After more than a decade of war ravaged the village of Freetown in Sierra Leone, the infrastructure remains in ruins and the people now live with the physical and emotional scars of a country taken by violence. Michelle Pearson, a choreographer hailing from Raleigh, NC, saw an opportunity to give the people of Freetown a space to express themselves and share the pain they’ve endured in a new way.
“I traveled to Sierra Leone and my goal was to create work, teach, and use dance as a means of healing and a way to foster dialogue about social issues taking place in the country,” says Michelle.
Upon arrival, Michelle asked local artists to join in the dialogue and dancing and got 16 artists— ages 22 to 69—to participate.
“I felt immense respect from the artists from the very beginning. Of the 16 people who signed up, no one missed one minute of one day--which is huge when you consider how difficult it is to get around. The infrastructure is nonexistent,” says Michelle. “A lack of roads and paths make getting in and out of the country very hard.”
“We danced outside every day. We took field trips. We went to Save Our Souls orphanage and ended up having the children dance with us. This gave us a wonderful intergenerational cast; so we created a piece that integrated past, present and future.”
With a blend of modern American and traditional African dance, the group performed two pieces at the U.S. Ambassador’s home for a host of diplomats; engaging their audience through dance.
“Dance is incredibly humanizing,” reflects Pearson. “It’s a way to unite people. It allows us to understand something familiar in a new and different way; and to understand ourselves differently in relation to one another and in relation to our country.”
In the final days of Michelle’s visit, the 16 artists formed a dance company in honor of their dance teacher called the Michelle Pearson Dance Ensemble. They continue to dance to this day.
“On the last day I was incredibly full and inspired. There was a depth of discoveries made by engaging people in the development and participation of dance. We had laughter and tears and immense pride at the work that was created.”
“We continue to stay in touch and we continue to create. I have made an alliance with them in the States and they are a sister company. We have sent them 150 dollars and that will sustain them for a long time.”