What I Bring

19 May

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Who are often spoken about but have rarely a chance to speak?

It sounds like a riddle but really it’s an observation, one that storyteller Rachel Rose Reid makes in Swindon Festival of Literature’s performance, What I Bring.

Beginning ‘as all good things do,’ said Festival director, Matt Holland, ‘as a conversation between two people’, the idea behind What I Bring grew into a collaboration between Swindon Library, Artwords, The Harbour Project, Swindon Dance and Swerve Dance Company, and woven together by Rachel Rose.

Armed with her own international heritage, Rachel told her collected stories before she introduced the dancers, who performed to a soundtrack of recorded tales of refugees and asylum seekers, newly arrived in Swindon.

Originally, the performance was to be in the inner courtyard of Swindon Central Library and the Town Hall. But it was raining and no one, sold-out audience included, wanted to get wet. So inside it went to the traditional performance space of a stage in Swindon Dance, the former Town Hall. (I met one of the dancers on the way to the library. Marie-Louise shrugged her stoicism to moving indoors, then looked to the sky and shook her shoulders free of the inhibitions of a roof. Afterwards I wonder what the voice of the open air would have brought to What I Bring.)

The dancing was technically good and revealing. The appearance of children and young dancers reminded us this story was of people with families. The What I Bring soundtrack was a mixture of traditional grandmother’s knee tales and real life relatable anecdotes. Somewhere in the middle we played a traditional Indian finger game.

As two young men left part way (obviously this could have been for any reason) and my own tired young son read his book, I consider this may have been tough going for a non-dance audience. Engaging though Rachel Rose was, and good as the dance was, occasional dancing to music would have been more appealing to those not fluent in contemporary dance and given a direct hit of instant culture. Also, perhaps, projected images would have utilised the story-telling language barrier-busting capability of the visual arts.

Rachel told a tale about a sheep, her babies and a hungry wolf she heard from two people hailing from different countries. One finished on a truncated, sad ending – a bitter stranger-danger warning – the other continued into a tale of safety and revenge – a warning to the stranger as much as the innocent little bairns. Another tale, handed over to Maryjoyce, a lawyer from Kenya and Harbour Project visitor, told of a village who collaborated to rid themselves of a troublesome baby-eating giant. She mused on its lesson in cooperation. But, now I think about it, both also appear to give insight into why Britain seems to have such a hard time with immigration; it’s a human thing, not unique to this country: the wolf with its fake voice and hand, pretending to be mama sheep; the lambs warned not to open the door on any account; the village clubbing together to keep out the more powerful invader who threatens their most vulnerable member – a woman in labour. The faceless voiceless refugee-immigrant taps into our innermost fear and the threat to our community; our reaction is to come together to keep them out. It is a human nature throwback, and we must use our evolved brains to recognise it as such.

People fleeing a war, famine, disease, persecution are not the wolf, but the sheep and her lambs. They are not the giant, but the contracting mother. They are escaping the giant and the wolf. Who are we in Britain? Who do we want to be? We only know this if people-we-don’t-know-yet have a voice – and we listen.

A brave performance; I’m glad they did it and I was there.

Click here for an interview on BBC Wiltshire.

What I Bring was a specially commissioned, one-off performance for Swindon Festival of Literature, Thursday 14 May 2015.

Words by Louisa Davison. Photos (c) Vicky Scipio.

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