A Preview of SHE: a choreoplay that breaks new ground in dance, theater, and social art

Photo by Mickey Hoelscher

With the hostile national and global political climate, creative resistance is growing more essential each day. Art has the ability to empower the disadvantaged, give a voice to the voiceless, and tell important stories that are otherwise glossed over. It can serve as an avenue to change, action, and individual and collective healing. It can even inspire empathy, and depict ugly situations in a beautiful way. SHE, a new choreoplay created by dancer and choreographer Jinah Parker and directed by Phaedra Michelle Scott, does all these things in a way that breaks new ground in illuminating the harsh realities of violence against women and girls.

After having had the pleasure of seeing SHE at New York Live Arts in October 2016, I am excited to follow the project to HERE Arts Center, as the newest incarnation of the work is opening Friday, May 5th. SHE is a piece of art that tells the stories of women we all know and care about; our mothers, sisters, daughters, and grandmothers. It is a show that delves deeply into sexual violence against women, the enduring struggle faced by survivors of violence, and the importance of healing. The show tells these important stories in a unique and beautiful way, incorporating myriad art forms including film, poetry, vocal and instrumental music, storytelling, and dance. Whether telling the story of Sandra Bland through video montage, commenting on the objectification of women through dance, or illuminating the harrowing realities of child abuse presented in the form of a fairy tale, SHE delicately and beautifully confronts the ways in which women and girls live under and deal with oppression every day. It also flawlessly depicts the inherent power and resilience of women and the ways in which women stand boldly in the face of a society that undervalues them. A diverse cast filled with women of varying backgrounds adeptly and gracefully portrays these stories with the power and vulnerability needed to tackle these topics. SHE proves that in a patriarchal world in which women are undervalued, objectified, and abused at disproportionate rates, feminist art that aims to teach, heal, and empower is one of the best ways to educate and tap into people’s emotions.

SHE is a show that truly has something for everyone. It offers empowerment and education for both men and women, portraying the ways in which a patriarchal society is detrimental to everyone. Watching the piece was a fully immersive experience for me. I felt fully engrossed by each individual contribution, identifying and empathizing with each performer and the stories they told. I also felt the beauty of the shared experience I was having with the audience and the performers onstage, feeling the weight and power of a communal experience that was built on a shared sense of empathy and understanding. Watching the portrayals of stories I knew all too well, stories about the abuse and sexual assault that affects women globally at epidemic rates, made me feel a sense of solidarity with the strangers in the seats next to me. SHE is a piece that is both visually and emotionally striking, a show that invites viewers into the cycle of abuse depicted by the performers, as well as the healing process.

The communal aspect of SHE is one of the most unique and powerful features of the work. In addition to the 90 minute performance, each show at HERE Arts Center will feature a talkback leading members of the community, mental health experts, and others, giving audience members a chance to digest and react to the content of the show. When I saw the show back in October, I was incredibly moved by the stories and comments shared by audience members during the talkback. Structured as a conversation rather than a debate or lecture, the talkback was a chance for audience members to respond to the emotional material, something that felt vital to the healing process. In both the show itself and the talkback, inclusivity was stressed, and it became clear that a goal of the work was to unify rather than divide. Hearing the stories and realizations from both male and female audience members made me feel hopeful. Various people spoke about the ways in which the show opened their eyes to their own oppression as women, their privilege, or the ways in which their behavior might contribute to the power differentials between men and women. The lively and honest discussion I witnessed in the talkback is a testament to creator Jinah Parker’s goal of encouraging communication and opening a dialogue that will hopefully catalyze meaningful change.

As a show, SHE has changed significantly since October, as has the world in which we live. In an attempt to adapt to the times, a necessity as the security of women’s rights is becoming more tenuous each day, SHE has evolved significantly for its upcoming extended run at the HERE Arts Center, premiering this Friday, May 5th and running through Sunday, May 21st. Given the chance to attend a recent rehearsal, I noted the infectious energy of the diverse and dynamic cast. The sense of urgency and relevancy of the piece has only increased, with the work feeling more relevant each and every day under the new administration. Intersectional feminism, unity, and healing are all needed now more than ever, and SHE is a show that not only promotes these ideals, but actively engages in work that’s necessary to achieve them. SHE is a groundbreaking work of art, a community gathering, and a safe space all in one, and I look forward to seeing the ways in which the piece has evolved since the last time I saw it.