A tempest in the Ex

Brave New WorldHarvard-Radcliffe Modern Dance Company stages a dystopian work and asks audiences to sit up-close and see the sweat of Brave New World

By Isa Flores-Jones '19

White-skirted, the three dancers look like pillars of light in the empty black box of the Loeb Ex. Hands covering their eyes, the women begin to turn slow circles in the darkness. The music swells.

 “It’s been two years since a dance company performed here.” That’s Gabe Martinez ’17, the show’s director, who sits next to me in the audience of the Ex. We watch as the three women take a second turn.

Brave New World
A scene from "Brave New World"
“You don’t usually get to experience dance in this way," he adds. "With Brave New World, we wanted the audience to see the sweat on the dancers’ brows and hear the sound of bodies in motion.”

Martinez is talking about the immersive, open nature of the small space. In the Ex, the audience surrounds the dancers, creating an intimate experience for performers and audience members alike. Theater in the round allows for greater engagement with the narrative, says Martinez, and that’s key to this production. “We want to bring the audience into the world of the piece,” he says.

It’s a dark world to enter. Based on Aldous Huxley’s 1932 novel (which has had a resurgence in sales since the U.S. election in November), the Harvard-Radcliffe Modern Dance Company’s production of Brave New World, running April 6-8 at the Ex, presents a dystopian future. The women onstage before us are dancing a piece called Soma, inspired by the drug administered in Huxley’s novel to condition a population of subservient workers. 

Soma may be Huxley’s literary invention, but Margaret Canady, ‘20, tells me her choreography is meant to evoke a very modern problem. “I drew upon the idea of present day medicated America,” she says. She wants to highlight the theme of, “repressed emotions, using medication to numb thought.” The hands and slow circles are meant to enact a “kind of closure, repression made physical.” Canady’s piece is one of 12 student choreographies that comprise the narrative arc of the production. In addition to the performances this week, selections will be presented during ARTS FIRST, the Harvard student arts festival April 27-30.

As Canady’s dancers shift from costumes to street clothes, the next group of dancers, accompanied by choreographer Joel Bateman ‘17, enters the theater. The dancers are dressed for the cold, in thick-layered sweaters and long rain jackets. But as we watch, they pull on even more clothes. They loop book-bags over their arms. One girl pushes her earphones more firmly to cover her ears.

For a moment, the theater is completely bare. Then the dancers surge onstage and off come the thick puffer jackets, ear-buds fly and scarves puddle on the dance floor.

The dancers point at one another. Then, they turn to the seats of the empty theater -- eventually to be filled by audiences -- and point out into the crowd. Another chapter of Brave New World unfolds.

Brave New World will be performed April 6-8 at the Loeb Ex. Free tickets may be reserved at bravenewworldex@gmail.com. For more information, click here.