Combatting human trafficking via dance

Feb 13, 2017

It’s about as far away from Swan Lake as you can get. WKAR’s Jamie Paisley spoke with the creators of a stage work about human trafficking, and a warning that some of the following deals with sex trafficking.


Michelle Sipes of the Inlet Dance Theater’s production of Among The Darkest Shadows, coming to the Wharton Center this week, and Michelle portrays the character of Pinta, who is a sex trafficking victim.

"So she's subject to just constant rape." says Sipes. "Her body's not hers. Yeah, she's just kinda had a hard, long life. She's seen the worst of it and she's experienced the worst of it." Michele Sipes’ character in Among The Darkest Shadows has yet another attribute to her. One that is very common when it comes to sex trafficking cases. "Pinta - Young Pinta is around 13 years old. Middle school age. Not ready for these types of actions."

The idea of focusing a stage work on the underworld of human trafficking rests with Bert Goldstein, director of Among The Darkest Shadows as well as the MSUFCU Institute for Arts and Creativity. For him, a dance company seemed an ideal medium to express this story. Goldstein gave the job of crafting a script with minimal dialogue for the Inlet Dance Theater to playwright José Cruz González.

"José embraced it immediately." explains Goldstein. "[He] came on board, we got together several times before the script was started. Did our research with Jane White of the Human Trafficking Task Force in Michigan and then he went a wrote the play and they started rehearsing in the winter of 2016."

Much of Goldstein’s impetus for co-creating Among The Darkest Shadows is the commitment to crafting works around social justice. Past works have dealt with autism spectrum disorder, veterans with PTSD,  even institutional apartheid in South Africa. The purpose being to address these issues directly. And for Among The Darkest Shadows tackling human trafficking, that goes beyond the stage at the Wharton Center’s Pasant Theater. "Between the East Lansing performances and then the show goes to the Des Moines Performing Arts Center, over 3000 young people will see the show and I think that's good because there's lots of things in this show that young people should hear about and see. So there are warnings for young people in the show. Warnings about if you're thinking about leaving home, and you think that charismatic guy you see around who's gonna give you some drugs is going to lead you to a life that's full of fun and partying, it's going to lead you to a life of misery. There's a very strong anti-drug message in the play because Pinta's character, like a lot of these women, become addicted to drugs very quickly and that's the way they get manipulated."

However, sex trafficking isn’t the only form of human rights violations seen in Among The Darkest Shadows. Inlet Dance Theater dancer Dominic Moore-Dunson portrays Lodi, a young boy giant who is also about 13 years old. "He's dark-skinned like myself" says Moore-Dunson "but Lodi is an interesting character because he's this labor trafficking victim, who comes to Shadowtown [the fictional locale of Among The Darkest Shadows] from Central America with his family. And he's easily distracted by beauty 'cause in beauty is where he finds his hope. So throughout the show you see that beauty is found in a cloud, or a flower, or in Pinta herself. And you kinda watch how he grows as a character and realizing that although he's a really, really big kid, that there's an inner strength in him that he's not yet aware of until later on in the show."

More information about this production can be found online at whartoncenter.com

And tomorrow, meet the choreographer of Among The Darkest Shadows, the founder of the Inlet Dance Theater, Bill Wade and we'll go deeper into Shadowtown.