Refugees Land a Second Act in Danish Ballet

Yet some of the performers still face an uncertain future in Europe.
Feb 15, 2016·
Jennifer Swann is TakePart’s culture and lifestyle reporter.

As Denmark moves to deter refugees from crossing its borders, a new theater production dramatizing their plight seeks to change how many in the country perceive their new neighbors. Uropa: An Asylum-Seeker’s Ballet, a dance piece performed in part by refugees portraying themselves, runs through Saturday at the Royal Danish Theatre in Copenhagen and will be staged at other venues citywide through May.

Director Christian Lollike says that by allowing refugees to tell their own stories in their own words, the production smashes stereotypes and offers a narrative not typically shown on the news. “We talk a lot about refugees, and the media displays tons of pictures of refugees, both in Denmark as well as the rest of Europe,” he said in a press statement. “If you are left-wing, you may see them as destitute victims, where if you are right-wing, you may look at them as criminals who have come to steal our wealthy society.” But Uropa provides a stage to show “how they actually see their own situation,” he said.

FULL COVERAGE: The Global Refugee Crisis

The play features performances from Syrian refugee Salam Mohamad Susu, who arrived in a Red Cross refugee camp five months ago and was recently granted asylum in Denmark, and Pakistani refugee Ali Ishaq, who left home after facing persecution for being openly gay and is still waiting to learn his status nearly a year after applying for asylum, NBC News reported.

The performers’ uncertain future in Denmark complicated the casting process. Two of the 10 asylum seekers recruited to star in Uropa dropped out after their applications for asylum were rejected, and one has gone into hiding, the Royal Danish Theatre said in a statement. Another refugee enlisted to perform in the play was expelled from Denmark after getting arrested. But the show must go on—the actor now participates via Skype. The other six refugees appearing in Uropa hail from Syria, Pakistan, Eritrea, Myanmar, and Uganda.

While Denmark admitted about 20,000 asylum seekers last year, the country is not known for being welcoming to refugees. Danish lawmakers drew widespread criticism last month after passing a law allowing police to search refugees and confiscate any of their personal belongings valued at more than 10,000 kroner, or about $1,452. Danish officials defended the law as a means of preventing refugees from taking advantage of the country’s financial support, but human rights groups have condemned it, likening it to the Nazis’ seizure of Jews’ property during Hitler’s regime.

The sold-out Uropa is already proving a big hit among Danish audiences, but some cast members still don’t know how long they’ll be able to perform, let alone stay in the country. “I’m just living on hope,” Ishaq told NBC News. “I’m in limbo.”