From a young man's reckoning with a diagnosis of HIV ("Home," 2011) to the story of African-American faith and tenacity from slavery to freedom ("Revelations," 1960), the Alvin Ailey Company is no stranger to addressing large-scale societal issues through dance.
The company's latest work tackles slavery of a different kind -- the human trafficking epidemic, said to victimize some 20 million people and generate billions of dollars each year.
Through a series of interactive videos created in partnership with MTV’s 24-hour college network, mtvU, the project, called "The Backstory," takes viewers through emotional stories of human trafficking victims -- such as an average young girl whose broken home eventually pits her against an abusive boyfriend who sells her to other men for sex -- revealing how young people can be coerced into being trafficked by way of relationships and provocative online ads.
Check out a clip from "The Backstory: Sex" in the video above.
"Backstory" is the brainchild of four James Madison University students who won mtvU's "Against Our Will Challenge," an initiative that calls for students to create digital tools to spread awareness for modern slavery.
Choreographed by Ailey II artistic director Troy Powell and narrated by rapper Talib Kweli, the short draws inspiration from real-life survivor stories and was launched as part of National Slavery and Human Trafficking Awareness Month.
“In my work with water and women empowerment, you are constantly reminded of the security issues for young people, the risk of being captured and enslaved," said musician Kenna, who scored the project. "This project is such a brilliant way to tell a very tragic story," he said.
MTV and Alvin Ailey II aren't the only ones using the arts as a tool for raising awareness about modern-day slavery.
In June of last year, actress Jada Pinkett-Smith depicted the harsh realities of child trafficking in the music video, "Nada," produced with fellow actress Salma Hayek.
The following month Pinkett-Smith testified before Senate on the issue, urging Congress to step up the fight against trafficking in both the U.S. and abroad.
CLARIFICATION: This post has been updated to make clearer that the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is not affiliated with "The Backstory" project. It is a collaboration between Ailey II, the second company of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and mtvU.