Theater Alliance presents ‘A Chorus Within Her’ of choreographed pandemic poems

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'A Chorus Within Her' (Part 1)

During the pandemic, Theater Alliance in Anacostia gathered poems from women artists.

Now, they’ll be strung together for the live choreopoem “A Chorus Within Her,” starting on Saturday and running through Nov. 14 as the first live production of the 2021-2022 season.

“All of us are experiencing this pandemic — and naturally as artists we respond,” Choreographer Tiffany Quinn told WTOP. “The idea just came from wanting to talk about the pandemic, who we were before it, who we are during it and how we move forward.”

The 75-minute production features poetry written by Gabrielle Brant Freeman, Glenis Redmond, Christine Sloan Stoddard and Carmin Wong, as well as the theater ensemble.

“They are women of different ages, they did not know each other, they came together,” Quinn said. “Having these prompts on topics of what is going on with all of us, it just began many different conversations, they did interviews … and out of that came a script.”

The poems will be read and performed on stage by cast members Kathleen Akerley, Jasmine Brooks, Ezinne Elele, Siani Nicole, Anna Shafer and Elizabeth Ung.

“We had a lot of self-reflection,” Director Alina Collins Maldonado told WTOP. “Being at home, not knowing when work was going to come back, dealing with being able to survive, being stuck, also being out in the world during the pandemic, even going to the gas station and dealing with people who are unmasked, then how much loss had occurred.”

The poems transcend the pandemic to discuss universal female topics.

“The show also explores the cycles that we go through as women,” Quinn said. “We also talk about that beginning, what it’s like to have the innocence of childhood, then certain things we experience as young girls in culture. … We talk about Black girls and their hair.”

This text was then interpreted into unique choreography.

“We pretty much developed a bank of movement,” Quinn said. “I like to call it pedestrian-like movement, so movement that you see everyday. Things that we naturally do as regular human beings, of course used in a way to interpret the poetry or any particular emotions. … It’s a physical response to what the poetry is saying to the movers, actors or dancers.”

It’s visually brought to life by scenic designer Jessica Cancino.

“She takes this blue and gray fabric and wanted to create this maze,” Maldonado said. “It was this topic of isolation vs. community. … It almost looks like a maze in stretches of fabric. Then on the floor she created this beautiful painting of ocean waves. … Waves are cyclical, they come and they go. Like death and loss, the waves come in and go out.”

Cancino teams with lighting designer Sarah Tundermann, projections designer Nitsan Scharf, costume designer Moyenda Kulemeka and sound designer Sarah O’Halloran.

“Sarah O’Halloran does a terrific job of creating — we wanted to create ethereal music,” Maldonado said. “The same with lights, Sarah Tundermann created these lights that are really based in red. When she was reading the scripts she said, ‘It reminded me a lot of red, almost like blood,’ then green and yellow, so it almost shows seasonal changes.”

The end result boils down to three consistent themes.

“Life, death and transformation,” Maldonado said.

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'A Chorus Within Her' (Part 2)

Listen to our full conversation here.

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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