"SEESAW": An invitation to experience

by Dance

The OFA Dance Program presents the Harvard Dance Project Debut Performances: SEESAW, 7 and 9 p.m. Nov. 8 and 9 at the Harvard Dance Center, 60 Garden St. in Cambridge. Guest blogger Sofie Rose Seymour '15 discusses the creation process in this new faculty-led, performance-based credit course.

"Dance has an existence will," our teacher/choreographer/collaborator and Harvard dance program director Jill Johnson told us on the first day of class. "It wants to be before it is." We had been sitting in a small circle in the corner of the Harvard Dance Center’s expansive Studio 1, talking for 3 hours. We began by watching videos about architecture and about light, and in small notebooks wrote down words that jumped out to us. We discussed silence and light as opposites. Jill asked us what stories we had stuck in our heads. Some talked about novels we were reading or movies we’d seen; others offered ideas from classes, like aphasia and biological reactions. I recalled a portion of a text that had been kicking around in my head since a friend shared it with me at the start of the summer.

Somehow these ideas synthesized easily. I can only say that this is a testament to the existence will of this piece, and the ability of Jill and my fellow dancers to make unlikely connections. Again and again, we found ourselves talking about the exciting disconnect and contradictions between what we see and what we know. We landed on artifice as a way to name these inconsistencies. Artifice is a word that often evokes ideas of deliberate performance, deception or outright trickery. We explored these concepts: as "artifice activators" we could use to inform improvisational portions and as ways to describe the over-the-top performative elements that can be found in paparazzi culture, magic tricks and runway fashion shows.

At the same time, artifice does not have to be entirely deliberate or performative. We discussed agnosia -- various cognitive conditions that can lead a person to be able to see perfectly clearly, but be totally unable to recognize what he or she is looking at. See does not mean know. We combined two portions of text, one by Confucius and the other from Rene Daumal’s The Art of Climbing Mountains. Confucius discussed the task of self cultivation as the task of building up a mountain; Daumal observed that when climbing, you can see difficulties only when ascending, and when descending they are invisible to you, but you will know they are there if you have observed them well. When one cannot see, one can still know.

SEESAW does not provide the audience with answers to our questions about artifice. It avoids placing artifice and authenticity on opposite ends of a spectrum, or following an arc that develops from one end to another over the course of the performance. It would be foolish to do so. As performers, we have to acknowledge that there is artifice in attempting to put something authentic onstage. Even the ideas of "see" and "saw" are not placed in opposition. Instead, the audience is constantly invited to re-examine in a new moment what it already saw, to see it again, deconstructed, rearranged, revisited. SEESAW eschews presenting commentary on the ideas explored within it. Instead, the show itself is a series of experiments in both artifice and authenticity. The performance is both a question and an invitation to the audience. As my fellow dancer Rossi Lamont Walter '14 said, "SEESAW is an invitation to not understand and to ask questions about what you don’t understand."

You see. You saw. You know. Perhaps not in that order.

[Caption: "SEESAW" dance ensemble member Melanie Comeau '13]