Trigger warning: The following material contains graphic references to rape and sexual assault.
There was something about the imprisonment and subsequent death of Sandra Bland that choreographer Jinah Parker felt compelled to address. So she worked Bland’s short life into “SHE,” her choreoplay on sexual violence.
Parker said that although Bland wasn’t subjected to sexual violence during her arrest, she was being victimized by an abuse of power.
“Rape is an abuse of power and that is what happened with Sandra Bland: this police officer abused his power, he threw her down, stripped her of her being,” Parker told HuffPost last week. “In that form, it is a rape. So that’s how I connected the two.”
“SHE” premiered at the HERE Arts Center in Manhattan on May 5. Parker began laying the groundwork for the choreoplay ― which combines elements of a play and dance performance ― in December 2015. A Buffalo, New York, native, Parker received her master’s degree in dance education from New York University in 2010. She now runs a nonprofit arts organization that aims to motivate youth through dance.
While she originally planned to execute “SHE” as a modern dance concert, she eventually decided to evolve it into something more. So Parker recruited four actresses, all of whom have personally experienced sexual violence, to perform alongside the dancers, including herself.
She further amplified the narrative by interweaving the play’s first half, which was dedicated to Bland, with its other half on rape and sexual abuse. Originally, they were different segments of the play.
“[I] found creative ways to tie it in so we could shed light to both topics that need so much light shed on them,” she said. “And also show how those topics are intersecting.”
At one point in the show, the audience watches as video footage of Bland getting pulled over is played.
“I think of it as a metaphorical rape in the sense that while she wasn’t ― that we know of ― physically raped in terms of him putting an actual penis inside of her, everything else that happened, happens in a rape,” she said. “The stripping down of oneself and one’s being … it’s an abuse of power and that’s what rape is ― an abuse of power.”
Parker, who served as the principal dancer in the choreoplay, channeled Bland as she stepped into an orange jumpsuit after the footage played.
“I felt like I was not only embodying her, but it was symbolic of all the women who have gone through this,” she said.
She later puts a noose around her neck not only as a reenactment of Bland’s death, but in acknowledgement of America’s history of lynchings.
“She was found hanging in jail with a garbage bag but use of [the noose] is to symbolize all the other people that have been hung and killed in the past,” Parker continued. “Whether it was with a noose or whether it was with a gun … [police] shootings are just modern-day lynchings.”
Parker plans to continue to broaden the reach of the play and invite other producers to contribute their perspective. She said she wants the play to serve as a “tool for change.”
“SHE” will be playing at HERE in Manhattan until May 21.
Need help? Visit RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Online Hotline or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website.