This June, landmark legislation Roe v. Wade was overturned. The 1973 Supreme Court case was revolutionary in that it made abortion access a federal right — and just before its fiftieth birthday, the decision was reversed. In the last few months, as we have seen states ban legal abortion and fight to keep it, there’s been a lot of talk on what a post-Roe world will look like.
Meanwhile, the folks at Lineage Performing Arts Center and Planned Parenthood Pasadena & San Gabriel Valley have been processing stories through art, building a performance project called After Roe. Over 20 writers and contributors, along with five songwriters, gave their testimonials to the piece, which is directed and choreographed by Lineage Artistic Director Hilary Thomas. And in their stories, many of them spoken, sung, danced for the first time — their lives so much nuance. In each voice, the importance of the freedom to choose rings loud and clear.
Outside the theatre doors are posted newspaper clippings, headlines, posters of the pro-choice movement. Historical documents on the passing of Roe v. Wade and new ones on its overturn from earlier this summer, all installed by Theresa Kennedy, illustrate a bigger picture, the political and social context of the work. Inside, the stage sits empty until thirteen artists take the stage and declare their autonomy in force.
They are Maya Bishop, M Cantu, Cynthia Crass, Brittany Daniels, Keila Joy Fisher, Elizabeth Gracen, Mataji Booker Graham, Diana Leon, Molly Mattei, Jana Nakoa, Ericalynn Priolo, Hilary Thomas, and Teya Wolvington. Together, they form a beautifully intersectional ensemble.
They move with focus, keyed into a unified, capable energy. They speak freely of experiences with their bodies, first periods and sexual health, pregnancies and abortions, wants and hopes and dreams and ambitions. To speak these truths out loud is a declaration in itself, a dream of lifting the taboo around topics so hushed as these.
In little bursts, Cantu shares a brief but informative history of reproductive rights, beginning with 1965 decision Griswold v. Connecticut. Opposing perspectives are voiced as well: snippets from conservative legislators, including a speech by pro-life pastor Clinton L. Stancil, are recounted by Fisher and Gracen. There is power in knowing and power in sharing.
As they weave and untangle this massive collection of stories, these artists move with such ardent conviction, bringing both the stories and the information to light with care. They are angry, mourning, elated, relieved. The grounding of their movement in truth and experience make the vignettes innately honest.
Make no mistake: the dancers in the cast are technically proficient and the choreography fluent in all facets. But aesthetics fade away here in service of the real, tangible subject matter. And exchange between the artists, the story, and each other is moving, in a way that is so much more hopeful than I expected from a piece so tied to abortion.
Amidst all these incredible stories, some painful, some ambivalent, some grateful — the artists began to identify one silver lining, an opportunity lying among the frustrations of a post-Roe world. The opportunity: to rewrite the legislation so that it becomes airtight once passed. To protect the right to choice well into the future.
After Roe has one more performance this Thursday, November 17 at 7:00 pm. Tickets are available on the Lineage Performing Arts Center website.
Written by Celine Kiner for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: Lineage Performing Arts Center – “After Roe” – Elizabeth Gracen as Tim Carney – Photo by Brian Elerding