After this past election week of turmoil, anger, backlash, and fear, Word Dance Theatre’s Chambers of the Heart offered a much needed escape into an immersive reality full of breath and love.
The show was a site specific theatrical experience at the historic Josephine Butler Parks Center. Chambers of the Heart wove together threads of modern dance, ballroom dance, opera and contemporary music, media design, and theatre. Audience members were invited to roam from room to room, spending as much (or as little) time as they want in each space.
The production was originally inspired by the choreography of Isadora Duncan’s “The Many Faces of Love,” all set to Johannes Brahms’ Sixteen Waltzes. Chambers of the Heart blends aspects of these dances with original choreography. These dances were the inspiration for love poems written by a mix of playwrights, many from DC.
The show opened with the audience crowded around the staircase in the entrance hall of the historic home. Strangers were stacked shoulder-to-shoulder as they were thrust into the performance’s almost ethereal ambiance. After a brief introduction, the show begins with haunting music, lighting, and almost uncomfortably emotive dancing. The aggressive intimacy, however, is fitting, given the show’s mission: to allow the audience to “experience love in its many manifestations,” according to the show’s promotional material.
That’s a tall order. Love is a complex theme to explore, and one that frequently gets an amateur, heavy-handed treatment from artists. It is, after all, nearly impossible to tell a love story in a new and exciting way. But Word Dance Theatre has approached that challenge with thoughtfulness, collaboration, and innovation. For the most part, it worked stunningly well.
Chambers of the Heart
Ran November 11 – 13, 2016
Details and tickets
Throughout the course of the evening, I saw new love form, and I observed obsession. I stood, alone and voyeuristic, watching a jilted lover read a very poetic break up letter. I wrote down my own love-related confessions, and left them for future audiences to connect with. I was nearly brought to tears by the hauntingly gorgeous voice of Fairouz Foty as she sang an operatic aria. I relaxed in the friendly embrace of Peter Joshua Burroghs, as he hummed a classic love song. I even shared moments with my fellow audience members, smiling together at the reactions of someone’s children, or connecting over reactions to Jessica Beels’ rock garden.
The main downside of a show with this many facets is that there are a few aspects of the show that get underutilized or dropped altogether. In one example, among a few others, the audience is told at the beginning to be on the lookout for all the words of love scattered throughout the space. But, despite the prominence given to that detail, there was very little payoff involved in the search. In fact, nearly all the words were in one room… a cool easter egg, but not something worth putting much energy into finding as an audience member, when the rest of the experience is so much more engaging.
Chambers of the Heart delivered so much, it’s hard to find too much fault with the few flaws (after all- isn’t love all about accepting flaws?).
Word Dance Theatre’s Chambers of the Heart had only four performances and closed on Sunday, November 13, 2016.
Chambers of the Heart conceived by Cynthia Ward. Written by Randy Baker, Thembi Duncan, graziella Jackson, Natalie Piegari, James L. Rogers III, Mary Hall Surface, Catherine Tripp, Steve Yockey. Artistic Director: Cynthia Ward. Theatre/Text Director: Jennifer McConnell Frederick. Produced by Word Dance Theater . Reviewed by RK Pendergrass.