Caroline Kelly interviews the director and cast of We Dance, a dramatic exploration and celebration Black womanhood and femininity, which will return to the stage for Black History Month.
“More energy, more passion, more footwork!” prompts Tishé Emmanuella Fatunbi as she leads her fellow cast members through warmups in a UCD Village dance studio. Like fingers weaving a tapestry, the women drift about the room spinning around frantically. “Imagine you meet someone bad and are trying to avoid them,” Fatunbi continues as their pacing increases and faces turn sour until she brings them to a halt with a firm “Freeze!” The energy in the room disperses and fills every molecule of air, you can feel the floor shake and settle with their footwork. As they stretch and loosen up, the door abruptly opens. Praise Titus, the director of We Dance, rushes in and immediately gets to work.
The energy in the room disperses and fills every molecule of air, you can feel the floor shake and settle with their footwork.
“You’re late,” Fatunbi taunts in jest.
“Oh… am I?” the director blithely smiles before jumping right into rehearsal.
Cast in warm lighting reflected by a mirrored wall, the troupe scatter about the room, breaking from one of their many dry-runs. There is Erica Tarfa, a quiet yet astute writer-actor who plays Reenah. As she intensely studies her copy of the script, you can feel her devotion and glean the passion she has for this production. Sitting next to her is Nanala, played by the ever-vibrant Siobhán Matshazi, whose shining presence demands the attention of any room she enters. Usher Titus, who plays Kumo, stands up and spins around the room with her arms stretched out before settling down as an undulant feather. A vision of free-spiritedness, Titus is courageous and enthusiastic like a kite jerking tight at its tether. Tishé Emmanuella Fatunbi, who plays Nife, stands beside the director offering feedback and planning out future rehearsals. From the outset, it is clear Fatunbi is a natural-born leader. Her presence is commanding and forthright, with a burning artistic resolve that will scorch any hand raised to her. Receptive to Fatunbi’s notes, Praise Titus takes on the role of a director whose incisive and inventive direction carries the production to stratospheric heights. Missing from the rehearsal is Odi Anyanwu, taking on the role of Atasi, who is currently in London studying acting.
Together, they make up the all Black-Irish female cast of We Dance, a play based on Ntozake Shange’s choreopoem, for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf (1976). Production originally began in November 2021 as a performance of Shange’s play, but copyright issues forced them to recalibrate their plans. As such, they found inspiration in themselves and began to write, produce and star in (or direct, in Praise’s case) their own production. Told through a series of poetic monologues, incantatory song and improvised dance sequences, We Dance is a triumph of the POC experience and a love letter to Black femininity. There are lines spoken in Yoruba, a West-African language mainly spanning Nigeria, Benin and Togo. There is frantic, spontaneous frolicing to the tune of Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman”. There are stage lights scintillating like stars as Maya Angelou’s “Still I Rise” bookends the performance, Leon Bridges’ “River” cradles the narrative as it drifts off like a boat into the mist, and the curtain descends.
The first performance of We Dance was in April 2022. The following month, they were awarded “Best Ensemble”, “Best Actress” (Tishé Emmanuella Fatunbi), and “Best Hair and Makeup” at the Irish Student Drama Awards (ISDA). Next month, they will return to the stage for a reprisal of their production for Black History Month. We Dance will be staged on 2 November 2023 in Smock Alley Theatre, courtesy of Arinola Theatre Company, founded by Praise Titus, Usher Titus and Tishé Emmanuella Fatunbi, with The University Observer.
“We were able to reassess and improve our craft with this new production,” says Matshazi, “and because of this, it’s tighter and more forceful. We’ve also added names to the characters who embody each colour of the rainbow.”
As such, this reprisal is not a progression, exactly, but more of a deepening. You can feel roots going down and an edifice being built.
When I individually asked what this play means to them, each of the theatremakers lit up and enthusiastically obliged.
“It was my introduction to theatre as a Black woman,” Praise replied.
“You know that moment when you’re twelve or thirteen and you realise you exist as a human being, and you’re kind of like ‘what the f**k??’ It was my brain realising that I experience life in a different way as a Black woman. That also means I experience art in a different way. This play helped me understand what that way is,” she continued.
Reflecting on what the show means to her, Usher Titus says, “It’s the first play where not only did I have a story to tell, but I was intent on making people listen, and this is only increased by the fact that I’m surrounded by such amazingly talented people both on and off the stage who feel the same way.”
She comments on the relatability of the play, as well, noting how “even though it’s a love letter to Black women, anyone watching the show can find pieces they relate to on a personal level.”
“This show is my baby,” a beaming Matshazi remarks, “I call it that because the show has grown so much. It didn’t start in the way it is now, it began as a rendition of Shange’s play and is now an ode to her work that we have created.”
Matshazi adds: “It’s something that’s written by us, for us and people like us. Getting the chance to share our personal experience and create an opus, an honest record of our being, is surreal and sacred to me. In countless ways, it is my magnum opus. I’m so grateful that we have the opportunity to do it again.”
‘It’s something that’s written by us, for us and people like us. Getting the chance to share our personal experience and create an opus, an honest record of our being, is surreal and sacred to me.’
“Exactly!” Tarfa chimes in: “For me, We Dance symbolises unity and harmony between a group of black women who are underrepresented, undervalued and unappreciated. The show creates a safe space for me to release and let go of the expectations society has set on us to be a Black woman, of the need to be quiet and reserved.”
‘We Dance symbolises unity and harmony between a group of black women who are underrepresented, undervalued and unappreciated.’
“It brings the experiences of black women to the centre stage, allowing for each and every woman to be felt, seen and heard which makes me so incredibly proud to be a part of,” Tarfa reveals.
Fatunbi joins in and imparts, “I feel a lot of the time, we are all individually thinking about things that we go through, and a lot of the time, we don’t have anywhere to put that angst and anger—not even just anger, but experience—so it’s really special to have somewhere you can actually go and express that to people who are of like-minds. In that way, it’s like therapy to me. It helps everything else make sense.”
“What’s the point of suffering if you can’t make art about it?” she concludes.
We Dance will appear for one night only in Smock Alley Theatre on 2 November 2023 at 19:30 p.m.
Content Warnings: Discussions on sex, sexual assault, racism, misogyny, misogynoir, pregnancy and abortion.
Booking available at: