Trouble shared

Virginia Baxter: Baulkham Hills African Ladies Troupe

Baulkham Hills African Ladies Troupe

Baulkham Hills African Ladies Troupe

Baulkham Hills African Ladies Troupe

Baulkham Hills African Ladies Troupe displays the hallmarks of careful and collaborative development over three years with director Ros Horin in the performances of the four courageous women at its centre—Yarrie Bangura, Aminata Conteh-Biger, Yordanos Haile-Michael and Rosemary Kariuki-Fyfe. The production has just completed its journey from Parramatta Riverside, where it began in 2013 via Belvoir who also invested, to a successful tour to Nottingham and Southbank in London and a Sydney Opera House season. A documentary film is in the offing.

Along with the subjects, the work calls on the talents of three skilled performers—Nancy Denis, Imat Akelo-Opio and Effie Nkrumah—and singer/songwriter Aminata Doumbia who share the performative weight, introducing lightness where it’s needed and importantly, acting as companion narrators for each of the women as they recount horrific details of lives rent by traumatic events in Guinea, Sierra Leone, Kenya, Eritrea. Playful elements that temper the tough material include an audience quiz revealing how little most of us know about Africa. The design team creates a world of vivid colour with more positive reminders of home, which also functions as a place where testimonies of lost childhood, rape and murder can be shared, language found to describe abuse that is so commonplace in some societies —and by no means confined to the African continent—that no words exist to even discuss it. Not always comfortable, shifts in mood and tempo in the work no doubt reflect the refusal of these women to allow their traumatic experiences to define them.

There’s great joy in this work but sadness is ever present such that the rallying cry at the end of the production seems barely necessary, so strongly is the message conveyed in the gracious presence of these women and the intimacy of their telling. While it appears their own resettlement in Australia has been relatively untroubled, these women’s stories remind us yet again of the sheer desperation that forces a rapidly increasing proportion of the world’s population (exceeding 50 million according to the UNHCR in 2014) to flee their homes and endure perilous journeys, often with no idea what or who, if anyone, will greet them when they arrive, if they ever do, wherever it is they are heading.

Baulkham Hills African Ladies Troupe, director, writer Ros Horin in collaboration with Yarrie Bangura, Aminata Conteh-Biger, Yordanos Haile-Michael and Rosemary Kariuki-Fyfe, designer Dan Potra, costumes Emma Kingsbury; The Studio, Sydney Opera House, 26-29 March.

RealTime issue #126 April-May 2015 pg. 5

© Virginia Baxter; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

20 April 2015