“A Chorus WIthin Her” is a choreopoem theater experience, one written by several developmental poets (Gabrielle Brant Freeman, Glenis Redmond, Christine Sloan Stoddard, and Carmin Wong) and choreographed by three developmental choreographers (Unissa Cruse, Siani Nicole, and Tiffany Quinn). It is reverently directed by Alina Collins Maldonado and Raven Lorraine is the assistant director. The final choreography is designed by Tiffany Quinn with Siani Nicole as the assistant choreographer.
This is a beautiful and precious experience…This is theatre for all of us.
Put simply, this is a moving, chanting, and vibrant meditation on being a woman in the world. The mystical-looking set evokes images of temples and priestesses; the ever-present image of flowing water soothing and sacred; and the lighting that of a dawn or evening. In those times of day, it can seem as if the boundaries between the seen and unseen worlds loosen a little. This is not a traditional, Euro-centric vision of a play. The choreopoem was developed in the 1970s by Ntozake Shange who is known for her 1975 classic “for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf.” It’s a melding of African dance and feminist performance traditions. In this production there is also a sense of early Mediterranean-area civilizations that evolved into pantheons of female deities and their priestesses. The roots of this choreopoem feel long and complicated—delightfully so.
This experience consists of three poem cycles, each beginning with a recitation of “A Chorus of Prayer” by Carmin Wong. The entirety of it centers women’s experiences in the last few years, before and during the pandemic. The set—consisting of huge nearly translucent cloth anchored to the ceiling and floor in X’s, with a washing basin on an altar-like table and two curved benches, and a circular path bounded by sand or powder—adds to the sense of interconnectedness of the women’s experiences and lives. The sound of the waves and running water, and the melodic yet simple instrumental music also helps to enforce a sense of haven that women have a place to process and commiserate their pain and joy, resignation and resistance, reality and dreams together by weaving the strands of their stories together. There is understanding and acceptance and it is such a relief.
The six members of the ensemble cast—Kathleen Akerley, Jasmine Brooks, Ezinne Elele, Siani Nicole, Anna Shafer, and Elizabeth Ung—recite this material in both voice and movement. Their performances are both grounded and ethereal, and grant us the ability to step out of time for a bit and just be.
The poems run the gamut of human emotions. In some cases, their simplicity just strengthens the impact. In “Coming of Age” by Carmin Wong, the use of just a verb and adjective or adverb (e.g., you twenty, you here, you run, etc.) convey movingly the explosion of life waiting to be felt, tasted, sung, and cried. Others such as “Stories of Our Hair,” (by Glenis Redmond), “Response to Stories of Our Hair” (by Siani Nicole), and “Policing” (by Glenis Redmond) speak of women’s experiences in being policed and savaged for their bodies, hair, faces, expressions, minds, and for daring to expect to be treated as human beings and not objects.
Then there is the very funny “Zoom Office Party” by Christine Sloan Stoddard that brings home the difficulty of forging forced bonds. In that same vein is “Sorry for the Delayed Response to Your Email” by Christine Sloan Stoddard, which savagely highlights the way people often feel free to abuse people with whom they are not face-to-face, especially in customer service.
“Litany of My Dead from This Past Year I’m Keeping,” performed by the ensemble in response to poem by Glenis Redmond, is a stark reminder of the losses of the past nearly two years, and yet because of the collective movement of the ensemble, we know we’re not alone.
All in all, I wish these 30 poems were in a book.
Scenic designer Jessica Alexandra Cancino has used simple materials and few furnishings to achieve a space that is simply beautiful. It is like stepping away from the world into a place where one’s burdens are less grievous and one can find the strength to keep moving forward. The projections by Nitsan Scharf (Kelly Colburn is the engineer) are flawless and symbolically invite us to wash away our cares before stepping into this space. Water sounds meld with the music by sound designer and composter Sarah O’Halloran to reflect the emotions conveyed by the women’s movements and recitations. The costumes are designed by Moyenda Kulemeka and are linked in an orange shade that brings to mind a priestess’ robe. Sarah Tundermann, the lighting designer, has crafted a peaceful illumination that feels enveloping and warming.
This is a beautiful and precious experience of the sacred and the profane, the absurd and the flat-out real, the mundane and the momentous that informs the decision we make, the paths we reject, and the way we present to the world. This is theatre for all of us.
Running Time: 70 minutes with no intermission.
“A Chorus Within Her” runs through November 14, 2021, presented by Theater Alliance performing at Anacostia Playhouse, 2020 Shannon Pl SE, Washington, DC 20020. For more information, please click here.