Nike Imoru’s new (mostly) solo show, Ode, which runs through May 20, is an autobiographical, dance-infused künstlerroman about the theater's capacity for healing. Such paeans to the therapeutic value of art—of *creation* in the face of destruction—rarely rise to level of consideration. But Imoru's considerable talents as an actor, dancer, and writer transcend the genre—for at least the first half of the show.
As composer Ryan Leyva's unobtrusive but affecting Radiolab-type music swells and subsides in the background, Imoru pieces together a story of a working-class Nigerian immigrant in England who discovers the magic of the theater as a young girl after a field trip to the National Theatre. She goes on to describe her Cambridge education, her love affair with Shakespeare, her budding career as a performer, and then boom: a medical emergency knocks her off course.
The diagnosis, a disembodied doctor's voice announces, is endometriosis, possibly related to repeated sexual trauma during childhood. Now she must decide whether to have a hysterectomy or bear unbearable menstrual pain. The rest of the performance reckons with the dark ironies and the physical and psychological pains that attend this news.
The great pleasure of this performance is witnessing the power of Imoru's classical acting chops and being swept away by her lyrical writing. Throughout the show, she cleverly weaves in scenes from Shakespearean dramas that relate scenes from her own life, playing everyone from King Lear to Lady Macbeth. When she bellows Lear's famous line, "Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!" I felt a desperate urge to see her take on the full role somewhere soon.
Several of her own lines rise to the level of poetry, too. "It was my brain bending to the music of a seizure," she says when she describes the moment she experienced her first fit.
The performance's other great pleasure is watching Simone Bruyere Frase play Imoru's id. Sometimes her dancing enhances Imoru's narrative or emphasizes an emotion she's trying to convey. Other times her movements undermine or complicate that narrative. The two women wrestle with each other, support each other, and generally act out the turmoil and ecstasy swirling inside Imoru's character.
The second half loses a lot of the nuance Imoru establishes up front. The story resolves a little too neatly given the apparent complexity of her situation, but it's hard to blame her for closing on a long, triumphant note. And I guess everything doesn't have to end in a tangled knot of ambivalence, right? Anyway, despite the ending, it's worth going to see Imoru fill the bare stage with her linguistic and dramatic power.