If music be the food of love play on, or so wrote Shakespeare all those years ago. For Swiss pianist Elizabeth Sombart, it is love that makes her play her music – a love for all the “assassinated” women of the world, whose memory she wants to honour with her work. As she plays she asks her listeners to “come light a star in the memory of a woman or girl you know who was killed. Give her name and we shall together build a celestial memorial for her”.
Sombart is as good as her word. A humanist project she founded in 2010, ‘Women with Broken Wings’, has set up a website meant as a celestial memorial for ‘assassinated’ women – with a star to commemorate each one of them. Says Sombart who was in India, “There are so many war memorials the world over. All of them are for men. There’s no space to commemorate the billions of women whose lives are snuffed out, who are raped or are victims of other kinds of gender violence. Our memorial joins them together to raise global consciousness about crimes against women. It is to give love to women who have been pushed into oblivion, whose wings are broken. With this simple action, we shall help remember and make change.” Incidentally, to visit this celestial memorial, you can go to www.womenwithbrokenwings.org.
Many are the stories that Sombart can relate of women with broken wings. She remembered, for instance, a Lebanese teenager, who in a discussion about this website, which took place four years earlier in rural Lebanon, was very elated at the thought that she would be remembered after she had died. Ironically, a month later, she became a victim of honour killing by her brother.
Today, as India remains incensed over the gang rape of a young student on a Delhi bus, Sombart’s collaborative ballet with renowned Indian danseuse, Mallika Sarabhai, director of the Ahmedabad-based Darpana Dance Academy, has taken on a new resonance. Entitled ‘Women With Broken Wings’ – which premiered on December 30 at Ahmedabad – the ballet dwelt upon the unspeakable pain of all women with broken wings. The work had premiered at the Zermatt Summit in Switzerland in June last year.
Says Sarabhai, talking about this collaboration, “My work during the past three decades has convinced me that there can be no leveler better than cultural programmes. People refuse to listen to serious talk. It is high time violence on women was stopped.”
‘Women With Broken Wings’ portrays 11 states of mind of the assaulted woman, which are performed by Sarabhai, while Sombart’s renders pieces from the true greats of western classical music, including Johann Sebastian Bach, Ludwig van Beethoven, Frederic Chopin and Bela Bartok, in the background. The 11 phases depicted are birth; discovery and exploration; the inner and outer worlds; unknown fears and self-discovery; betrayal and breakdown; lament; fleeing and failing; the soul’s cry; the march of the martyrs; consolation and, finally, the way forward. As Sarabhai danced each phase in sync with Sombert’s piano, the impact was heart rending.
Choreographed by Yadavan Chandran and Mallika Sarabhai, the work had the audience sitting in the open air theatre of Natrani, in Ahmedabad, on a moonlit night, empathising with women all over the world who have suffered grievous violence. One vignette, of Sarabhai going through the motions of a child playing hopscotch, reminiscent of carefree girlhood, was particularly poignant.
Sombart’s rendering of Beethoven’s Sonata number 17 op.31 number 2 , The tempest, was the perfect selection for the section ‘Unknown Fears and Self Discovery’. Her interpretation of Chopin for both ‘Betrayal and Breakdown’ and ‘Lament’, was truly extraordinary. The ‘March of the Martyrs’ section was followed by silence as a mark of respect to them. The performance ended on a positive note. The last section – ‘The Way Forward’ – had an air of hope about it.
At a time when renowned playwright and actor Eve Ensler’s international campaign against violence, One Billion Rising (OBR), was unfolding, ‘Women With Broken Wings’ found the perfect niche. As Sarabhai put it, “Our common interest got us to collaborate and participate in the OBR campaign.” In fact, Sarabhai is now planning to have 20,000 people, including children, dance the garba together to mark the final day of rising for the OBR campaign, slated for February 14, which is also Valentine’s Day – the international day of love.
Said Sarabhai, “Since the OBR call is to dance against violence, garba is the most relevant in Gujarat, and artists will compose songs for us. Every woman here dances it during the nine nights of Navratri. Gujarat is a state where hundreds of rapes take place, where innumerable women are burnt because of dowry, and where violence on women is rapidly increasing. This is also a state where lots of villages are without girls because of sex selective abortions being rampant. We need to end this genocide and gendercide urgently, and we are using our abilities and art to do this.”
‘Women with Broken Wings’ was staged in Delhi on January 7, along with Ensler’s dramatic, dynamic rendering of vignettes from her play, ‘I Am an Emotional Creature: The Secret Life of Girls Around the World’, at a special event hosted by Sangat, which is coordinating OBR’s South Asia campaign. After Delhi, the ballet travelled to Chandigarh (Punjab) and Thiruvananthapuram (Kerala).
This ballet would not have happened if Sarabhai had not met Sombart’s husband, Christopher, at a conference, where they had discussed their common concern over violence on women. Today, Sombart is delighted with the partnership and emphasised that there is no place for ego in music. Said she, “I was born in sound and have internalised it. I dedicate every note to each woman who has suffered violence, and there are at least 100,000 notes in a ballet like this. So I believe I am honouring 100,000 women each time I play it.”