"I Don't Know If Dance Itself Can Make Change, But I Know We Can Make Change"

For Victory and Marvel Ebinum, a brother dance duo from Lagos, movement is a method to speak about ecology and belonging.

by Eileen Cartter
Sep 25 2020, 9:30am

“We toil under the same sun, and do the same work that is never done.”

VOICE—a short film about race and belonging directed, choreographed, and performed by dancers Victory and Marvel Ebinum—is an ode to division and connection, silence and movement, alienation and kinship. The film’s only spoken voice belongs to actor Elander Moore, who also wrote the monologue that opens the film, reminding us of our inherent interconnectedness: “We were born beneath the same sky.”

In the film, the Ebinum Brothers move both in opposition and in tandem, pulling away from each other one moment and embracing the next. They struggle, they fall, and they catch each other. VOICE, created in response to the Black Lives Matter movement and this summer’s uprising over racial violence, carries thematic threads from an earlier piece, To build a home (Art & Ecology), centered on humankind’s relationship with nature, with the brothers’ motions echoing grass in the wind. Both films lean on a similar sentiment: all we have is each other.

The sun was up and shining in Lagos, the brothers told me, when we chatted via WhatsApp earlier this month. Meanwhile, in New York, smoke from the California wildfires had migrated eastward across the sky, gauzing over the sun for days.

Victory, 21, and Marvel, 18, learned how to dance on their own, developing their own expressive style. Growing up in Nigeria, Marvel said, “it was very difficult for people to actually accept us. But right now it's changing, because I think people see the impact that we're making in the world.” Through and beyond their choreography, the duo has always honed in on themes that matter to them: racism, mental health, the planet. Themes that naturally, agonizingly, overlap.

ebinum brothers

The brothers filmed VOICE in June, but held off on releasing it in the wake of the global protests against police brutality. “We wanted [things to be] calm, cooled a little bit,” Victory explained. They decided to share the film a few weeks ago, during a moment they felt when “some people are no longer talking about [racism], because they are going with what is going on right now. We don’t have to wait for someone else to die or something else to happen for us to speak about it.” This week, it’s as relevant as ever.

“We don’t have to wait” is an imperative that extends to how we have (or haven’t) confronted climate change—what, exactly, are we waiting for? For the Ebinum Brothers, ecology and the environment is intrinsic to their sense of movement. In To build a home, Marvel said, we actually became the trees. We actually became water. We actually became the sand. We just feel the atmosphere. It's more like we're listening to them, like we [can] hear them speak.”

In nature however, Marvel notes, “the water and the sand [are] always [communicating], but sometimes they don't—we have pollution, we have erosion,” before Victory adds, “That kind of explains exactly what happens in our world today. It's just like humans. Sometimes we're together, [and] sometimes…” Sometimes, indeed.

How can dance make change? “That's a big question,” Marvel said, exhaling. “For the world today, people see dance differently, different from the way we actually see dance. When we started, we have always wanted to inspire everyone. We want people to read our movements, like reading a book. I don't know if dance itself can make change, but I know that we can make change.”

“We still need to speak up,” Victory said. “And the best way we know how to speak up is through movements and through dancing.”

At the end of VOICE, the brothers are joined by a chorus of sorts, holding signs that read phrases like, “TOGETHER WE ARE STRONGER.” Victory and Marvel sit on the stand, looping their arms, bodies at rest at last. A key aspect of climate action is not only remembering but centering our interconnectedness, and the interconnectedness of systemic racial and environmental oppression—though it shouldn’t have to be. Why do we have to (repeatedly) recall the humanity of others in order to want to help each other, our shared planet, ourselves? The same aching dance, on repeat.

Through movement, “we [try] to explain how we feel wherever we are in nature,” Marvel said. “We try to understand the communication of the trees and the water and the science. And we try to be calm.”

climate change
Black Lives Matter