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Everett Company’s ‘Bliss Body’ uses personal stories to explore bliss, Black experience

Four performers from Providence theater company showcase dance, rap, poetry

<p>Motherhood was introduced as a central theme of the performance, with the show’s program dedicating the production to cast members’ mothers and grandmothers.</p>

Motherhood was introduced as a central theme of the performance, with the show’s program dedicating the production to cast members’ mothers and grandmothers.

This past weekend, Everett Company’s production of “Bliss Body,” a collaboration with the Department of Africana Studies and its Rites and Reason Theatre, played in the Granoff Center for the Creative Arts for two nights.

An interactive, multidisciplinary performance featuring dance, rap, poetry and more, “Bliss Body” invited audience members to contemplate the idea of bliss through the lens of Black experiences in America, telling the personal stories of four performers.

Everett, a Providence-based theater company, stage and school for performance artists, seeks to shed light on social issues through multiple mediums.

Kathy Moyer, stage and production manager at the Rites and Reason Theatre, characterized “Bliss Body” as “the journey of finding bliss as a Black person or a person of color.”


Just before the show began, the lights dimmed and the four performers invited the audience to join in on a group meditation. They encouraged audience members to honor their bodies and minds, a theme that remained prevalent throughout the show. As upbeat dance music played, the audience was intimately introduced to performers Anjel Newmann, Christopher Johnson, Ari Brisbon and Grace Colonna.

Through various performances of hip-hop dance, original rap songs and personal monologues, Newmann shared the struggles of growing up as a Black woman in a world determined to stifle her Blackness. Throughout these performances, Newmann called attention to experiences such as being over-sexualized at a young age, bullied for her hair and generalized as “just another angry Black girl,” which she noted are common for Black women.

Motherhood was also introduced as a central theme of the performance, with the show’s program reading, “the ensemble would like to dedicate this production to their mothers and grandmothers.” Newmann spoke at length on her hopes to both shelter and celebrate her young daughters so that they may be protected from the unpleasant experiences Newmann and many other Black women have faced.

“I thought about my daughter who came to me one day asking to straighten her hair and I asked her why she wanted to do that,” Newmann said. “She looked at me and said, ‘Well, why do you?’ ”

Newmann, who balances being a mother with nonprofit work and artistry, told The Herald that working on the production actually led her to find bliss of her own.

“This was definitely the most blissful experience I've had in a long time,” Newmann said. “I’ve had two babies in the last five years … on top of having two teenagers. Dealing with postpartum depression, dealing with trying to run a nonprofit, dealing with a pandemic, … I had to let a lot of my artistry go. This was one of the first times I got to fully exercise my skills again and learn and just be able to reflect on everything.”

Colonna’s performance also focused on her experiences with motherhood, showcased through dance and spoken-word poetry. She detailed her journey of finding bliss through commentary on childhood trauma and the realities of being a parent, specifically discussing feelings of guilt and inadequacy that many mothers grapple with.

Director Aaron Jungels said that “Bliss Body” was heavily inspired by Everett’s last production, which focused on people healing from “developmental trauma.”

“In the process of working on that piece, it became apparent that it was important to be able to access bliss in order to experience the fullness that life has to offer,” Jungels said. “That seemed like a fertile area for exploration.”

Johnson, whose performance largely focused on masculinity, mindfulness, meditation and his experiences in a society that “only views (him) as a Black man,” said that being a stage performer brings him joy, but “there is a definite difference between joy and bliss.”


“As a stage performer, I feel this joy in me being on stage in front of people,” Johnson said. “But there are moments when I’m meditating and I get to this point where I don’t even feel my body anymore and that to me was bliss. It’s like joy is something that I’m actively participating in and bliss just creeps in and happens when it happens.”

Newmann agreed with Johnson, saying that bliss is “like smoke out of a cigarette. You can’t recapture it, but it’s (an) escape and it’s momentary. It’s a different type of elevation.”

Brisbon’s performance, like Johnson’s, focused on Black masculinity, detailing his experiences with mental health and the importance of persistence.

Natsinee Polvipart ’25, an audience member who went to the performance as one of her current Theatre and Performing Arts Studies course assignments, said that she “learned a lot.”

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“I had a different idea of what dance performances could look like before this,” Polvipart said. “The stories behind the dances and their motivations, what they’ve expressed throughout their movements and stories is so powerful.”

Alonzo Jones, technical director and manager of the Rites and Reason Theatre, spoke on the significance of Rites and Reason’s partnership with Everett for this production, calling it “natural.”

“I know most of the people that are in their company,” Jones said. “A lot of them went to Hope High School, and I went to Hope High School as well, and the people that are performing are community members, … so I thought it was a good community collaboration.”

Jungels said that the nature of the show was inherently collaborative, down to its very composition.

“We built the work collaboratively, so each performer created their own part through a series of improvisations in rehearsals,” he said. “I videotaped all of the rehearsals, then edited them and brought strong or unique things back to the performers to learn and set. In this way, we built a collection of dances, stories and images.”

“It was a gift to work with the four performers,” Jungels said. “They taught me so much throughout the process and we built a strong bond of love and trust. As (Johnson) says during the show, it was a journey of change and a journey of healing.”

The show ended with the four-person cast inviting all of the audience members to get up and dance with them. Nearly every person in attendance did.

Sofia Barnett

Sofia Barnett is a University News editor overseeing the faculty and higher education beat. She is a junior from Texas studying history and English nonfiction and enjoys freelancing in her free time.

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