‘I am a Woman’ is an integrated dance collaboration between Dance Development Workers Jessie Brett (UK) and Meseret Girga (Adugna, Ethiopia). This pioneering project has been supported by Wales Arts International and donations from a Crowd Funding campaign UK, as well as support from Valley and Vale Community Arts.
Jessie Brett is a choreographer dancer and teacher from Wales, trained at London Contemporary Dance School and Calarts. Her work has been performed in UK, Tenerife, Spain, Italy, Austria, USA and Ethiopia, in festivals such as Birmingham European Theatre Festival, Internazionale Nuova Danza Sardinia, Certeman Choreographico de Madrid, Resolution at The Place London, and at Friday Open Late at the V&A Museum London.
Meseret Girga is a choreographer dancer and teacher from Ethiopia. She was trained as a member of Adugna Dance Company and worked with the company for over 10 years. Meseret has traveled internationally she has performed in Belgium and Spain and has attended UNAIDS conferences about working with women with HIV in Italy, South Africa and Tunisia. Meseret’s work is focused on working with women in Ethiopia through classes, workshops and creating performances related to women’s issues and concerns in the country. She uses dance and Forum Theatre to work with the women. Meseret also works a lot with people with disabilities and street kids as well as teaching contemporary and ballet classes for budding young potential dancers of the future.
This new contemporary dance show is performed by five female disabled and non-disabled dancers from the UK and Ethiopia who came together across cultures to create this dance piece about our experiences, with the hope of inspiring women to create and have confidence in society. Following successful performances in Ethiopia earlier this year, the group hopes to develop the project further and makes new links and connections for future work and performances.
Dance Development Worker Jessie Brett talks about her experiences in Ethiopia developing the project:
“I arrived in Ethiopia 8 weeks ago to start creating a new dance work with 4 Ethiopian women to promote gender equality. The idea was to present a strong integrated dance performance created with input from all dancers in collaboration with Meseret Yirga. We have been working together for 7 weeks and in 3 days we will have our first presentation of the work. The 5 of us, Nuria mother of 2, Betty and Yebesh, 2 dancers with disability, my collaborator Meseret and myself have been meeting 3 times a week. Initially we were working at Gemini’s studio but after that was closed and a little panic, we managed to find another space and continued the project.
￼The work has been incredibly interesting and I have learnt so much about women here in Ethiopia. We have been approaching the topic of empowerment of women through movement and not talking as much as I thought we would, as the culture does not really lend itself to this approach. We have been working from the experiences of all the dancers. There is a feeling with the Ethiopian women of having to fight to be equal which is very different to the feeling I have. This I think will come across in the work.
Working with two dancers with disabilities has brought its challenges but also given a new element to the work, and makes it all the more meaningful here, as having a disability in Ethiopia makes life very hard; simple things like accessibility is a huge problem as well as a negative attitude towards disability. In the work we have 2 dancers with disabilities moving powerfully and expressing themselves, showing their strengths above their disabilities.
The approach to work here is very different and sometimes frustrating but you have to take it as part and parcel of working in another culture. On the other hand the energy that the women have is inspiring and they have engaged with the project very well. They feel a clear sense of duty and responsibly in helping other women in Ethiopia and wanted to be involved in the project for this reason.
We have our first performance in 2 days at Alliance Francaise Addis Ababa and we are just about ready. We are hoping that it will not rain as the performance will be outside and rainy season is coming. Then we travel to Dire Dawa to perform at Alliance Francaise. After that we will perform the work again in Addis Ababa at Juventus Italian club. We are talking to Mother Teresa Missionary Charity Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa and will hopefully perform the work to their women but there are a lot of obstacles to over come.” (Dance Development Worker Jessie Brett)