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‘For Colored Girls’ Is a Choreopoem. What’s a Choreopoem?

Ms. Brown admits some difficulties, like the danger of falling into clichés of spoken-word performance. “How can we honor that tradition but still challenge people to think differently?” she asked. “How far can we stretch the abstraction and leave things a little more ambiguous?”

But, especially as a choreographer working in theater, Ms. Brown said that she is grateful for the precedent set by Shange: “What’s beautiful about Ntozake’s work is that movement is not seen as a distraction. It’s part of the story. When I’m given the space to serve the story through movement, that feels good.”

From her director’s perspective, Ms. Gardiner described the making of this choreopoem as a process of unusually pervasive collaboration. “You need everybody in the room at all times,” she said. “Even when I’ve directed musicals, everyone had a set role,” she added, whereas in “For Colored Girls” rehearsals, the team of black women — she and Ms. Brown and the composer, Martha Redbone — were “all in the pot, cooking it up together.”

Working that way is costly, Ms. Gardiner noted. But it was Shange’s way, and Ms. Gardiner sees a connection between Shange’s example, a current upswing in dance and music in plays and a surge in black playwrights “working and writing out of our tradition.” It is, she said, “an exciting time in American theater.”

A time that recalls an earlier time. Ms. Moss, thinking of the beginning in San Francisco, remembered a painful feeling, as she danced to Shange’s poems, of something holding her back, like being at the edge of a cliff unable to jump. “Until one day, I jumped,” she said, “and I felt this rush of freedom, and we drove that car across the country, saying to ourselves, “We have something.’”

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