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Sara Maslanka Takes on Sexual Violence Through Dance

By Lauren Warnecke
Sara Maslanka
Photo: Al Zayed

In 2016, Chicago Danztheatre Ensemble produced Bindis and Bruises, a performance focused on sexual assault and domestic violence among Indian Americans. At the same time, artistic director Sara Maslanka was going through hell — she had to file an order of protection against an ex-boyfriend. With I Bet You Think This Dance Is About You (May 3 to 18 at Andersonville’s Ebenezer Lutheran Church), the company is staging an ensemble piece that tacitly addresses her experience. Here, Maslanka, 27, discusses how it came together.

What do you hope to accomplish with this work?

I wanted to create a piece that wasn’t necessarily about sexual assault, but about an individual trying to overcome the voices in their mind. I also wanted to expand it by inviting the public to share letters they never sent but always wanted to. In the performance, there are snippets from these letters.

What message are you trying to deliver?

We developed different characters: Hope and the Hero; Grief; Shame and Regret; Abandonment; Obsession; and Anger and Resentment. The Hero has to find self-acceptance, a way of conveying how we have to change the narrative around what it means to be the “victim.”

Why is it important to express that through dance?

It’s my opportunity to finally be courageous enough to come forward — to do something in a way I feel most comfortable, unapologetically. I want to reflect that I’m so much more than the pity I feel when I talk about my experiences. It’s not therapy onstage.