Saturday, March 09, 2019


ka·nei·see | collective & Cat Call Choir
Madeline Matsuka in Nevertheless
Photo Robbie Sweeny
Z Space, San Francisco
March 8, 2019

I couldn’t think of a more ideal occasion than International Women’s Day to attend Nevertheless, a collaboration between ka·nei·see | collective and Cat Call Choir, that casts a wide, unflinching lens on gender-based harassment and abuse. Conceived by dancemaker Tanya Chianese and vocal director Heather Arnett, the work opened to much acclaim last year at CounterPulse and has just returned for an encore run at Z Space. Though I missed Nevertheless’ world premiere, I did see an in-process iteration a couple years back at Shawl-Anderson Dance Center. At that moment, I recall being moved not only by its candid honesty, but by its breadth. Yes, there was an abundance of shocking(ly accurate) imagery but there was also a deep sense of kinship and sisterhood. A feeling of shared reality, shared experience and shared power. These potent themes abounded in the full, sixty-five minute piece, as did Chianese and Arnett’s impressive Dance Theater acumen.

In vignette after vignette, Chianese, Arnett and the twenty-three member-cast unpacked Nevertheless’ narrative threads. Full throttle choreographic sequences saw the cast being pulled/dragged across the space against their will and being shoved downward toward the ground. Multiple scenes found the ensemble dealing with touch and attention that was both uninvited and without consent. Performers backed away from dangerous altercations in one moment and over-apologized in others when they clearly had nothing to apologize for. But as mentioned above, there were also ample reflections of strength and mutual support. Grounded, low positions – deep pliés in second and broad lunges – felt powerful and mighty; while unison phrases spoke to a collective understanding. And the music. Not only was the Cat Call Choir vocally impressive, but the use of familiar children’s, camp and holiday songs in the score was absolutely brilliant (the melodies remained the same but the lyrics had been changed to include harassing language and body shaming commentary). So often we hear things like, “it was an innocent comment,” or “he didn’t mean anything by it.” To intersect that kind of ugly language with music that has an air of innocence felt particularly poetic.  

Not to downplay or detract from Nevertheless’ urgently topical message, but its structural achievements also must be part of the discussion. Because as a work of Dance Theater, Nevertheless is not just good, it’s stunning. The work has just the right level of abstraction - go too far abstracting a concept and the impact gets lost. One could point to many examples throughout, though one that particularly stuck with me was a duet where facial muscles were slowly and deliberately manipulated into large, forced smiles. There were also plenty of purposeful absurdity and humor, which is a huge Dance Theater trope. Like the stylized self-defense class that felt plucked from an 80s aerobic VHS tape. Nevertheless had repetition, which can both emphasize and anesthetize in the same moment. And with song, movement, text and scenework, it utilized multiple theatrical disciplines. But most important, Nevertheless doesn’t wrap things up in a tidy bow, which for me, is the primary tenet of Dance Theater. The work ends with a soloist alone on the stage, having just experienced a barrage of unwanted and unwelcome touch from the rest of the cast. She stares blankly ahead and doesn’t move a muscle. With this final image, Chianese and Arnett are candidly exposing the dark side of humanity and challenging the audience to sit with it, without resolution. I think it’s safe to say that many Dance Theater ancestors were looking down on Z Space last night, inspired by where the form is headed and who is taking it there.  

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Thank you for putting into words part of my experience of and appreciation for the show.
I LOVED last years original creation and somehow they made it even better this year. I wish we didn't need this kind of work, but because we do I wish everyone could see it.