courtesy Atlantic Ballet Theatre of Canada

Haunted by Ghosts of Violence

Raising awareness of domestic violence through ballet

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Domestic violence is a difficult topic — it is painful, intimate and terrifying, and due to this it is often a topic that is left in the shadows. Victims may not know how to escape these situations, or know that escape is even possible. With their performance Ghosts of Violence, the Atlantic Ballet Theatre of Canada hopes to educate young audiences about the realities of domestic violence, as well as let victims know that they are not alone.

A part of Atlantic Ballet’s Celebrate Courage initiative, Ghosts of Violence is an emotional performance inspired by the lives of women who have been killed by domestic violence situations involving an intimate partner. There will be three showings in Calgary from April 3–5 at the Jubilee Theatre, with the first two nights open to students for free. Half of the proceeds from the closing night will be donated to the Calgary Domestic Violence Collective, which helps give support to women’s shelters across the city.

“This is a really hard and heavy topic, and it is difficult to talk about,” says Igor Dobrovolskiy, the artistic director of the Atlantic Ballet and the choreographer of Ghosts of Violence. “That is why this performance was started: to raise awareness about what is happening all around us. People have to talk about this — we want an open discussion and prevent these cases from happening to women.”

The performance tells a story of a woman suffering through domestic violence from an intimate partner, which is told through a combination of music, video and dance.

“It is not a typical ballet like most people understand it, there are no tutus,” explains Dobrovolskiy. “There are still elements of the classical technique but it is delivered very differently, which allows it to deliver a different kind of message. We have had many responses from victims and social workers who understood the message of this performance.”

Sharon Pollock, the writer of Ghosts of Violence, did an extensive amount of research into domestic violence in order to accurately portray this issue, using both personal accounts and written records to assemble a story for Dobrovolskiy to choreograph. The most difficult part for Pollock, however, was telling this story through the medium of dance.

“The challenge is to tell a story using music and movement, without spoken word, in a way that the audience can understand,” says Pollock. “It is a very exciting process, partly because it is so freeing in a way. Maybe it is because we aren’t dealing with the spoken word in performance, and instead must use the language of dance to tell this story.”

Pollock hopes that this method of telling the story of domestic violence will stay with people after they leave the theatre, and that Ghosts of Violence will encourage young people to start working to stop violence against women.

“We wanted to increase awareness in a way that is more emotionally penetrating than the story that you read in the paper,” says Pollock. “Also, I think the isolation felt by survivors and by people who are currently in domestic violence situations is really difficult, and this helps them know that what they are feeling is real. It is reaffirming. It may be overly optimistic to think that every member of the audience will go out and start working to change things, but hopefully this will lead to small actions and, in turn, large actions from those who see it.”

Although Ghosts of Violence is a very sombre performance, Dobrovolskiy urges people to not be scared away by the ballet’s subject matter. He explains that the performance is not intended to terrify people, and that its purpose is to let the audience know that domestic violence is a problem that can be solved.

“I try to not just shock people, if you shock people they won’t think about it,” says Dobrovolskiy. “I try to show them what is happening. The whole performance is pretty heavy, but the last scene has brought out a lot of tears. Good tears though, hopeful tears. We still have a chance to avoid further mistakes.”