Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Combining drama, fashion and ministry in Liberia

Dancing for transformation
Just back from Liberia, where I took a creative team from Kenya to work with an American team of designers and fashionistas to put on a dramatic fashion show featuring the work of Liberian designer Korto Momolu, runner-up in Season 5 of Project Runway.

All this was to help launch Amani Liberia, a ministry to marginalized women that teaches them sewing, production and design as a means of livelihood, recovery and reconciliation.  For more on Amani, click here.  Amani began in Kenya.  The founder, Becky Chinchen, has since moved back to Liberia and was encouraged to start a branch of Amani there to help the women who have suffered from the war and continuing disempowerment.

They wanted to launch Amani with a fashion show, with designs donated by Korto Momolu.  She told the story of separation, transformation and celebration through fashion, and Becky asked me to help develop the same thing through narrative, dance and music, supporting the fashion show with an African narrative dance.  I went with the incomparable Hellen Mtawali, Kenyan songstress, and artiste extraordinaire, Alan Oyugi, to work on the choreography.

Hellen teaches a song and dance

Alan working on choreography
We worked with students at ABC University, in Yekepa, Liberia.  Most of them had never done anything like this before - either modelling (taught by the American team) or choreographed dance - either African or modern.  In 7 days (count 'em-- 7! A total of 30 hours!!) we managed to develop, teach and rehearse 3 segments of dance/music narrative to go around the fashion show story.

working on a dance
final move of a separation dance
The show began with Separation - from God, community and self-esteem; we expressed it through a narrative beautifully written by Martha Partor, a Liberian woman who has a ministry to women in the country, punctuated by dances, both modern and African, and music from Ghana and South Africa. 

The first performance was done in the ruined theatre in what was once downtown Yekepa.  The background of a building torn apart, but transformed by lights and stage formed a lovely background to the message of transformation and hope through God.

The Open Door Theatre, Yekepa, Liberia (2011)

Open Door Theatre before the show
Open Door Theatre preparing for the show
Following the drama section, Momolu's designs telling the story of separation were modelled on the catwalk.  My favorite had to be the final design, shown below.  The raised skirt indicated violence against women, and the bound hands and mouth showed their helplessness in their situation.
Separation (by Korto Momulu)
The second section dealt with the arrival of hope and transformation, as God works with us, brings about healing and we are restored to community and hope.

"All is not lost!  I can dream a little light of hope.  I have found someone who loves me as I am.  I know some day soon, I will wake up with freedom.
Freedom to school and be a figure of my society; freedom to make my own money.  Freedom to build my mind.
My body is now my jewels.  My education is my husband. The work of my hands is my pride.  My image is my Creator.  Oh!  Women of Liberia, there is hope!"

The runway designs reflected that continuation of the journey.  The final section was Celebration, as we can celebrate freedom and full transformation.

"I feel the glow of my beauty; I thank my Maker for helping me live again.
I am now a woman of worth; see, as I motion to other women of Liberia.
Women of Africa, come and drink from the fountain of beauty."

The show brought together the community of the Yekepa for the first time since before the war (20 years ago).  And in Monrovia, it showed to a sold-out, enthusiastic crowd.  It was a truly unique way to show, through many art forms, how God transforms and gives reason for celebration!