I gauge the wild success of “Nevertheless”, the newest work by kanaisee collective in collaboration with Cat Call Choir, by the fact that every person I talk to about it has something to say. These are not one-line conversations. These are trails of reflection, streams of deeply-felt, often stunningly-coherent impressions that humble me with their honesty, immediacy, and rawness. Underpinning every conversation is a deep investment of emotional energy on the part of the witness - to describe and make sense of their viewing experience, and to apply their impressions as a tool for transformation in their everyday lives. We are hungry for change in a muscular, gut-rumbling way. “Nevertheless” dove bravely into the center of that craving.
What emerged was - somewhat predictably given the emotional charge of the territory and, I believe, to the credit of its creators - a work that generated the least consensus in opinion among audience members of any I have witnessed in a long time. From tears of joy, recognition, hope and relief, to shivers of frustration, hollow-eyed haunts of memory, rolls of delighted laughter, and apathetic shrugs of detachment, my conversations with fellow audience members have, for me, accentuated how deeply our personal experiences, assumptions, preferences and desires shape how we experience art. This truism feels especially pronounced in the case of “Nevertheless,” which deals with the intimate, complex, and emotionally-charged topic of sexual harassment and gender-based violence.
So as a starting point, I’ll say that I entered the theater last Sunday afternoon filled with trepidation. Looming in the background of my expectations was the specter of political art that so vigorously embodies the urgency and intensity of an issue that it occludes the complexity and humanity it’s ultimately made of. “Nevertheless” dismantled my specters with style. The show undid every assumption I had about what a work dealing with such explicit (in both senses of the word) content might have to be, and restitched it into a sensitive, nuanced, and deeply humanizing exploration of sexual harassment and violence in the lives of the artists and mainstream American society. And even in doing so, it failed to satiate some of my deepest cravings.
The show began with an assembly. Bodies in black choir robes streamed in to pattern the all-white space. I realized as the lights rose how rare it is to know what a show is about before it’s even begun. The knowledge filled me with an almost magnetic curiosity to see the abstract come to life, imbuing my attention to the direct and open gaze of each performer with a heavy charge of anticipation. They looked at us for what felt like a long time, a landscape of humans seeing and being seen.
When they moved, it was simple: heel strike forward, draw a line on the ground, step over the line. They advanced slowly, never dropping their gazes, never turning in or away. They sang in sweet harmonies, already conjuring for me one of the most powerful elements of the work - the bewildering, enraging, and perfectly-tuned discord between what’s said and what’s done. “I’ll just follow you instead” the choir crooned to the tune of a children’s lullaby, while every body on stage advanced with a slow and unrelenting march. Every line drawn was crossed.
Encapsulated here was another strength of the work - the role and actions of the aggressors never obscured or superceded the existence and experiences of the aggressed. Instead, the delineation between the two became blurry with an all female-bodied cast who embodied both indiscriminately, often at the same time. This allowed my experience to traverse the full spectrum in which sexual violence permeates our lives - from the societal to the relational, the personal and internal - without fixating on constructing an “enemy” or “other”. The visible care the performers showed one another, even in moments of choreographic violence, was palpable. This, and the frequent role of the choir as witnesses, created a sense of safety for me in watching that supported my ready presence for the show’s complex, emotionally-laden themes. The eery mix of tenderness and predation lacing their physical relationships also encapsulated the unsettling paradox of so much sexual violence, lending choreographic form to such intimate violation.
The collaboration between kaneisee collective and Cat Call Choir was, I felt, the foundation of the work’s success. The integration of music, movement, voice and text amplified and broadened the work’s textural range; most notably, I think, creating opportunities for humor and contrast. Two moments in particular had me laughing in wonderfully complex enraged delight: one early in the work had the full cast standing in a line theatrically bumping into one another and apologizing with the absurdly unwarranted “sorry” expected of any woman who makes her physical presence known. The physicality of the scene escalated, along with the apologies, all to pivot in a moment to a lyrical dance phrase; the humor dropped as abruptly as it had begun, leaving only a lingering sense of absurdity that the humans dancing so fully and beautifully on stage should ever be expected to eradicate their physical existence. Another later on, interrupted a lyrical dance with the voiceover of Mitch McConnell: “We’re not interrupting”. Oh, the absolutely painfully excellent outrage! “Nevertheless” for me felt like a stunning testament to the the power of humor to excavate complex and unwieldy truths.
The only place in which the show fell short of my desires was in the movement material itself. The dancing was stunning, the dancers powerful, articulate, expressive, and committed. But the movement vocabulary felt contained, as if the trajectory had a limited reach. Movement pathways often travelled a similar distance before stopping, decelerating, locking, or begin abandoned. The spatial relationships between dancers began to feel predictable and too highly-structured to me. I found myself craving a groundedness, wildness, or ugliness in the movement; I wanted disorganized, intense physical engagement between performers; something bloody in addition to the quietly violent beauty to match the broad range of stories told through song and text. The closest we got was the last scene, in which a tableau of invasive grabby hands accosted a single person in the middle. But the tableau never evolved beyond haunting image before dismantling. I wanted to see it live, move, and grow in three-dimensional space.
In short, I craved the same complexity in the movement and physicality as in the crafting of the show, the range of stories shared through song and text, and dynamic interplay between two casts. I found myself wondering how a piece such as “Nevertheless”, that deals with such real issues, continues to develop when the reality of the situation it describes doesn’t change. How does one create a cohesive narrative arc without fabricating false answers or sugar-coated silver-linings? Was the lack of development I felt due to lack of representation from a diversity of voices in the show’s creation? There was something about the work that felt as though it was coming from a specific perspective (writes the reviewer from her perspective…). But this is by no means unique to this show, and in many cases can be the highest form of compliment. I think I craved more only because of the promise made by every other aspect of the show: that this is all of our story.
I find myself circling back to where this all started - how deeply our own experiences, expectations and desires impact our experience of art. This I know most clearly of all: I am profoundly grateful to all the artists involved in creating “Nevertheless” for doing so and sharing it with us. I look forward to the next opportunities to experience work by kaneisee collective and Cat Call Choir.
Read this post on Life As A Modern Dancer at http://blog.lifeasamoderndancer.com/2018/05/reflections-from-nevertheless.html