Choreographer Tanya Chianese has strong — and mixed — feelings about “Nevertheless,” a new piece about sexual harassment she’s working on with her Bay Area-based contemporary dance troupe, Ka·nei·see | collective.
“I’m simultaneously thrilled and terrified,” says Chianese, describing the show, which premieres at CounterPulse in The City this week.
“It’s pee-your-pants funny, but there’s also imagery that can be hard. We want our audiences to take care of themselves,” she says.
The hour-long production — which features six dancers and nine singers from the Cat Call Choir, led by Heather Arnett — includes 16 vignettes dealing with gender harassment.
All are based on true incidents, either experiences of members of the cast and crew, or stories others shared with them.
One graphic section is about rape, Chianese says, noting that the performers do and say a lot things onstage they wouldn’t normally say, being the harassers (“It’s against our intuition”); they also have to be vulnerable and objectified.
The show’s origins go back to the 2016 election, after Donald Trump’s lewd comments on the “Access Hollywood” tape went public.
Chianese says she created a dance as therapy, thinking that the juxtaposition of “something as gross as pussy grabbing” with performers moving in a lovely way would prompt important questions and discussion.
Some scenes from “Nevertheless” presented in workshops in The City and East Bay last year received positive feedback, says Chianese, as well as expected trolling.
The original title “Please Don’t” was changed to “Nevertheless,” a reference to the phrase “Nevertheless, she persisted” adopted by feminists in 2017 after Elizabeth Warren was silenced on the U.S. Senate floor by Mitch McConnell during hearings to confirm Jeff Sessions as attorney general.
“We wanted to have some hope,” says Chianese, adding that the production really began to coalesce after her dancers and the irreverent Cat Call Choir — known for songs about harassment sung to nursery rhyme tunes — joined forces.
While there are some abstract moments in “Nevertheless,” it has theatrical parts, quite a few props, Chianese says, and vivid costumes.
At one point, the performers wear choir robes, which they take off to reveal skin-colored shorts, giving the impression of being naked below the waist. Interestingly, there also are pussy-bow blouses, often worn by women in business striving to be taken seriously.
Chianese, who studied dance and worked at a ballet company in Oklahoma before moving to the Bay Area in 2011 and starting Ka·nei·see (a play on the correct Italian pronunciation of her name, as well as the query “Can I see?”) in 2014, says the goal of “Nevertheless” is not to point fingers or necessarily offer solutions, but to “create a safe space.”
And while she and her collaborators have tried to be as inclusive as they can, she admits, “We are trying not to speak for all women. We’ve barely scratched the surface.”
IF YOU GO
Presented by Ka·nei·see | collective
Where: CounterPulse, 80 Turk St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. April 19-22
Tickets: $20 to $35