A disturbing art installation featuring blood-red silhouettes of murdered women and a ballet about domestic violence bring attention to the shocking number of women who are victims of domestic violence every year.
One day after Valentine’s Day and I am standing in front of a red, life-size cut-out of a female figure. There is a plaque; and I begin to read:
Monique Breau, 36, Moncton
Monique Breau, Moncton, N.B., was shot in her home on December 19, 2005 by her estranged common-law partner whom she had not spoken to in nine months. He then turned the gun on himself. A nursing mom, Monique had her 3 month old son in her arms when she was fatally shot.
I have to catch my breath. I re-read “A nursing mom, Monique had her 3 month old son in her arms when she was fatally shot.”
I take another breath and look around. This small foyer in Ottawa’s National Arts Centre is filled with 35 of these life-size cut-outs, all painted red and with a personal inscription.
This is the labour of the New Brunswick Silent Witness Project. Each wooden silhouette represents a New Brunswick woman who was murdered by a husband, partner or intimate acquaintance. Because these women no longer have a voice, the silhouettes are called the Silent Witnesses.
And these are the ghosts who silently welcome me to a ballet which is making its world-premiere tonight.
Yes, ladies and gentleman, we have left the land of saccharin-sweet chocolate and red roses and walked into something quite different. We’ve also left behind any notions of prancing Nutcracker songs and stumbled into a new territory altogether. Here, tonight, Ghosts of Violence melds pointe shoes with cause marketing and aims to raise awareness of domestic violence against women, while simultaneously creating a living legacy that will honour the women who are no longer with us.
Despite a deep appreciation for ballet, I’m sceptical that it’s an effective medium for any kind of broad public appeal. And surely I’m not alone since I had to watch everything from African Jazz to the Lindy Hop until finally, in Season 5 of the widely popular television series So You Think You Can Dance, I actually witnessed a ballet performance.
But Igor Dobrovolskiy, the Atlantic Ballet Theatre of Canada’s founding artistic director and choreographer, certainly wasn’t cowed away by the challenge. Instead, after being approached by the New Brunswick Silent Witness Committee, he and his team have spent the last two years creating this tribute.
While the ballet’s lighting, music and interlacing background video have clearly been painstakingly developed, the performance’s most evocative element by far is the lead dancer, Anya Nesvitaylo. Her face and arms are exceptionally expressive, allowing the audience to feel the exuberance of young love – one practically feels the wind in their hair, the rainbow in the sky. But this attachment to her makes the conclusion all the more devastating. Kicked, beaten, battered to death…the audience is left defeated.
But then we’re given a gift: a concluding piece, both hopeful and visually stunning.
Cross-Canada and international dates for upcoming performance of Ghosts of Violence are available on the Atlantic Ballet Theatre of Canada’s website.
There are more than 430 women’s shelters in Canada to help women escape domestic violence. To find a shelter near you, visit www.shelternet.ca.
Please watch the trailer for Ghosts of Violence
Courtesy of New Brunswick Silent Witness Project.
Courtesy of Atlantic Ballet Canada