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Ni Une Más: Transforming Trauma into Healing Power Through the Arts

Jessica Jenks

Pamela Ruiter-Feenstra, a composer and U-M instructor, has co-created a trailblazing world premiere production, “Ni une más,” with alumni of U-M’s Knight Wallace journalism fellowship. The show braids together music, theater, and dance to tell the stories of those who have survived gender-based violence and to showcase their growing agency. The show empowers survivors to share their stories as a healing ritual through music, dance, and theater.

Unfolding in three acts, the show moves from Mexico City to Puerto Rico to Ann Arbor. 

Act One takes place in Mexico City, where former Knight-Wallace fellow Ana Ávila fights machismo culture and takes a stand against assault on public transit. Act Two unfolds in Puerto Rico, where engineer Alexandra Ruiz Costas bravely honors the memory of her sister Andrea, who was murdered by her ex-partner. Act Three is set in Ann Arbor, where athlete survivors Jon Vaughn, Trinea Gonczar, Tad DeLuca, and Chuck Christian have built close-knit survivor supporter networks on college campuses across the country. The production culminates with a communal ballad, “We Can Heal Together,” a fight song of solidarity, “Hail to the Victims,” and a signature piece offering hope for the future, “Lookin’ for Love.”

The production of “Ni une más” (“Not One More”) is funded in part by a grant from the U-M Arts Initiative and premieres March 15-16, 2024 at Bethlehem United Church of Christ in Ann Arbor. The show is presented by Healing Bells and IRWG and moves the often silenced topic of gender-based violence to center stage.

In recent years, Ruiter-Feenstra has composed musical works shining light on diverse collective traumas — from the Pulse nightclub shooting’s aftermath to Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis. Most recently, she focused her artistic advocacy on the harrowing tales of former U-M athletes Tad DeLuca, Chuck Christian and Jon Vaughn, who suffered sexual abuse by a university doctor. Pamela’s work on sexual violence starts with her connection to Knight-Wallace fellow Ana Ávila and then María Arce. Pamela is currently teaching a Composing for Change: Healing Arts course this Winter 2024.

The production team includes GRAMMY-nominated composer and artistic director Pamela Ruiter-Feenstra, journalists and storytellers Ana Ávila and María Arce, and athlete Tad DeLuca. Additional co-creators include: choreographer and filmmaker Natalia de Miguel Annoni; dancer Isa Huembes; Ana Ávila, María Arce, Jon Vaughn, Chuck Christian, Tad DeLuca, and Trinea Gonczar as themselves; lead singer, actor, dancer, and visual artist Mahi Ruiter-Feenstra; actors, dancers, and singers DelShawn L. T. Akpan, Angelina Kretz, Hannah Clague, and Karen Flahie; emcee, moderator, research lead Mark Clague; production student coordinator Annabella Paolucci; sound design and voice-over speaker and singer Natalia Quintanilla Cabrera; recorded singer Micah Christian; voice-over artists Alexandra Ruiz Costas, Georgie Correa, Gabriel Correa Acosta; lighting designer and crew Jade Guerriero and Jada McCarthy; audio engineer Dave Schall; producer Suzi Peterson Steward; and stagehands Tony Griffiths and Jack Hanna. 

Over the last year, they co-created new material by and for survivors and inadvertently created a survivor network in the process. “Although working with traumatic topics is challenging, remaining silent allows abuse to continue, which is not an option for us,” said Ruiter-Feenstra, “Most of our team members are survivors. Collaborating together via the arts is inspiring, empowering, and healing. As a result, we’ve built a tight-knit community of arts activists. We can’t change what happened to us, but we are passionate about having an artistic voice to prevent the violence from occurring to others.”

The title of the production, “Ni une más,” references a slogan often used to stand up to domestic violence and femicide in many Latin American countries. Through transforming trauma into healing power via the arts, “Ni une más” spotlights the local and global problem of gender-based violence as a global health crisis.

The show is survivor-centered and features all true stories. The production team deliberately avoids giving the spotlight to perpetrators and does not depict violence. Instead, it focuses on the survivors’ agency and paths to healing. Brief moments of survivors recounting trauma and decades of silencing may evoke emotions for attendees, but ultimately the production reveals empowerment through solidarity.

“Ni une más is a showcase of courage, creativity, and friendship that aspires to make real the promise of the arts to make a difference in our lives, not just for the individual survivor but for society as a whole,” notes Mark Clague, interim executive director of the U-M Arts Initiative. “The show invites us as a community to confront a harrowing public health crisis and, ultimately, proposes love as a vehicle for healing.”

Bringing the stories to life through movement, the production’s choreography aims to capture the emotional and physical trauma of sexual assault.

“My process for creating the choreography came down to thinking about how the human body instinctually reacts to this type of trauma and where a person can experience these emotions on a somatic level,” said choreographer and filmmaker, Natalia deMiguel Annoni, “Isa [the main dance performer] and I took a lot of time talking about these stories along with our trauma to figure out how we can use it to further inspire the way we approach the movement. Being Latinx people, Isa and I both hope to bring power and honor to Andrea, Alexandra, and María’s stories. We will never forget what we have learned from these three incredibly strong and inspiring women. Ni une más.”

“Ni une más” exemplifies how the arts can foster empowerment and social change around the often overlooked public health crisis of sexual abuse worldwide.

For more information on “Ni une más” and to secure free tickets, visit this link for March 15, 2024, and this link for the March 16, 2024 performance. Both performances take place at 7:30 p.m. at 423 S. 4th Ave., Ann Arbor, MI.

This project is made possible by a grant from the U-M Arts Initiative and is co-sponsored by IRWG, ODEI, SMTD’s Research Catalyst Initiative, the CEW+ Frances & Sydney Lewis Visiting Leaders Fund, Communications & Media, SAPAC, Sociology, Avalon Healing Center (Detroit), and Bethlehem United Church of Christ.

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