By Marcina Zaccaria
“Dust to Dust” is a one woman show by Elizabeth Hess that explores the systematic rape of Bosnian women during the war. It was performed at the UN Conference on Gender Violence on Tuesday, December 10th.
Hess is the performer, writer, and director of this project. Hess’ previous work includes performances in Berlin, Bath, Barcelona, Edinburgh, Toronto and Yerevan, as well as Off-Broadway. Her New York credits include work with The New Group, Women’s Project, Irish Rep, MTC and NYTW.
“Dust to Dust” was originally developed through Voice & Vision, an organization dedicated to supporting women’s theatrical work in New York. It deals with the reaction to terror and the all too everyday system by which women’s bodies were used as battlefields. In the play, Hess moves beyond cultural boundaries to encounter the universality of man’s inhumanity to man.
“Dust to Dust” is a deeply visceral performance. A woman, looking for home, walks across the stage with suitcase. In different moments of the play, she embodies both the woman who is traumatized and the abusive soldier who commits the act.
As Hess prepares to move to the next zone, she is demoralized by strip search procedure at a port of call. She is horrified and extends her arms to the side. As she stands there, she remembers the trauma that has passed.
“Dust to Dust” asks some profound questions. As there is a wish for transcendence, there is also the acknowledgement of the horrors of the war that can drag a person down. After coping with each episode, where can the main character find peace? Where can she find safety?
Hess’ presentation of both the main character and the solider who rapes her is sometimes chilling. As the solider, who performs the act of rape, she is blatant and forceful. As the woman after trauma, she is dazed and her gaze is vacant. A figure in an act of war, she finds language to describe the larger problems surrounding her.
In repetition of each sequence, we see Hess as the Outsider becoming worn down. After each act of trauma, we are left to ask, where does the suffering lead? Where is the redemption? What emotions arise from the time and place and how do people endure them?
Though grief stricken, the main character is never completely broken. As part of her cries out, another part of her stands strong before moving to the next moment. As we sense the danger, real and apparent, we understand that there is a longing for something complete and something better.
Transcendent imagery, evoked in word and body, are an essential part of this piece. In reclamation, one can find one’s darkness as well as one’s light. The symbolic imagery is impressive and deeply poetic. Moments of the play involve the Black Beauty and Pegasus, the winged horse. Taking a fantastic point of view, Hess is able to find paths toward transcendence.
Cello by Lucas Syed accompanies the monologues and moment sequences. Props and costumes are spare, but highlight key points in the text.
“Dust to Dust” was presented on the last day of the UN Conference on Gender Violence. 16 days of Activism Against Gender- Based Violence was established in 1991 at the first Woman’s Global Leadership Institute. This year’s official theme for the conference is “Orange the World in 16 Days.” The larger conference invited individuals and groups to mobilize and call for the elimination of violence against women and girls. The conference emphasizes that gender-based violence is also a violation of human rights. “Dust to Dust” was performed on the last day of the conference, International Human Rights Day.
“Dust to Dust” was performed at The Church of the Holy Family (The UN Parish) on 315 East 47th Street at 7PM. The performance was followed by a Q & A and a discussion with a moderator and the artistic team.