I went to see BOUND, a physical theatre performance on human trafficking, which shows the potential of this kind of theatre to move and activate an audience on social issues.
We meet three workers in the shadows of the city: a sex worker, a construction worker and a chamber maid in a hotel. All three came from abroad in search for a better life. But they could not foresee the life they would be living. They are trapped in a repetitive dance of hard and humiliating work that they can’t escape. Through an impressive combination of dance, spoken word, acrobatics and projection, we see their stories unfold.
Initially, it is easiest to feel sympathy for the chamber maid, a slightly naive and funny girl who finds that the great career in the city she was promised, turns out to be a lot less glamourous than she thought. She doesn’t want to complain and tries to create bits of home with the little possibilities she has. But then her optimism breaks and it turns out that even she is capable of betraying others for a chance to get out of her situation.
Then there is the construction worker, a seemingly carefree guy who literally swings between the scaffolding of his job. But then we learn how young he was when he was put in a van and sent off to work in a foreign land, and how much he misses his mother. And we see how he longs for some human contact, but gets punished when he finds it.
The sex worker is perhaps the least easy to identify with. The shock of the sex industry she is tricked into soon makes her numb and emotionless, a coping mechanism to survive the daily routine of humiliation. Trapped in this cycle, she seems a lost case, bound to descent into a vicious cycle of decay. But then she rediscovers friendship, and even a hint of love. We see her hesitantly open up to a spark of hope for a better life. When this hope is crushed by the oppressive system they are in and she is back in her routine of dancing and having sex with anyone who will pay for her, her fate hits me harder than before.
Rather than explaining, BOUND lets the audience see and feel what human trafficking means for the people involved. Losing power over your own time and choices. Becoming a tool in an urban machine, invisible as a human, without seeing a way out. Not only the difficult situation, but also the endless repetition of things makes them lose their dignity, their health, their values. At the same time, we see that each of them has a strong will of holding on to bits of hope, and is capable of friendship and love. In other words, we see that these are still humans that deserve a human life.
I was left with the feeling that if only we could help these people to get out of the oppressive system they were in, they would be capable of rebuilding their life. And that is exactly what the performance was trying to do. In the Q&A afterwards, the actors sat together with people of a charity that helps girls who have been trafficked and want to reintegrate in society. In this way, BOUND not only raised awareness but also offered concrete possibilies to take action against human trafficking, for example by supporting this charity.
Justice in Motion is an up-and-coming theatre company that wants to raise awareness about social injustice through powerful, thought-provoking and visually stunning performances and to inspire debate and action for social change. After having seen BOUND, I am incredibly proud to be collaborating with them to produce CONTAINED, a project that creates theatrical performances on decisions and journeys, arrival and reception, and change and mobility of migration.