World renowned composer Shirley J. Thompson, Reader in Music at the University of Westminster, presents her new one act opera for female singer, speaker, dancer and instrumental ensemble on Thursday 27 July 2017, 7pm at The Place Theatre, 17 Duke’s Road, London WC1H 9PY as part of Tête à Tête: The Opera Festival
The Woman Who Refused to Dance tells the true story of an unknown woman on a boat of trafficked people in former times, headed for Grenada from Calabar, who was beaten and hung by her ankles until she died after refusing to dance for the ship’s captain. Her refusal was read as an act of insubordination and her punishment was meant as an example to the other enslaved persons on board. This event inspired William Wilberforce to argue for the abolition of the trans-Atlantic trade in Parliament, an Act which was passed in 1807. 2017 is the 210th anniversary of the Act.
The opera conveys the drama of the incident, but most profoundly it represents the imagined thoughts of 'The Unknown Woman' as she hangs. Thompson presents her internal monologue, describing her idyllic past and of what her future life might have been. ‘The Woman Who Refused to Dance’ brings to the fore a little known and very significant period in our shared histories and feeds into the dialogue about present-day human trafficking.
The Woman Who Refused to Dance is from Shirley J. Thompson’s ground-breaking series of operas, ‘Heroines of Opera’, in which she uncovers the submerged narratives of overshadowed women in history. Through her series she creates heroines, not the femmes fatales of the operatic convention.
Describing her work and her practice, Thompson says: “Opera is generally perceived to be an elitist art form but I broke this perception in 1997 with my first opera production at the Royal Festival Hall, ‘A Child of the Jago’, which ITV News described, as "The First People's Opera." This is the 20th year anniversary of that production and I'm still excited about creating classical music productions that engage with the global citizen and not just the elite.”
‘The Woman Who Refused to Dance’ is featured in collaboration with a sculpture by Sokari Douglas Camp in a film titled ‘All the World is Richer Meets The Woman Who Refused to Dance’ from 13 May 2017 in the Diaspora Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. The film is part of the sculpture installation and will be shown at the Biennale until November 2017.