Moving it

Rehearsal of WHAT MOVES YOU? PHOTO: Anita Lo '16Actors, musicians, poets and dancers explore happiness, excitement, pain and frustration in the world premiere of Harvard Dance Project's multidisciplinary spring show by three choreographers. 

By Anita Lo '16

The last dress rehearsal for Harvard Dance Project spring show What Moves You? begins with a circle of dancers. It widens as students rush in from classes and meetings. The topic is a rehearsal the day before, and the dancers recall exciting, poignant and powerful moments. I overhear these: “when I could hear everyone breathing”; “accidentally brushing against someone else when moving, when you could tell we hadn’t initially planned to”; “the feeling of everyone exerting themselves.”

Backpacks stud the seats in Farkas Hall, and a team of choreographers and producers chats in the Rehearsal of WHAT MOVES YOU? PHOTO: Anita Lo '16background. There’s a giant inflatable donut lodged between two rows of seats. (“I think it was going to be part of a dance or something,” Kayla Chen ’16 tells me, “but they axed it.”) 

Then a choreographer gestures toward both sides of the stage.

“Two minutes to places! Please move all your belongings off the stage!”

“Move your things!” echoes a dancer, running her backpack off to the left. Others remain onstage. One dancer runs out to the seats and carefully drapes a necklace over the top of her water bottle. An excited chatter dulls to a hum.

The HDP multidisciplinary show this year bursts with energy and, most important, motion. It began with auditions for dancers, actors, musicians and poets who would spend a semester collaborating on performance research. Working with the internationally-acclaimed choreographers and performers Francesca Harper, Jill Johnson and Mario Zambrano,  each cast member addressed the question, “What moves you?” Their written responses, in the form of letters, were translated into choreography and interpretive movement and will take physical shape as “What Moves You?”

“Places, please, everyone! Places, please, from the top!”

The dancers, when asked to reflect on the process of transferring thoughts to paper to movement, reflect on the multitudes of stuff that movement could communicate. “Though our initial responses were written, and the letters people shared were raw and beautiful, they still lacked that essentially visceral component of emotions that would allow others to fully empathize,” Kathryn Kearney ’17 says. “I found that the happiness, excitement, pain, frustration – whatever I attempted to express through my letter – was sometimes so internal and bodily, so innately physical that I struggled to speak it whereas I could more comfortably move it, dance it. Jill, Francesca and Mario asked us to be vulnerable, and that allowed us to pull from ourselves rather than from our training or our unique but habitual movement vocabularies to create these trios.”

Rehearsal of WHAT MOVES YOU? PHOTO: Anita Lo '16Braden Thue ’16 expresses similar thoughts.

“During the creation of the piece, I decided to write about how no single individual has a monopoly on knowledge – how, in listening to others with different lived experiences and distinct views of the world, each of us must come to terms with the possibility that we, that our entire world view, might be wrong,” Thue says. “And how, without this constant questioning of ourselves and our beliefs, we can so easily fall into the comfort of selective ignorance, rejecting from the start any opinion or fact that doesn't agree with our own current convictions.”

He adds: “As the class moved to translating our written pieces into movement, I ended up focusing in on those particular moments when we can no longer ignore some new information that turns our world upside down; I wanted to capture the intense inner conflict felt when we're torn between the comfort of the beliefs we've always had and the unsettling imperative to change our entire understanding of the world upon learning something new.”

“Soundcheck? One, two, three – ”

As the dancers walk slowly onstage, feet rhythmically drumming the floor, backstage goes completely silent, as do the producers, designers and videographers. As the soundtrack alternately grates and soars overhead, spoken word, song and dance coming together in its final rehearsal. I watch and listen and witness. Ultimately, I am moved.

The Harvard Dance Project spring show What Moves You? world premiere will run April 14-17 in Farkas Hall. It is co-presented by the Department of Music and Harvard Dance Program of the Office for the Arts. Advance tickets may be purchased online at the Harvard Box Office website or in person at Farkas Hall, 10 Holyoke St.