How to Persist: ‘Nevertheless’ with ka·nei·see | collective and Cat Call Choir

One year ago, ka·nei·see | collective and Cat Call Choir premiered the production of Nevertheless in San Francisco. Based on real-life stories, choreographer Tanya Chianese and choir director Heather Arnett rode the edge of humor and heartbreak to shed light on stories of harassment. The sold-out evenings created much conversation and even drew the attention of politicians Elizabeth Warren and Dianne Feinstein.

How do you revisit a work of art one year later?

Tanya Chianese: Unlike any other work I have created thus far, it had a clear need to be revisited. So many people kept talking about it, and directly saying, “You should do it again. I want to see it again. I want to bring people to it. I want the conversation to continue.” From all of the feedback we were getting, it wasn’t ready to be over.

How did you take in the audience feedback from the 2018 performances?

Chianese: It was very difficult but absolutely vital. The hardest part was getting lost in all of the feedback and remembering to take a step back and evaluate our values and mission. And I have learned I cannot please everybody, no matter how much I want to. I have never had so many people share their opinions on my work so openly; it is such a universal experience (harassment).

Heather Arnett: Not only was it feedback about the work but personal feedback about their lives and experiences. We are carrying the weight of these stories as well. It is just as rewarding as it is hard.

How do you describe the choreographic process and impetus for the movements?

Chianese: There is a new section this year where all 25 cast members generated personal gestures to represent the main thing they are harassed about, which is what we used for the movement material. The tempo is extremely fast, and seeing that many bodies on stage moving with vulnerability is mesmerizing. Just as the performers start to reach a crescendo, they are interrupted by a real audio clip where a man cuts off a woman speaking in an interview to say his opinion deserves to be heard more.

Another section has a lot of line formations, which change constantly. As one of the motifs of this show, these lines represent many things for us, such as conformity or consent. Or stepping over lines, crawling the career ladder, or the militariness of these formations – fighting together.

Arnett: Lines are also how we demonstrate solidarity and persistence.

Chianese: We have many double meanings and symbolism in the movement, text, formations, et cetera. I absolutely love the “I Spy” aspect of dance!

Arnett: We play with circles as well – swarming, circling prey, and, on the other end of the spectrum – hugging, holding, and kids’ storytime. The musical theater component in many of Cat Call Choir’s sections is showy and purposefully campy.

The show contains beautifully executed contemporary dance, but layers with moments of grotesque movement outside of this vocabulary.

Chianese: Yes! The juxtaposition of beautiful and “feminine” movement with the disgustingness of the subject matter was the initial impetus for one section, about unsolicited touching.

How do you change the story of sexual harassment?

Arnett: This is why the choir began in the first place – when I started documenting personal accounts of harassment. When I finally wrote, rehearsed and recorded the first song, it was so cathartic. To sing it with sarcasm and wit. It made me feel like I was able to get  “on top” of what was bothering me. Cat Call Choir’s motto is “You say it, we spray it.” Humor is a big part of changing the story. Humor makes the story accessible.

Chianese: We have found the combination of humor and horror has been an accessible way for people to connect with and talk about the topic. We feel this is an approachable recipe for our work and raising awareness, and is much more successful than “pointed finger” conversations.

| images by Robbie Sweeny |

Experience Nevertheless March 7-10 at Z Space in San Francisco. Purchase your tickets here.

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