Poetry editors around the world would turn green with envy if they knew about the current multimedia performance by Dakshina/Daniel Phoenix Singh Dance Company. In an era that gives short shrift to such literary writing, “Mortal Tongues, Immortal Stories” is a moving showcase for some powerful verse. After leaving the theater, audience members may want to improve their acquaintance with the stanzas featured in the modern-dance and spoken-word production, which ponders the themes of love, loss, fear, passion and zest for life.
Performed Saturday as part of the Atlas Intersections Festival 2016 — another performance of the piece is scheduled for March 5 — “Mortal Tongues, Immortal Stories” was inspired by the anthology “Persistent Voices: Poetry by Writers Lost to AIDS.” The terrific poetry performers Chris August and Gowri Koneswaran bring out the verse’s emotion, humor and verve, sometimes standing onstage, sometimes seated off to the right. Configurations of light on the floor and backdrop, such as drifting black-and-white bubbles and glowing blocks of words, add visual texture. (Todd Mion designed the lighting; Adrian Galvin is the visual designer.)
The dance, which is more heartfelt than technically interesting, accompanies or bookends the poetry. Moving to an anthology score dominated by contemporary classical sounds, the dancers do a lot of theatrical walking or slow theatrical loping, elaborated with gentle turns and mildly expressive motifs (muted-pendulum arms, low cantilevered legs, intertwined bodies on the floor, hands pressed to a dancer’s own skin). A number of two-person sequences conjure tales of kindred souls finding, and sometimes losing, each other. One duet ends with one dancer walking backward while the other looks on helplessly. Another (performed by Daniel Phoenix Singh and Vincent Hodin) takes the form of a tango. (Singh is the show’s choreographer. The tango duet was choreographed with Hodin. A previous version of “Mortal Tongues, Immortal Stories” was performed in 2015.)
Standout images include a strapping figure (Jamal Ari Black) in a purple ball gown — at one point the figure tosses red and white flowers on the ground — and a trio whose dancers frantically mime the motions of washing, dressing and assessing medical symptoms.
But it’s the poetry that lands with the greatest force. Karl Tierney’s punchy but incantatory “Gertrude Stein to Alice B. Toklas” summons a wistful memory of a car ride with a loved one. Tim Dlugos’s “Poem After Dinner” is both fervent and wry. (“I get so excited/I think I’ll read the Susan Sontag article/in ‘Partisan Review.’ ”) And Paul Monette’s “Here” is a heart-stopping evocation of a visit to a graveyard. ( “This is how burning feels . . . as if the skin were a paper lantern / full of trapped moths . . .”)
Enough with this reviewing thing. I’m off to the bookstore.
Mortal Tongues, Immortal Stories, about 75 minutes. Repeats Saturday at 1:30 pm at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H St. NE. Tickets: $30. Visit atlasarts.org/intersections or call 202-399-7993.