Dec 4, 2023

‘We Dance’ is a Poetic Exploration of Black Womanhood

Praise Titus explores the joys and challenges of black womanhood in the world today.

Laura O'CallaghanTheatre Editor

Contemporary poetry set in the cold, harsh, and unromantic light of the present day, with speakers dealing with 21st century problems like your situationship leaving you on ‘opened’ for 48 hours, though relatable, are quite difficult to connect to. That’s not to say that a poem needs to have a certain amount of iambs and abide by a strict metrical rhythm, delivering on themes of the Epic calibre in order to hit the metaphorical, cultural spot. In this literary era of minimalistic poetry, having additional artistic elements to push the intimacy of a piece may be the key to finding either an element of self-reflection or an empathetic understanding in the poetry of 2023. We Dance uses theatre as its medium, and in doing so, gracefully closes the distance between speaker and listener.  

Arínolá Theatre Company presented We Dance on the Smock Alley Theatre stage on November 2nd. Written and directed by Praise Titus, 22 year old Nigerian-Irish writer and current Masters of Architecture student in University College Dublin, We Dance translated beautifully to the stage as a collection of conversations and epiphanies mobilised through spoken word poetry exploring black womanhood and femininity.

The cast consisted of Tishé Emmanuella Fatunbi, Odi Anyawu, Erica Tarfa, Usher Titus and Siobhán Matshazi. Each actress was costumed in her own bright colour, courtesy of costume designers Con Henry, Luke Duffy and Jodie Doyle, and decked out with flowers and butterflies to make for an ethereal sight. Each of these colours were gradually explained throughout the show to represent the variety of emotional states a woman of colour should be allowed to embody in life without restraint.


This floral costuming contrasted a set of domestic bliss, with chalk drawings on the floor, a bed in the centre and desks scattered with personal belongings, phones, notebooks, and any other bits of clutter you can think of that makes a bedroom safe and warm and yours. In effect, this set design, crafted by Isabel Hamilton, created an atmosphere in the auditorium of comfort and ease, a necessity when dealing with heavily triggering themes such as sexual assault, racism, misogyny and abortion in a respectful and tactile manner. 

Gen Z slang popping up in a play is always a slight jump-scare, and takes my mind a minute or 10 to make my peace with, and the show’s introductory poem ‘First Dates’ made use of it liberally. Two of the characters sat criss-cross applesauce style with their backs to the bed as one of the girls gave a recap of, you guessed it, her first date. As an introduction to the show, credit can be given for establishing that the poetry set to follow is indeed, and at a slightly painful consequence with regards to this particular poem, set 2023. I believe the phrase ‘pop off king’ made an appearance. 

The poetry of We Dance was at its best when at its most specific, and when the writing and performance came together it made for a deeply engaging audience experience. A wonderful example of this, as well as a major highlight of the show for me, was the poem ‘To Whom this may Concern’ written and performed by Emmanuella Fatunbi. At several moments in the show the actresses broke the 4th wall by speaking directly to audience members for both comedic purposes and to dial up the emotional impact of a piece. In ‘To Whom this may Concern’ a poor, unsuspecting audience member was faced by Emmanuella Fatunbi’s powerhouse delivery after she pulled a folding chair in front of him and delivered to him a breakup email, effectively having him assume the role of her characters now decidedly ex-boyfriend. The fact her character used to be so hung up on a boy who didn’t even have a bedframe became a running joke for the duration of the show, and it landed every single time. On that note, the comedic timing of the cast’s collective delivery was incredibly slick and well executed. 

As well as hitting all of its comedic marks, We Dance showed its versatility and ability to navigate upsetting themes with the Poem ‘I Hope’, also written by Emmanuella Fatunbi. During this section, Odi Anyawu swayed to music on a chair centre stage, playing the part of a young girl getting home on a night-link bus. Another one of the actresses stood to the left of Anyawu and delivered her lines, her character yearning desperately and hopelessly to tell Anyawu to take her earphones out, pull her skirt down, and to stay alert and aware. She repeated the line, “I hope to god I never have to learn her name”, several times during this section, and I caught myself getting teary eyed by the second repetition. Again, the fourth wall was broken minutes later when Anyawu’s character sat in front of an audience member, transforming the room into an abortion clinic, and asked who it is that she can go to now. A single spotlight shone on the chair with the rest of the room in saturated black, no music played and you could hear a pin drop. 

It’s easy as an audience member to feel both desensitised to and unaffected by theatrical portrayals of the specifically female experience of living in fear, if it is executed poorly. We Dance’s handling of this reality evoked a cathartic response to the issue for the audience, the scene managed to frighten, impress and move me all in the same moment.

The choreography of the piece involved the actresses often standing back to back or positioned at either corner of the stage, mirroring each other’s movements as lines of poetry are exchanged back and forth in a startling and effective manner. The pacing of the show was picked up in moments of lull by this movement, the piece would have benefitted from more of this choreography being incorporated in the latter half of the performance when the pacing gradually slowed near the end of the show. Though ultimately, quick transitions from piece to piece, exploring different stories with no specific chronological connections to each other, but which all rested comfortably under the umbrella themes of motherhood, female friendship and romantic relationships made for a wonderfully paced piece.The music played throughout We Dance as a background for the poetry often felt slightly louder than necessary, as well as not always matching the particular mood of a scene. Overall, the music could have been omitted completely and the show wouldn’t have been in lack of it. 

The reason behind We Dance’s title became clear at the climax of the piece. The characters started venting their frustrations out loud to each other as they paced around the stage destroying the set in their wake in an outburst of frustration with the impossible expectations placed on women of colour. This display of feminine rage transitioned into a conclusion that, alternatively, they could transform their rage into a display of collective joy and, in short, dance. Though this message is wonderful and important, the show’s transition from the pacing and venting section to dance read as quite disconnected. An inclusion of more choreography could have been incorporated in order to dispel the awkward nature of an extended improv scene.

We Dance concluded with the cast delivering a collective performance of ‘I Rise’ in a wonderful tribute to Maya Angelou. After forty-five minutes of the actresses delivering their own contemporary poetry, exploring both the joys and challenges of black womanhood in the world today, this tribute arrived as a perfectly natural conclusion to the piece.

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