Transforming trauma into healing power through the arts


Composer and University of Michigan lecturer Pamela Ruiter-Feenstra has co-created a trailblazing world premiere production, “Ni une más,” that 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, co-created with alumni of the Knight-Wallace Fellowships for journalism, empowers survivors to share their stories as a healing ritual that unfolds in three acts, moving from Mexico City to Puerto Rico to Ann Arbor.

The production is funded in part through the U-M Arts Initiative and premieres March 15-16, at Bethlehem United Church of Christ, 423 S. 4th Ave. It is presented by Healing Bells and the Institute for Research on Women and Gender, and moves the often-silenced topic of gender-based violence to center stage.

A photo of three people talking about an arts production
Jon Vaughn (center) explains his relationship with his mother — for purposes of the “Ni une más” script — to artistic director Pamela Ruiter-Feenstra (left) and DelShawn L.T. Akpan (right), the actor playing Vaughn in the production. (Photo by Natalia deMiguel Annoni)

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.”

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 stories of former U-M athletes DeLuca, Christian and Vaughn, who suffered sexual abuse by a now-deceased university doctor.

Her work on sexual violence starts with her connection to Knight-Wallace fellow Ana Ávila and then María Arce. A lecturer I at the School of Music, Theatre & Dance, Ruiter-Feenstra currently is teaching Composing for Change: Healing Arts this semester.

Over the last year, the show’s production team 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,” Ruiter-Feenstra said.

“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,” — Spanish for “Not One More” — references a slogan often used to stand up to domestic violence and femicide in many Latin American countries. Transforming trauma into healing power via the arts, it 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,” said 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.”

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.


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