Dorothée Munyaneza’s Unwanted begins with a woman telling the audience how cruel she is to her son. She mocks him. She beats him. She hates him. She never wanted him. He reminds her of the violence done to her. She can’t remember his father. It happened too many times. Another woman envisions her suckling infant as a hyena ravaging her body. Munyaneza gnashes her teeth together rhythmically, a hollow, dangerous sound. She tells their stories and embodies the violence done to them—she is the women; she is the children. The effect is more chilling than mere a litany of horrors. No one weeps for les enfants mauvais souvenirs (“children of bad memories”). They are what remains: survivors, souvenirs, unwanted gifts like the diseases spread during the mass rapes of the Rwandan genocide.
Born in Kigali, Munyaneza left Rwanda at the age of 12 in 1994, when her mother, who worked for an NGO in London, was able to secure them safe passage to England. During the 100 days of the Rwandan genocide, which lasted from April 7 to July 15 of that year, the Hutu-led government massacred an estimated 800,000 people, most of them from the Tutsi ethnic minority, after the assassination of the president. The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, established by the UN Security Council that November, condemned the rapes as a weapon of war. Nearly all the girls and women who survived the genocide were assaulted—to say nothing of the dead. The children resulting from the rapes number in the thousands. Many of the women were subsequently rejected by their families, who considered them damaged.
Developed from interviews with survivors conducted during her first visit back to her homeland, Unwanted, which premiered in July 2017 at the Festival d’Avignon, is Munyaneza’s second piece (after Samedi Détente in 2014) to address the violence in Rwanda. “Sometimes people think—’It is happening over there, so it does not concern me.’ It concerns all of humanity. Men and women,” she told the website Culturebot last year. “In former Yugoslavia, Chad, Syria now, a lot of women, even in America there needs not even be a war for a woman to be violated.”
While Munyaneza delivers pointed monologues that vary between detached, documentary-like presentations and frenzied outbursts of despair and rage that erupt into motion and action, Portland-based vocalist and clarinetist Like a Villain (Holland Andrews), the other body onstage, emerges and recedes in densely woven layers of nonnarrative sound that contrast with and heighten the stories told. With additional music by French electronic composer Alain Mahé and a set designed by South African visual artist Bruce Clarke, Unwanted is an intense spectacle of grief with a message of resilience. v