No dancing, no rehearsal, just talking. It was these kinds of personal conversations and…hearing women talk about their lives that helped me direct the project.”
On the night of the premiere at the Hall de la Gombe in Kinshasa – as people arrive, the audience is not quite sure what to expect.
The storyline centers on a village where the men rule – and the women do as their told – at least in the beginning. But eventually the relationship between men and women begin to change, as the village women learn to stand up for themselves and gain the respect of the village.